An interesting year coming to an end

Here we are! It is November and the vineyard works are over for this year. This has been my third harvest and the past growing season has been rather different from the previous two ones. The main cause has been the climate and some interesting lessons have been learned.

The spring was quite cold, which made me carry out the pruning rather late, by the end of March, about one month later than in 2016 and 2017. Then someone turn the switch from winter to summer and the vines grew like crazy. Actually they caught up and I harvested about at the same times as last year. Yet, it was not all that simple. As the summer switch was turned on, hot and dry condition caused some drought stress. Almost overnight, grapes changed from looking all fine to showing distress signs. Parts of the grape bunches ended up drying out on the vines. Of course, I reacted immediately and irrigated accordingly, but there were some losses. Irrigation helped and in the end, the quality of the grapes was excellent. Production was plentiful. Last summer’s wildfires were cause for concern, first of all because they hit very close to our property and I was quite worried that we might have to evacuate, but we were lucky enough not to have to go through that. Nonetheless, the many fires in British Columbia caused some serious smoke in the air for more than a month. Smoke obstructed sunlight and both the vineyard and my veggie garden showed a drop in photosynthesis. I thought that it might affect grapes quality negatively, but the late summer was sunny again and sugar contents were quite good actually.

The brix levels have been:

  • Pearl of Csaba: 21, Up from 20.5 in 2017 for regular wine. I had kept a number of vines in production for a late harvest, which I carried out two months after the regular harvest. For the late harvest, the brix was 25.5, which I hope will deliver on its promises. The late harvest has been a bit of a worry as the fall has been much rainier than normal and with much less sunlight. We will see. It is now in fermentation.
  • Bacchus: 20, Up from 18 the previous year, also because unlike in 2017 I decided to put on protective nets on the Bacchus grapes and harvested at ripeness, which was not quite the case last year.
  • Pinot Noir: An amazing 26, up from 23 in 2017. The funny thing is that the grapes did not show clear signs of ripeness and I postponed the harvest because of that. So, I was quite surprised the sugar content was this high. This was a good surprise nonetheless.

Another side effect of the weird climate has been the behaviour of wildlife. The deer have been around much more during the summer and fall than usual, and those buggers like grapes. The protective nets have helped but I suspect that they hit the vines to shake the grape bunches, as I saw a few bunches on the ground. Normally, the bunches would not fall on their own even though at ripeness they drop more easily. The deer had already nibbled at the young shoots in the early spring, as food was rare due to the cold. The flip side of this coin is that if deer are around, so are their predators. Recently, I found a leg of a deer in the vineyard. probably, some coyotes decided to have a good meal. Some neighbours had also found half a deer devoured by some creature somewhere around. Welcome to the wilderness! The birds have been annoying, too. The nets have done their work, though. But the finches and other chickadees just manage to use the mesh of the nets to perch and pick on the berries. Altogether, I cannot really talk of damage. There have been some losses, but they were minor.

Another lesson from this year has been about fungicide spraying against mildew. Since, I started this vineyard, I have been thinking of ways to, if not eliminate spraying, at least reduce it to a minimum. The first two years, I had sprayed eight times (while the product supplier recommends ten maximum). So, I did reasonably cautiously the first two years. This year, I had pruned differently. Since the first year, I have work towards lowering the shoots of the vines to the second wire of the palisade. I have five levels of wire and most vines were starting at the third of even fourth ware from the ground up. This allows me to thin the plants more aggressively. By having leaves on four levels instead of two or three, I basically increase the foliage by 33% to 100% depending on the plant. This helps me reduce the density of shoots in the plant. For a similar number of leaves, I have more space between shoots. The aeration created by this strategy helps reduce humidity within the canopy and thus reduce risks of mildew. It seems to work, since this year I sprayed only five times on the pearl of Csaba and Pinot Noir (decrease of 37.5%), and six times on the Bacchus (decrease of 25%), which is rather sensitive to mildew. I do not think that I could eliminate spraying altogether, as climate conditions can always trigger mildew growth. But the less I spray, the better it is. I will try to at least match that next year.

Another area of experimentation this year is with the yeast I use in winemaking. Previous years, I had used an all-round type of yeast, but this year I want to see if special yeast can increase the quality of my wines. We will see and I will let you know about my findings in a few months. Now, I have six different types of wine in the making. It is quite amazing to see how the whole process goes from vine pruning to final wine.

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My wines are doing rather well

Four months after my previous update, the wines have matured further and the result is quite encouraging, especially considering that it is only the second harvest since I moved here.

In the past couple of weeks, I have bottled my two whites, the Bacchus and the Pearl of Csaba. I am quite happy with them. The Pearl of Csaba has the same enchanting fragrance as like year, thanks to its muscat type. Also, the fact that I did only one gentle pressing instead of two last year, I did not find any tartness or bitterness in the wine. The taste is pleasant all along.

It was the first time for the Bacchus, as I had some nasty fungus last year just right before harvest and I had to destroy it all. This time, there was no such bad luck and I simply love this wine. It is crisp and elegant.

My third wine, the Pinot Noir Rosé is about to be bottled. The latest tasting is really good. It as a great balance between crispness and some flavourful notes of berries. I also love its colour, a deep salmon orangey pink that is a delight to watch. This is by far my wife’s favourite.

The Pinot Noir Red is not ready yet. It is still maturing. The colour is now getting more intense and darker. The taste is still too young. It is not a problem. After all, it has not yet been five months since the harvest.

Nonetheless, I am having so much fun with this, I took a picture of the four wines on a background of the mountain I can see from my patio. It gives a nice idea of the colours of my wines. As you can see, it is still snowy around here. I am longing for spring. It also delayed the pruning of the wines, that I just finished last week.

After the tasting (because it would be a sin to throw that in the sink), there was some of both whites left over. Just for fun, I blended about 50-50 of the Bacchus and the Pearl of Csaba. This blend is really amazing. It combines the qualities of both wines and actually creates a much more complex and tastier wine. Wow, this makes it even more interesting for future harvests.

Later for more.

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, going a little wild and 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.

Buds

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

Buds2

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.

Spring

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.