cask of riesling

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Oct 24, 2010
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Isleworth, Middlesex
I have been making wine since 1965 but it's only since 2004 that I have been using real fresh grapes from vines. A new neighbour found vine branches growing over her fence so she had a pergola built and trained them over it. By september there were loads of green grapes and she asked my advice. She accepted my offer to attempt to turn them into wine. We filled a 5 gallon bin and a 2 gallon bucket with the bunches. Lacking a press, I crushed them with my feet in a plastic half barrel planter and squeezed out most of the juice using a large muslin bag, yielding over 2 gallons of juice.
I followed advice and added camden tablets to kill off unwanted yeast and pathogens, then added a general purpose wine yeast. The sugar content was low (SG 45) and the acid content was high so after the initial fermentation I added enough sugar to bring the potential alcohol to 12% and 10% water to reduce the acidity. This is common practice in the Rhine. After some research, I'm pretty sure that the vine was a Riesling, not too popular in the UK as it requires a long, warm growing season to fully ripen.
It's worth mentioning that I live in Isleworth, West London and that the garden backs onto a railway embankment to the north, effectively a south facing slope in southern England, inland. Apparantly the climate, compared to 1950, is now similar to that of mid France.
Once the wine had been racked off the dead yeast, fined and racked again, I had 2.5 gallons of clear, dry and sharp wine. The closest resemblance was vinho verde so I called it Isleworth Green!
The next year the entire crop was devastated by mildew.
The following year, the new neighbours invited us into their garden, where we found the rest of the vine and another, labelled Cabernet Sauvignon, a red, on another pergola. Neither appeared to have been pruned and the red only covered the fence. That year, we combined both grapes, producing a pseudo rose. The crop was left as late as possible, dictated by appetite of pigeons and blackbirds, so the sugar content was higher, with a correspondingly lower acidity. No yeast neede to be added. 4 years on, I have 1 remaining bottle and if I'd paid £6 for it, I wouldn't complain.
In 2007 I left some choice bunches for even longer to make 'beerenauslasen' (selected late harvest). For some reason this batch of wine oxidised and turned brown. Years later it tasted like dry sherry! That winter, I pruned the vines along the lines of removing weak, dead, unproductive branches plus the ones that had born fruit.
The 2008 harvest produced a wine which had an odd, faintly unpleasant taint which never went, even after 2 years. Rather more radical pruning that winter.
Generally speaking, I prefer red wine, so I planted a pinot Wrotham, (an English cousin of pinot noir) in my own garden, using a row of cheap metal arches along and across the path as a sort of pergola. Without pruning, Iit produced 4 bunches that year, 9 the next and 22 this year. Combined with the cabernet sauvignon, this yielded 6.6 kilos, producing just over 4 bottles of excellent light red wine. The birds go for the red grapes first. I thought this was because they are more visible, but in fact it's because these 2 varieties ripen before the riesling. On 27th september they had a combined sg of 74, which is pretty good considering the variable weather this summer.
I'm not sure why, but the riesling crop was enormous this year. Last year, many of the leaves were covered in small lumps, a scale disease which fortunately does not affect the crop in terms of yield but that batch of wine had another, different taint which fortunately dissappeared after a year in the bottle. It seems there is no cure for this scale. Treatment consists of removing affected leaves and burning them, but it still came back this year. But as I said this had no effect on the yield, a phenomenal 11 gallons of juice from a single vine!
I can cope with 5 gallons easliy, but harvesting this lot took 6 man hours, crushing (very stimulating for the feet) and straining (hard on the wrists) another 5 hours. A plastic dustbin was needed to hold the liquid.
After sulphiting, fermination failed to start. Rain may have washed the yeast off, so I had to use a general purpose yeast. I also added oak chips. The acid level was so high I thought the test kit had really expired, and anyway I had run out of sodium hydroxide for the acid test kit. I managed to track down some more and it was 10 ppt., where 5 is considered high! The sugar level was also low. Standard procedure is to add sugar and water. This bumps up the potential alcohol and dilutes the acid but also dilutes the flavour. I used to use 'acid reduction solution' (potassium carbonate) but this was not readily available. The available substitute was precipitated chalk. This works but leaves a residue and a taint which needs to be filtered out. When I did track down some potassium carbonate I went a bit overboard. I reduced the acid level to 5ppt. It's not supposed to leave a residue or taint but the latter is not quite true. It also makes the wine somewhat gassy and cloudy.
Wine acidity is another science. I read that 25% of the wine acid is tartaric and that this can be safely removed. Most of the remaining acid is malic which should not be neutralised because the resulting precipitate adversely affects the flavour and the taint cannot be removed.
Over the years I have acquired many glass demijohns so I was able to trnsfer most of the fined wine into these. I had also acquired a dried out 9 gallon wooden cask which lacked a hoop, a bung and had a puncture. Having corrected these deficiencies and filled it with water, I found the water tasted good.
Casks are another science. Sherry producers use old casks because they impart no flavour. Whiskey producers buy them because of their sherry flavour and when the sherry producers run out of them, they buy them back off the whiskey producers.
I have the option of buying a new chestnut 11 gallon cask (£65 post free) or using the old one. The old cask is now watertight but hopefully not airtight. Cask ageing of wine works like this:
The wood may, or may not impart some flavour. In the case of new chestnut, a certain sweetness and a tinge of red to white wine. We all know about oaked chardonnay, but riesling is seldom oaked, so forget that option.
Wine matures better in bulk, so presumably the bigger the bulk, the better the wine.
Air finds its way in and the oxygen in it inmproves the wine.
I bought a 20 litre 'cubitainer' which consists of a collapsable plastic insert with tap in a cardboard box. This is convenenient but no good for white wine for 6 momths.
More to come. Too tired to continue