So I realized the last time I posted anything was October of last year, and it's now almost October of this year! I also left on a cliffhanger about to press the wine. I'll condense what happened, since I really can't remember anything but the basics anyway!
As I predicted, the fermentation finished on Friday, 10/8, and the now full of alcohol must had to wait until Saturday to be pressed. Oh, but what a glorious pressing it was! I first pitched the malolactic bacteria in the morning (the second stage of fermentation, when the malic acid in the grapes is converted to the more appetizing lactic acid) and let them get all established and stuff. Then, at around 4, we pulled out the beautiful press and loaded it up. Brian, being much stronger than I am, was in charge of doing the actual cranking, while I filled and made sure nothing ran over. Unfortunately, since we were both busy, I have no pictures of us actually pressing, but here's the tired press after all was said and done.
Please excuse the mess--it is the garage!
We ended up getting 18 gallons total: three 5 gallon carboys, one 3 gallon carboy, and two 750 mL bottles. After some drama with the caps (I thought they were vented enough, but after coming into the garage after letting things sit overnight and finding a wine volcano had erupted, I guessed they weren't), the carboys were moved into our hall closet and allowed to undergo secondary fermentation.
Next, on 10/24, we had our first racking. This has nothing to do with antlers. Basically, you just put a hose into the carboys, pump the contents of all of them into a large trash can, mix it for a while and then use the same pump to put the wine back into the carboys. Here I am with my turn at the pump
I really liked the color of the wine at this point--it looked like dark cranberry juice, and while it still tasted bitter, it was getting better. Getting off the lees (the yeast bodies still left after pressing and filtering) certainly helped a lot!
The second racking happened on 12/30/10, and with it came the oaking. I chose to use heavy roasted French oak, because that's what Brian bought at the store. We had chips, and I basically laid them out in a line to about the length of a pencil. I then wrapped them in cheesecloth and simply dropped them in the carboys. The ML was still going on (some CO2 bubbles still percolating), and I hoped this oak would mellow the wine out some.
Two months later on 2/20/11, I tasted the wine, and I was right--the oak really mellowed it out. It was considerably less tart and very fruity. The ML seemed to be done based on the absence of CO2 bubbles, but using a paper test revealed that I'd not converted all the malic to lactic acid. I decided just to let it go for now.
A month after that on 3/5/11, we did the third racking, which gave us a wine that was still pretty tannic, but very nice, and had a very lovely color.
We decided to bottle the wine in July, so I added the SO2 to stop all ML on 5/8/11. According to the test, the malic was still not all gone, but the wine tasted just fine, so I decided to let it go.
Bottling was another crazy experience. We bottled July 3, and ended up with 75 bottles. Again, no pictures, since both Brian and I were working on the bottling process, but it was messy and fun. The wine tasted pretty musty when I put it all together in the trash can, but when we took a bottle to our friends' house that night, it actually tasted just fine. Young, but fine.
The last step was taking a couple of bottles to the Sacramento Home Winemakers Association meeting in July for tasting. Due to teaching obligations, I wasn't able to attend, but Brian was there. The wine got pretty good reviews! The tasters could taste the mustiness, but said another racking would have taken care of that (too late this time, since we'd already bottled), but that overall, it was not bad. I'm very proud of myself for making a drinkable wine on my first try. It's aging now, but will soon be ready to enjoy with all of our friends.
Overall, this was a very cool experience. I'm really glad we got talked into it, and am looking forward to making wine this year as well. Next up is Tempranillo, a Spanish grape, and we should be starting that in a few weeks. Stay tuned!