Going a little wild

This second harvest years, things have been taking an interesting turn.

First, the grapes have all been of good quality. The Bacchus almost played the same trick as last year as they looked contaminated by fungus, but I was able to correct this situation. Next to that, the Pinot Noir vines were very prolific and I had a large quantity of red grapes to press.

My harvest dates have been:

  • Pearl of Csaba: 30 August
  • Bacchus: 10 September
  • Pinot Noir: 10 October

The sugar contents have been good:

  • Pearl of Csaba: Brix 20.5
  • Pinot Noir: Brix 23
  • Bacchus: Brix 18 – a bit low and I should have left the grapes longer on the vines, but the starlings were coming and picking on them, so I decided to harvest instead of installing bird nets.

The Pinot Noir harvest was so prolific that I decided to make 2 batches: one for red wine and one for rosé. That is quite exciting.

Last year’s wines did fine. I wrote about the Pearl of Csaba that I took to France to my sommelier nephew. The Pinot Noir had an accident, or more accurately, I screwed it up because I had not noticed the water in the valves that protect the jugs from oxidation had evaporated. That, together with my second mistake of bottling to late and with hot temperatures, I got a wine that oxidated. It gave the wine an unexpected taste. Not a bad one, though. It smells and tastes a bit like a Port. So, it is drinkable and not unpleasant, but it is not how it should taste. This year, I will be paying attention better.

Another experiment I did this year was to try to make a Moscato type of wine from the Pearl of Csaba. I bottled the must as it was fermenting. I got a sparkling effect as a result. Actually, it was so sparkling that the corks burst out and the foamy wine redecorated my basement. I was able to taste some of the wine that had remained in the bottles and that was really good. It tasted like a Moscato d’Asti. I need to do more research on how to prevent the cork explosions and I will be onto something really good. That is a project for the next crop.

So, there I am, making 4 different types of wine. I have already tasted them.

  • The Pearl of Csaba is really good, actually better than last year’s. Perhaps because I did not do a second pressing to avoid bitterness from the stems.
  • The Bacchus has a less fruity aroma than the Pearl of Csaba, but it tastes clean and crisp. I think it will be a great wine for fish and seafood. It has something of a Riesling and of a Sauvignon Blanc.
  • The Pinot Noir wines are still a bit young at this stage, but they both taste already quite promising.

Wines 2017


My wine went to France

I just returned from a little vacation to France and Italy. My going to France was also intended to be a test for my wine. One of my nephews, Romain, is a sommelier and I visited him in Arbois, a little town in the Jura region where he started his career as a Chef Sommelier in a Michelin 2-star restaurant. Not bad for a 20-year old. He is quite talented. He was very curious to taste his uncle fermented grape juice, so I took a couple of bottles of my Pearl of Csaba wine with me.

With the rest of the family, we met him in another restaurant from the same village called La Balance where the Maitre D’, Alain, used to be the sommelier who trained him, and who had been named Best Sommelier 2013 by the prestigious French Gault & Millaud food critics. There I was with my first wine ever facing the pros. What would come out of that? I just told them to be candid and honest about their judgement. I certainly could use the feedback to figure out what to work on later this year with my second production year.

Both Romain and Alain liked the smell of the wine. About the taste, Romain like the start and the finish in the mouth, in particular the slight bitterness that he found balanced the sweeter start. He found what he calls the center of the mouth on the flat side, though. As such, this was not a surprise, as I found that myself and also because I had been told that this type of wine has this tendency to be flat. Nonetheless, he found it enjoyable. Alain found a metallic taste in the wine and some tartness as well, but he also said that he could not find any flaw in the wine. Needless to say that I was quite pleased with their assessment. It is very encouraging and it certainly gives me the motivation to experiment more and make several batches with different techniques to see what kind of differences will come out.

Beyond the sommeliers’ opinions, the wine, and the tasting, came with some surprises for me. First, when I tasted the wine over there in the Jura, everybody around the table laughed at my face as I expressed a big surprise about the taste. In my previous post, I had written that I found the wine on the dry side, somewhere between a Riesling and a Gewürztraminer. When I tasted it in France, I found a clear Muscat taste, which was very different from the taste I remembered. What caused the change? It is difficult to say. The dry taste was from the big container in which I had made the wine. The bottling may have changed the taste, but the trip to Europe could be a cause, too. After all, the wine was in my suitcase, which was checked in and spend hours in the cargo section of the plane, where usually temperatures are low. After that, it spent two weeks with me in hotel rooms in France and Italy where the temperature had been around 20 C. Maybe, the temperature fluctuations contributed. I am not complaining because, I found that the wine tasted better than before I left. Actually, my family liked the wine. In the restaurant, my wine paired nicely with all the different dishes that we had ordered. It went well with fish and poultry prepared in different recipes, which was on the table. Another surprise about how the wine would taste was in which it was served. It had more flavour in a smaller glass than a larger one. Romain also made the comment that if it were poured into a pitcher, it probably would lose a lot of its taste, because it would aerate more. I found quite interesting to realize how much.

As the chef had heard that my wife’s birthday had been two days earlier, they surprised her with this nice dessert attention:

Thank you Romain for facilitating, and many thanks to Alain and La Balance. It is a great restaurant and if you are ever in Arbois, please visit them and you will have a great meal!

The next day, I went to my parents on the other side of France and tried the wine there. I found that we served it a bit too cold and by then, we also could taste the metallic taste, but as the wine warmed up in the dining room, that taste faded out. It is intriguing and I did some research since then. All I found about wine tasting metallic was either metallic storage, which I have none so it couldn’t be the reason, or a wine served too cold although I found that remark only about red wines, while the Pearl of Csaba is a white. I tend to think the temperature is the cause.

Since I came back home here in Summerland, we tried another bottle, just to see if we could taste the same things we did in France. The taste had change somehow although it was more intermediate between the previous dry taste and the Muscat taste we found in France. This seems to confirm the bottling had some effect, but since here the temperature was rather constant, the temperature swings during the trip must have also aged the wine in some ways, too. Further, we could taste some of that bitterness towards the finish, but no metallic taste, as I took the wine directly from the cellar. Actually, the temperature may have been slightly too high. Nonetheless, this winemaking stuff is very exciting and as I have now finished the pruning and the cleaning of the vineyard, I am looking to a new harvest season with excitement.

My first batch of white wine in the bottles

Finally, the big day has arrived. Yesterday, I bottled my first batch of white wine, made from the Pearl of Csaba grapes.bottling01

Call me biased if you wish, but I am actually quite satisfied with the result, especially considering that I had never made wine before. I had some concerns about what Pearl of Csaba grapes could produce because, as I had mentioned in an earlier post, the previous owner of the property where I live had given me a bottle of his vintage and it was rather flat. In that article, I had also mentioned that these grapevines had been planted for the purpose of making a Muscat type of wine. My goal was to try to make that kind of wine. Well, the result turned out to be quite different from Muscat. My white wine is more of a medium dry to dry wine. So, let me describe it a bit.

pearl04The colour is a bit of a pale yellow with a touch of green. It still has a bit of a light haze but that is not much of a problem. After all, the wine has not been filtered and since it was almost clear, I did not want to venture in adding bentonite to clarify it. Since I had never made wine before, I’d rather not increase the complexity. My approach was to keep it simple and straight forward. As long as the taste is satisfactory, I would not take any chance to ruin it. Before going into more details about the taste, the first impression is the scent. And I have to say that this wine smells really nice. It has a very floral aroma that reminds me of a Gewürztraminer from the Alsace. Of course, after the smell, the real test is the taste. For as much as the previous owner’s wine was flat, mine holds its taste nicely. The taste has some floral touch reminiscent of a Gewurztraminer but with a more mineral and tingly taste of a Riesling or Sylvaner. The mouth feeling is nice and has some lasting ability, although not quite as much as I would experience with an Alsace wine, but my wife and I both agreed that it actually scores better than all the local whites that we have tried here in the Okanagan Valley. So, yes, I am a bit proud today.

One of the challenges I have found with my wine has been to find a good temperature to serve it. If it is served too warm, the floral aromas are superb but the taste does not last and is on the dull side. If served too cold, the aroma becomes flat and the taste turns mostly dry but with no bouquet. After some trial and error, I came to the conclusion that 8-10 degree centigrade is probably the optimum. Last night, we decided to go a Februarfest at home with all you can eat sauerkraut, sausages, Kasseler chops and smoked pork hocks. The food was great, as we have a great butcher with fantastic meat and sausages (if you are ever in the region, you must go to A&K Grimm in Penticton). My Chateau Christophe Pearl of Csaba turned out to be a great pairing with that kind of food. The combination of flavours actually enhanced the floral characteristics of the wine. The result was a great meal!

Here is how I made the wine. I harvested the Pearl of Csaba at full ripeness. I got a Brix (sugar percentage) level of 19, which according to the neighbour who had planted the vines, is higher than what he used to get. He told me that they had a hard time to reach levels higher than 16. I have no idea if it is beginner’s luck or if my strategy of irrigating sparsely and getting the vines to harden up worked but at least I got a good sugar content. Since I had read that with a Brix below 22, wines are unstable, I had added some sugar to correct the Brix to 22. Also, instead of hoping for local yeast to do the trick, I went down the safe path and treated the must with sulfites and added yeast from the winemaking store. The first fermentation went very well. Actually, all the sugar turned into alcohol in just a week, while I had read it would take a couple of weeks. After that, I just let the wine rest and the sediment sink to the bottom of my carboys. Six month and two rakings later, I was ready to bottle the wine.

The nice part here is that I got quite an encouraging result with a grape variety that has no acidity, which is supposed to be adverse to making good wines. Pearl of Csaba is a great table variety. Yet, we have quite a few wasps around here and they love the Pearl of Csaba, causing a bit of damage on the bunches. So do bees and spiders. Unless I would wrap each bunch individually, they would not look great on the table. But I made quite a bit of juice last summer, and I have to say, the grape juice from the Pearl of Csaba tastes fantastic. I would get more of that next year. With close to 150 plants of that variety, I’d rather diversify than trying to make it all into wine and end up with a mountain of bottles that I could not drink up all on my own. I also had used some of the Bacchus grapes to mix with the Pearl of Csaba to add some acidity in the must. It probably helped but the Bacchus grapes are quite sensitive to mildew and just two weeks before I could harvest they went from beautiful to all molded. So, I am not a big fan of Bacchus right now.

In the meantime, I have also started a batch of the Pinot Noir I have in the vineyard. The wine is still evolving and it will take a while before I can bottle it, but the taste and aroma are really good so far. So, I have good hopes that it will turn out as a decent wine, too.

It is great when the result is positive. It makes all the 5 o’clock in the morning work in the vineyard worth the while.

My first wines and some lessons

The time has arrived. Ten days ago I harvested my first grapes to make wine. I have harvested the Pearl of Csaba grapes. As I mentioned in previous posts, this type of grape is suitable for both wine or table consumption. I made two batches: one for white wine and one to grape juice.

The Pearl of Csaba is a Muscat type of grape. It is very fragrant and sweet. It is delicious to eat and the juice is full of flavor. Considering the number of grapevines I have, these two avenues are worth pursuing. If I made it all wine, I would end up with way too much. Pearl of Csaba has low acidity, which I understand is a disadvantage for wine making. In a previous post, I mentioned I had three varieties of grapes, one of which I thought was Baco Noir, but it appeared I had been misinformed. It is not Baco but Bacchus, a German hybrid Sylvaner x Riesling crossed with Müller-Thurgau. It is also quite fragrant and has more acidity. I mixed the Bacchus with the Pearl of Csaba to increase the acidity of my brew. My problem here has a mildew attack just two weeks before harvest. It screwed things up for me a bit because I had to destroy an entire row of Bacchus. From what I have discovered since then, Bacchus is very sensitive to mildew, and we had frequent showers in July which made spraying against mildew a bit tricky. Something to keep in mind for the future. That’s the main lesson so far. Too bad, because the grapevines looked really good. My mistake was to not thin out enough of the grape bunches. They ended up being crowded on the plants and offered some harbour to the mildew. I will manage things differently next year.

Back to the wine. I did the following:

  • I macerated the grapes for a few hours after crushing and before pressing
  • I added the recommended amount of sulfite to the must and let it settle for a day.
  • Then I transferred the must into large jugs and added some yeast for primary fermentation
  • I also added some sugar, as the brix (sugar content in the must) level in the must was on the low side
  • The primary fermentation – or alcoholic fermentation – went really well and was done in nine days.

This morning the brix had reached zero, which means that the alcoholic fermentation is done. As I do not want any malolactic fermentation, I racked the wine first thing this morning into a clean jug and added a bit of sulfite to kill undesirable bacteria. The wine will now settle for some time to evolve.

In a previous post, I had mentioned my findings about the wine the previous owner had made from the Pearl of Csaba. When I tasted my brew, I expected it might be just like his. Not at all. I do not why, but I do not think I care. At this stage, my wine has actually some acidity and gives a very pleasant tingling on the tongue. It reminds me of a Pinot Gris from Alsace that my wife and I quite like. Right now, it sounds quite promising and exciting. Let’s hope the rest of the maturation will be in line with the good start. The future will tell.

In a few weeks from now, it will be harvest time for the Pinot Noir. I am really looking forward to that!

Spring is here!

The wait after the pruning of the vines did not last too long. Spring came with summery temperatures and the plants started to grow. Here is a picture from mid-April.


The interesting thing is that the plants that are the most advanced in their growth are vines that seemed about dead when I pruned. I saved a few of those just to see if they would turn out into something. They did, for now. Here is a picture of one of them


The future will tell if they keep growing nicely for the coming months, though.

Since those pictures were taken, the vegetation has been in full bloom.

Driveway spring

The grapevines did not stay behind. They have grown quite a bit more foliage than two weeks ago, as you can see in the following picture.


Needless to say that I am quite happy with the way things are going in the vineyard. As I was riding my bicycle along a few vineyards around Summerland, I was even surprised to see that my grapevines are ahead of the others. Probably some beginners luck or maybe I did something wrong and I will get spanked at some point. Who knows? For now, I just enjoy the moment. I have started to remove leafs and twigs that are too close to the ground to reduce the risk of mildew. I also cut off the twigs that do not look like they will produce flowers to stimulate the growth of the productive branches.

Until now, I believe that I have dealt with the easy part. he challenge now is to keep the vines healthy until harvest. Mildew and other pests are always lurking and I will soon have to start spray preventively to protect the plants. I already tested the sprayer and I bought myself a nice outfit that will make look like I work with radioactive material. I will post some pictures in the future. It will look a lot scarier than it really is but since I do this for fun, I am not interested in taking any chance. I would not either if it was for a living by the way. Better safe than sorry. I hope I won’t scare the neighbours and the passers-by. Although, I probably will spray at 6:00 am so most of them will still be asleep.

Tasting the vineyard

With Spring around the corner, work in the vineyard will get more intensive and it is time to start thinking of what will come out there, and what wine I can expect. Recently, John, the previous owner of my property, brought me some of the wine he made last year. The bottle he brought was made with the Pearl of Csaba grapes, which I know about nothing about, except that they have low acidity and are more of table grapes than wine, except for making a Muscat type of wine. Since then, I had a conversation with a neighbour, the one who actually planted the grapes many years ago, about it as I had not tasted the wine yet. He was telling me that he found that John’s wine was nothing like Muscat. That got me a bit intrigued, especially since I am not familiar with Muscat wines. So my wife and I decided to open the bottle and try the wine.

Muscat tasting

The first impression was good. John’s wine is quite fragrant. It’s fruity and flowery. That was a good start. Then, a sip on the wine brought more news. A first slightly acidic and tingley feeling on the tongue was not bad. Unfortunately, the feeling disappeared quickly and the wine felt weak and watery. OK, so the wife and I have some mixed feelings and I am wondering if John got the best he could from Pearl of Csaba or not. I hope not because then I have a problem. I know that he made this wine to his own taste. Then, we decided to buy a few bottles of Muscat wines from different regions to have an idea of what they may taste like.

Next to John’s wine, we had an Australian wine, a Californian one and a Moscato d’Asti from Italy and we decided to do a comparative tasting test. We did this in two steps. The first time, we just tasted the wines without any food. The Italian Moscato came out the winner. It has a rich fragrance and a nice body with a sweet fruity taste. The Australian came out quite well, too. We ranked him second. It was different from the Italian as it had some effervescence, which made it quite refreshing. Further, it had a good balance between the fruity fragrance and a sweet body that lasted in the mouth. The Californian wine left us a bit more perplex. It has a nice fragrance but although the taste was sweet, it was a bit watery, too. It felt almost as if the intense sweetness of the sugar was hiding a lack of body. It came third in our ranking. John’s wine unfortunately came out last.

The second step of the tasting was a lot of fun to do. After some research, I found that Muscat wine go well with desserts and in particular chocolate cake. That was good timing as my wife got her birthday and we had chocolate cake to celebrate. So there we went at it again, this time cake and wine together. The experience of the wines came out slightly differently. The Moscato d’Asti came out first but this time, it was more of a photo finish. Although fragrant and fruity, the taste did not last as long in the mouth as when we drank it straight. The Australian Muscat did great and was a very close second. In particular the fragrance together with the effervescence and the chocolate offered a lovely combination. The Californian wine did better with the cake and the pairing was pleasant. Unfortunately for our vineyard, John’s wine ended fourth again and the cake did not bring much improvement to the experience. However, the nice fragrance makes me think that there is potential with the Pearl of Csaba grapes, but I will have to learn more to figure out how to get it up there. My feeling is that the grapes might have been harvested too early. After all, John was selling the property and we were about to move in. I also think that the wine did not ripen long enough. I am looking forward to talk to John again to learn from him about how he harvested and made the wine and to exchange some ideas about how to get it sweeter and with a better body.

The challenge is clear: I will do my very best to make the Pearl of Csaba grapes undergo a Muscat type of winemaking process. The future will tell if I reach that goal.

How to make wine the good old-fashioned way?


Now that I am to produce those grapes and try to make my own wine, the question is: which techniques to use? There is plenty of talk about how wine should be made. There are also very different opinions about the use of chemicals or organic production.

Which one should I choose? This question is not easy to answer. First, I will start with what I really want. That part is easy, I want good old-fashioned wine.

Wine Middle Ages
Wine making scenes (Normandy, 12th century – Den Haag, Königliche Bibliothek)

Nowadays, wine production is quite different from when I was a kid. Large wineries look more like chemical factories than the wineries of my childhood. It seems to be all about additives that will ensure a constant quality. I have no problem with the goal of having a predictable result every time. It is just that I would like wine to be wine, you know fermented crushed grapes. When I take a look at production protocols of industrial wineries, I feel more like being back in organic chemistry classes, with all those lovely ancient Greek-sounding product names that the average person would be totally unable to define. And the little chemist’s kit is not only with wine factories. It is just the same with DIY wine kits and in books about the DIY wines. Add a bit of this and a bit of that, shake and stir, add some more of the magical powder and so on and so on. Eventually the miracle will happen thanks to chemistry and you will have something that you must believe is wine. I have had the “pleasure” to try the results from some of those wine kit aficionados. Yuk. Let’s face it, if wine was that simple to make, everybody would be a winemaker. If you like red dye, I suppose, that might be the way to go. Not for me. Thank you very much.

I was born in France and, there, wine is part of the culture. It is much more than about the drink. Yet, the drink had better taste good, because not knowing your wine and serving crap will not enhance one’s social life over there.

So, I’d rather not have all the chemicals along the way and possibly in my glass. Is organic the way to go, then? On paper, it sounds good but what does it really mean? I have a really hard time to find out. The previous owner explained me that his way was all natural and organic with no chemicals. Yet, he left me some of the chemicals he used to use to protect the grapevines. After some research and to my surprise, that fungicide, from a major chemical company, is approved for organic production. I would never have thought it could be the case. The person who planted the grapevines before him tells me that he did it natural and organic but that the owner from whom I bought the property did not. Try to understand something from that! And I have similar discussions times and times over. I have come to a great conclusion: just like with driving, only “I” (the generic I, not I Christophe) knows how to do it right. “I” am the only one who makes natural wines, the others just fool around. It is a cute story, but it does not help me to find out what the right way of making wine is. So I am a bit stuck with my concept of old-fashioned. What does it mean really?

To me, old-fashioned is about when vintners where producing their grapes the best way they could to make good wine. They used chemicals. In particular, copper sulfate is the main ingredient of the so-called Bordeaux mixture, which is one of the oldest crop protection methods for grapevines. It does a great job on mildew prevention. In the old days, many vintners also got health problems because of the repetitive use of the Bordeaux mixture. So much for the romantic view on old-fashioned grape production. I have seen my grandparents using sulfur to disinfect wood barrels and equipment. Boy! That was quite something when they lit the sulfur stick on fire and all that smoke came out. Sulfur certainly did the trick to kill germs, but those fumes were not something to get into your lungs, either. So, old-fashioned was not about no chemicals. And the reality is that to prevent diseases and kill germs in the process of producing grapes and making wine, it is necessary to use some seriously potent products.

I want the grapevines that I grow to be healthy and vigorous. I want to avoid any germs that would turn my wine into something undrinkable. Unless somebody knows a non-chemical method to do that, I think I will not have a choice but to use sulfur and its derivates. I think that making good wine, is more about using the least amount of chemicals possible and use them in the proper quantities at the right times during the whole growth.

Chemicals to fight diseases and germs are not everything, though. There is the issue of additives, too. There criticism about modern techniques using additives and yeast after thoroughly cleaning the grapes versus not cleaning and use the natural yeast present on the grapes. In the “good old times”, I can remember that vintners would add some sugar if the natural sugar content was too low, in order to get a higher percentage of alcohol. Although, the addition of sugar was –and still is- quite strictly regulated in France, the practice was not uncommon. Actually, some vintners were sometimes busted with large numbers of bags of sugar on their farms or in their trucks. After all, producing grapes is subject to natural conditions and sometimes Nature would work adversely. Adding a little something to compensate for adverse climatic conditions to produce a better quality is not really shocking, is it, as long as it remains within reasonable limits? If the fermentation process is a bit weak, is it a bad thing to add a bit of Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, which is the natural yeast that has been used by winemakers, bakers and brewers for ages? I think not, as long as it is –once again- done reasonably.

Reason is, in my opinion, the magic word. More than trying to be idealistic beyond what is realistic considering all the variables or more than trying to look for convenience and not wanting to take the chance to fail, I believe in a reasoned production method. I think that I am willing to be pragmatic and use help when it is needed. What would be the point of ending up wasting it all? Next to pragmatism, I am also quite committed to use chemicals and additives only to a minimum and place observation and decision skills first. I want this experience to be about building craftsmanship, not about the path of least resistance.

I will welcome any useful comments and suggestions from you to help me produce as naturally as possible and with as little additives and chemicals as possible.