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The first Pinot Noir harvested from the student vineyard.  Many thanks to the viticultural students!

The first Pinot Noir harvested from the student vineyard. Many thanks to the viticultural students!

It is very strange to be attending college again after graduating so many years ago.   Recently, I showed up for my first day of wine making class at Allan Hancock College (go Bulldogs) and expected to sit in a lecture hall taking notes for 4.5 hours.  Boy, was I wrong!  Our professor, Norm Yost (winemaker of Flying Goat cellars) spoke for about an hour, assigned some homework and then let us know that we have 600 pounds of Pinot Noir to work with – TODAY!   He said the grapes won’t wait, so we just have to sink or swill, err swim. 😉   Our mission in class is to make a sparkling wine from Pinot Noir.  This is traditionally called a blanc de noirs, literally “white of blacks”, meaning a white wine that is made from black grapes.

After the brief lecture, we headed down to the tiny campus winery  (why, oh why didn’t my alma mater have a campus winery?) where 600 pounds of freshly picked Pinot Noir grapes were waiting in bins.  This is the first Pinot Noir harvested from the Allan Hancock student vineyard.  (Many thanks to all the viticulture students who made this happen!)  First, we put up canopies to keep the sun off of us (and the grapes) and then moved all the equipment we’d need: bladder basket press, pump, fermentation tank, various clamps, gaskets, hoses and buckets.   We took everything apart and thoroughly washed it.  Then we put it all back together and attached the pump’s hose to the fermentation tank.

Basket press

The bladder basket press gently presses the juice from the whole clusters.

Next we filled the press with whole clusters of grapes and pressed off the juice.    Then we pumped the juice into the fermentation tank.   Then we filled the press with grapes again and repeated the process (we did this quite a few times until all the grapes were pressed).   We took a sample of the juice and tested its brix with a hydrometer.  Our reading was 18.2 brix.   After all the grapes were pressed, it was time to inoculate the juice with yeast and get fermentation started.

winemaking math

Calculating the amount of yeast needed for fermentation.

This involved more math than I’ve done in many years.  Essentially we needed to make an educated guess of how much wine was in the fermentation tank (why aren’t tanks conveniently marked like measuring cups?).  This involved calculating the volume of a cylinder…something I am certain I learned in high school, though haven’t thought about it quite some time.    Here is how:
1. Measure the height of the cylinder (up to where the juice is)
2. Measure the radius of the cylinder (across the top of the tank at the widest point)
3. Multiply the radius by pi (3.14159)
4. Multiply the radius by itself
5. Multiply #3 by #4
In our case we wound up with 42.1 gallons.  In order to figure out how much yeast to use, we needed to translate our gallons to hectoliters.   To do this, we multiplied our gallons times 3.785.   42.1 gallons x 3.785 = 1.59 hectoliters.    Next we multiplied the hectoliters by the number of grams of yeast required in order to calculate the amount of yeast required for inoculation.  1.59 hectoliters x 25 grams = 40 grams of yeast.   We combined the yeast with 400 milliliters of 105F water in a measuring cup and let the yeast begin their work.  After a few minutes we combined about a 1/2 C of juice to the mixture.  After stirring the mixture up, we added to to the tank and stirred with a big, plastic oar-like implement.

fermentation tank

Fermentation tank: Home of our soon-to-be-wine for the next two weeks.

We then attached the lid of the fermentation tank.  Lastly, we created a schedule so that once daily a student would go check on the fermentation, take the brix and temperature reading with the hydrometer and log the results.  Jason and I are going later on in the week, so the initial fermentation will be nearly halfway done (it should take about 2 weeks to complete).   If all goes as planned, the fermentation will be well steadily progressing.   Even though the soon-to-be-wine is still in the fermentation tank, I am already looking forward to popping the cork.  My favorite sparkling wine is Schramberg Blanc de Noirs; hopefully someday I can craft a sparkling reminiscent of this.   My fingers are crossed!

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