Category Archives: teaching

Winemaker Magazine 2016

Santa Rosa in reposa

Santa Rosa in reposa

It’s here! One more sleep!

The Winemaker Magazine conference for 2016 is in Santa Rosa, California. It’s the largest (and best) home winemaking conference in the world. As a columnist for Winemaker, I’ll be there as a speaker and panelist, giving lectures, answering questions, and hanging out with my wine making people.

Drinking alone is like . . .

Drinking alone is like . . .

Last year’s conference was in Portland, Oregon, and was a blast. I’m looking forward to seeing my good friends.

Gi, get ready for our annual picture!

Gi, get ready for our annual picture!

And some of my more sinister accomplices . . .

Plotting, with beer.

Plotting, with beer.

It’s a little too late to pick up tickets, but if you’d like to live vicariously, you can check out the conference schedule here, and you can follow my live conference updates on Twitter @Wine_Guy_Tim and on Facebook and look for the conference hashtag . . . when I find out what it is. #winemagconf2016 sounds good!

If you’re already booked and coming to the conference, I’ll see you there! You’ll recognise me by my Master Vintner shirt and my delighted grin at getting to hang out in such a gorgeous place, drinking wine with fabulous people.

I'll look for you in the audience!

I’ll look for you in the audience!

See you there!

L’Étoile du Nord

City of waters

City of waters

I’m back in the Twin Cities today, working with Northern Brewer. As usual it’s a busy time: meeting with folks, talking about new products, projects, sales, marketing and all the great stuff that goes into being the world’s best supplier of consumer wine and beer making equipment.

I picked a fabulous time to visit. The weather has been spectacular, with temperatures hitting 20C (low 70’s) and bright sunshine. Even the flight in was auspiciously pretty.

Never get tired of watching the world go by.

Never get tired of watching the world go by.

I’ve got a Q&A session with the folks in retail this evening, and they’ve come up with a great list of questions. It’s really the best part of my job, talking to folks about making their own wine, and seeing a really pertinent leading question down on the page is like reaching into the pocket of a coat and finding a $20 bill you forgot you had.

Strapped in and ready for use

Strapped in and ready for use

I’ve been meaning to give a shout-out to Northern Brewer for a while on the Big Mouth Bubblers that I got earlier this year. The idea of a PTFE fermenter with a gasketed lid that takes a bung and airlock seems fine, but when you use one for something that’s really messy, their usefulness snaps into clear relief.

I brewed a very hop-heavy IPA and when it finished fermentation, it looked like this:

Oh those dirty rings!

Oh those dirty rings!

That looks like a terrible job of scrubbing, but with the wide-open top, even a moose with bulky arms like mine can easily stick his mitts right to the bottom and get a good scrub on. What would have taken a long soak for a carboy and the application of a brush and plenty of awkward gyrations to get all the goop off, only took 60 seconds with a soft cloth and some brewing detergent.

Shiny as a new penny

Shiny as a new penny

It’s got a bunch of condensed steam on it, but trust me, that Big Mouth Bubbler is as clean as a whistle. I’m replacing all of my fermenters with them, because I can’t visualise ever wanting to lug around and wash narrow-necked carboys again.

Off for Q&A, and tomorrow video shooting and more fun times.

Master Vintner Small Batch Winemaking Part Four

You may remember Master Vintner from such posts as Master Vintner, Your Personal Wine and Master Vintner Part Two: Racking Day. As such you might well wonder, ‘What happened to part Three?’ Don’t worry, all will be explained.

Laid out and ready to go

Laid out and ready to go

Step three and step four kind of run together, so I’m blogging about both of them at once. When we last left our Master Vintner Small Batch wines (Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir) they were resting comfortably in secondary fermentation. The next step was to . . . READ THE INSTRUCTIONS!

Yes, I keep coming back to the importance of reading. It’s your guarantee of success! A quick read-through let me know that I would have to check the specific gravity and then rack the wine from the secondary to the Little Big Mouth Bubbler again for stirring and fining/stabilizing additions.

I sanitized all of my equipment, took a specific gravity reading (0.992 and rock steady) and then transferred the wine from the jug to the LBMB.

Auto-syphon: how do you live without one?

Auto-syphon: how do you live without one?

Once all of the wine was transferred over (leaving very little behind in the jug–less than a couple of tablespoons of goo) the next step was to add metabisulphite to prevent oxidation (browning and loss of flavour) and prevent bacterial spoilage (going icky).

Sulphite is your friend, and wants you to be happy.

Sulphite is your friend, and wants you to be happy.

Let’s talk about sulphite. It’s one of the most common food additives in use today, and it’s been in continuous use in winemaking for many centuries. It’s in every preserved food you buy and in lots of things you wouldn’t expect (noodles? Check. Frozen orange juice? You bet! Pancake syrup? Sure!) It’s safe and almost completely benign. If you don’t believe me, check out the world’s #1 Authority on sulphite use in home winemaking.

So that’s sulphite taken care of. In it goes!

Be sure to tap the packet: a bit of the powder can get caught in the corners.

Be sure to tap the packet: a bit of the powder can get caught in the corners.

After the sulphite is in we have to stir the wine to distribute it, and to drive off gas in solution. This is crucial to the success of the kit. Carbon dioxide gas is produced by the yeast during fermentation. In a commercial winery this is not much of an issue because they take one or two years to get the wine ready for bottling, and in that time all of the gas escapes. Master Vintner kits are designed to be ready to bottle in just four weeks, so the gas has only a short time to escape from the wine. To stay on schedule we need to aid the process through mechanical agitation.

A stirring experience.

A stirring experience.

I stirred the wine for a full sixty seconds and then added the first fining agent. Fining is the process of dropping suspended material out of the wine so it’s clear enough for bottling and drinking. Common fining agents are either mineral in nature (Bentonite, Silicon dioxide) or a colloid/gelatine (Isinglass, Chitosan) and in wine kits they’re often used in pairs. The instructions say to add the packet labeled ‘Siligel’, a silicon dioxide solution–essentially really finely pulverised beach sand in a liquid and then stir again.

Sharp scissors are an essential winemaking tool

Sharp scissors are an essential winemaking tool

Cut the tip off of the Siligel packet . . .

Squeeze!

Squeeze!

. . . and then another sixty seconds of stirring.

That's what good stirring looks like--get the fizz out.

That’s what good stirring looks like–get the fizz out.

I popped the lid, bung and airlock on again and over the course of the next two days I kept my spoon in handy and stirred the wine again for sixty seconds at breakfast, lunch and dinner–since it’s right in my kitchen it’s an easy step to take right there when you’re already making a sandwich or preparing your Sunday roast.

After two days of stirring it was time to go on to Step Four, Stabilizing and Clearing. Since it’s almost exactly like the last step, I’m putting it all into this one long post to keep things clear.

I cleaned and sanitised all of my equipment, checked my specific gravity (yep, still 0.992) and did my next addition, Potassium Sorbate. Sorbate is a bacterial suppressant. It doesn’t kill or even annoy spoilage organisms, but rather keeps them from breeding, which is crucial to the whole process of fining and stabilising: you use sulphite to stun/kill some of the yeast and any other organisms, you use the fining agents to sweep all of the micro-organisms out of the wine, and then you use sorbate to keep any of them from breeding back to the point where they can affect the appearance or flavour/taste of the wine. Sorbate is used in a lot of foods, condiments and even in beauty products and health food supplements, and is found in some berries (blueberries and Mountain Ash) as well. So, in it goes, with the first step being to dissolve it in a tiny amount of warm water.

It's a teeny amount and it dissolves almost instantly.

It’s a teeny amount and it dissolves almost instantly.

And then to stir that into the wine.

Everybody in the pool!

Everybody in the pool!

Next step is to add the ‘liquigel’, a clever contraction of ‘liquid gelatine’ and the final fining agent.

Snip!

Snip!

Squirt in carefully.

It's pretty sticky: make sure it all comes out of the packet.

It’s pretty sticky: make sure it all comes out of the packet.

Once everything is stirred up and all additions are done we need to top up the wine to the one gallon mark again. Don’t worry about diluting it: if you’ve been racking correctly you’ll be adding less than a cup and a half (350 ml) and the kit is actually formulated to accommodate this extra water.

Topped right up.

Topped right up.

After that it’s back on with all of the lids and airlocks and onto the counter to rest for six days until the wine is clear.

Soon, my pretties . . .

Soon, my pretties . . .

So far this has been the easiest, smoothest winemaking I’ve ever done: the one-gallon size makes doing one kit so easy, so quick, and so simple that doing three more at the same time doesn’t feel like work at all–it feels like a fun hobby leading to a great end–wine!

Road Trip

Houston skyline

Nice little place . . .

After a relatively quiet summer at Chaos Manor it’s back on the road for a bit. I’m in Houston today, a city I’ve only been through once before. I’m giving a presentation on wine retailing here and I’m really looking forward to it. Not only do I get to meet Texas homebrew shop retailers (some of the friendliest folks you’ll ever meet) but also, Mexican food!

texmex

Come to Papa

If you’ve never been to Texas but you have been to Mexico, the food is different. It’s even called ‘Tex-Mex’. But it’s ridiculously good, and I’m looking forward to digging into some of it.

I’m only here for one day: tomorrow at o-dark thirty I’m off to Atlanta to catch up with some more retailers there. Just like Houston, I’m looking forward to meeting up with a great bunch of people and having a really detailed discussion of wine retailing in the USA.

My lunch strategy might have to change there, but I’ve got a plan: barbecue. Canadians are woefully ignorant of real barbecue. Shamefully, we use that word to describe grilled food, which isn’t actually anything like barbecue, which actually centers around low-heat, long time cooking over smoky wood fires.

franklin-bbq-brisket-6

Now that’s a pit!

Before I started travelling in the USA I had no idea that there was so much regional variation–Texas does beef best while the Carolinas do pork but have fierce regional loyalties to different sauces. Memphis does chopped pork and fabulous ribs, while Kansas City barbecues any animal that holds still too long (barbecued lamb ribs are to die for). It was all confusing and I didn’t know what to order.

But I put in action a clever strategy: any place I go that has good barbecue, I ask for help, with a little twist. If I’m in Carolina I say, ‘I’ve had Texas barbecue–is this anything like that?’. Local pride swells like thunderheads, and folks are quick to guide the poor, misguided Canadian to ‘the good stuff’. Sure it’s  a wee bit of a fib, but I’ve had so much good barbecue from it that I can’t help myself.

Which reminds me of something my favorite food anthropologist, Margaret Visser put in her book, Much Depends On Dinner: people are the same everywhere: the only thing that changes is the dinner.

But it’s a long time until dinner–work first!

 Edited to Add . . .

barbecue

Ribs, brisket, spicy sausage, jalapeno corn muffin, heart-attack potatoes and dirty rice. Even the salad had barbecued meat in it.

That was some pretty good barbecue.

Winemaker Conference 2014

Winemaker New York 2012

A discourse from the source, of course, of course.

I’m heading to Virginia next week for the Winemaker Magazine 2014 conference, June 5-7 at the fabulous Lansdowne Resort in DC’s ‘Wine Country’.  I haven’t missed a conference since the very first, in Monterey back in 2008. I love the Winemaker conference: even though I have to work during the conference I get a chance to meet old friends, find out how their wines are coming along, see how they’re doing and generally catch up with a great bunch of people. In all these years I haven’t met one winemaker I wouldn’t be happy to have as a guest in my house. I think there’s something about taking winemaking seriously that self-selects for thoughtful, happy folks.

teachering

Lecturing to a sharp crowd

This is going to be an especially cool year. I’m teaching a one-day Winemaking Boot Camp. It’s going to be an intensive one-day course with a lot of hands-on trials of advanced equipment, for bottling, transferring, processing and testing. It was a bit of a scramble pulling it all together since my previous corporate sponsor is no longer involved with the conference, but with the help of some friends (more on that soon) and the understanding and largesse of Winemaker Magazine (thanks Brad!) I think I’ve put together a really outstanding program.

top-secret

I’ve got a little file on that . . .

The really cool part is going to be on post-fermentation correction of wine character. This is the secret stuff that in my former life I was obligated to discourage, since it wasn’t part of the program for our products–the companies stances have always been that wines made from kits should be considered complete in themselves. While this is technically true, that still leaves an awful lot of room for tweaking kits, especially now that the toolbox and palette of professional winemakers is now available to retail consumers! It’s going to be a ton of fun!

Well, if I get that case of wine across the border, that is . . . hmm.

You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter for ongoing updates ( #WineMagConf) from on the ground.

Also, as always bookmark this page and check back: good news is always just around the corner!