Monday, October 30, 2006

10.30.06 - Must it be a yeast infection? (a.k.a. "Why won’t my grape must ferment?")

A couple Fridays ago I harvested two bushels of the neighbors' green himrod grapes (for you city folk, a bushel is about the size of a laundry basket). They have a beautiful grape arbor over part of their cattle pens. The plump bunches of green grapes were intertwined with red reliants, which they used for grape juice. The grape picking was a tricky business since I'd have to dodge cow manure when jumping off the gate or step ladder. After getting them all picked with the help of the neighbors and then placing them outside the fence, I learned two valuable lessons: A steer's head fits through the wooden fence and bovine drool doesn't seem like a very appetizing or subtle flavor additive. While I was turned around for less then a few seconds, that steer managed to eat about a gallon of grapes and deposit about a pint of drool. No kidding.

Since Saturday's a rugby day, I had to put off the grape pressing until the next Tuesday evening. I rented a small one or two gallon grape press from the homebrew store for $15.00. At first I was de-stemming all the grapes prior to pressing them. After an hour of that with only a dent into the two bushels, I took a break to Google it. It turns out that de-stemming is only necessary with red wines, since you leave the skins in for a few days. White wine is made with just the juice after crushing and pressing the grapes.

After several runs at the grape press, I developed a pretty good system. First, I grabbed a grape bunch and picked away the bad grapes and ate a few grapes; then I rinsed them in the sink and ate a few grapes. After a couple of inches of grapes were at the bottom of a large pot, I crushed them with a potato masher. Then I poured the juice directly into the press (which sat on the kitchen counter) to filter through the nylon liner and into the 6.5 gallon glass carboy (which sat on the floor). Next, I poured the crushed grapes into the press. I repeated this until the press was full and then turned the handle until the circular press was as far down as I physically make it go.

While that batch was draining into the carboy, I started the process over again. While filling up the pot with whole grapes, I periodically turned the press a little more to squeeze out the last droplets of sugary grape juice. When pressing was complete, I dumped the nylon sack into another pot to be recycled into pulled pork sandwiches (see previous blogs to learn where pork comes from - and no, it's not from the supermarket). I suspect next year I could squeeze out another couple of gallons if I had more leverage; I need to secure the press onto the workshop bench with some screws.

Thinking that the pressing wouldn't last too long, I didn't start until about 10:00 p.m. It took four hours. At 2:00 a.m. I was too tired to cleanup (except for feeding the trash to the hog), so I left the kitchen covered with sticky residue until the next day.

The next night I conducted an acid titration (perfect at .70% acidity), measured the specific gravity with my hydrometer (1.100 at 71 degrees Fahrenheit predicts a 12.5% alcohol content), and added the sulfite to the must. Sulfites are used to kill off any wild yeasts or bacteria that could damage the winemaking process. I then covered the carboy with a light t-shirt to wait twenty-four hours for the sulfites to dissipate into the air.

The next night I added a vile of French White Wine Yeast. I covered it this time with an air lock and waited for fermentation to begin. Next morning there were no bubbles (of carbon dioxide). Then I waited until evening. Still nothing. Then I waited until the next morning. Nothing. Finally, I decided to start over with the yeast, thinking the yeast was bad, the must wasn't aerated enough, or I had added too much sulfites. This time I used a package of dry Champaign yeast that I had around from the hard cider. After two days of waiting it didn't start either. Then, I was back to Google.

Turns out I added way too much sulfites and created an inhospitable environment for the yeast. The cure is apparently to transfer the must back and forth between containers a half a dozen times. With Saturday's rugby match still affecting my back, this was a slight struggle. I am planning to let it sit for another 24 hours in a 7-gallon bucket covered with a t-shirt to allow any leftover sulfites to dissipate away. I'll try my luck with a new round of yeast then. Cross your fingers that this fixes things or else I'll be drinking grape juice for the next three months.

In the meantime, I shall attempt to figure out some creative names for this batch of soon-to-be-wine. Steer Drool White perhaps. Remember, I come from a state where our good wines are called Riverboat Red or Schoolhouse red. Apparently the grapes these are made from are a secret. Wish me luck and let me know if you have any suggestions for the name of this batch of wine.

Sunday, October 8, 2006

10.8.06 - Fresh Honey and Stale Kryptonite

Yesterday from the back deck with the camera's zoom lens, I watched J play beekeeper and remove honey-filled frames from our two beehives. We then set up shop in the garage. We had two five gallon buckets; one had triple-cheesecloth to let honey drip from the wax caps, and one had a double plastic filter sieve which were for the extractor to pour into.

We extracted about 10 western frames and nine or ten deep frames, making about 4 gallons of honey. About two-thirds was dark honey and the rest was light. I don't know which is from the blackberry flow and which is from the rest of the summer's blossoms (apple and pear trees, wild flowers, clover, garden blooms, etc.). The dark honey has a stronger flavor with kind of a bite to it.

The extractor holds three frames and spins with a hand crank. We put in three frames and spun for five minutes and then flipped them over for another five. Ten minutes of centrifugal force did a fine job removing what took the bees thousands of round trips to the garden and elsewhere to store.

About fifty or so bees made the trip into the garage attached to the frames or flying behind the beekeepers. While J would cut off the honeycomb caps with the electric hot-knife, I held it at an angle so the caps would fall forward into the holding tray. One of the frames was double combed. The bees had capped off the honey comb and then built another layer over it, filling them both with honey. Apparently we got our bee space a little off. The double comb had a crawl space underneath which had a dozen or so bees lurking about.

While holding it for J one of the girls stung me on my palm. I remember a year and a half ago when a bee sting was no big deal. Back then I thought I was the perfect candidate to be a beekeeper since multiple bee stings cause me little pain. However, this was my first bee sting since spending a night in the hospital after my heart slowed down and tried stopping and since my doctor said, "If you get stung again, you will probably die." But in the next breath, my doc said that bee allergy shots are one of the few sure things in medicine.

I started the shots last summer but going once a week to the doctor's office for one to two hours at a time was a little too much; so I quit once the shots were equal to one bee sting. Apparently that was enough treatment to render my kryptonite ineffective, since I'm alive and well and once again invincible.

Note: No bees were injured in the making of this blog (except for the one that stung me - she's dead now).

Tomorrow we bottle the honey. I plan on setting aside one gallon to make mead, which is supposedly man's oldest fermented beverage. It's the type of drink which will make you want to sack a village and hang out with drunken marauders - in other words, the perfect rugger beverage.

Next week we are rafting the Wild and Scenic section of the Rogue River and staying in lodges in lieu of camping.