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Winemaker's Journal — Wines ready for the bottle

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Pinot Gris
Pinot Gris is bottled in clear glass to show off its color.

As 2014 grapes begin to ripen on their vines, last year's wine nears completion. White wines are usually bottled in the spring or summer and drunk later the same year when they're fresh and fruity.

Red wines will usually age in barrels or other vessels for another year or two. Red wines generally need more time to let tannins soften and fully integrate with the wine's other characteristics. Tannin —that substance that can make your mouth pucker — comes from grape skins and seeds.

Red wines are made by fermenting crushed grapes for a week or more before the grapes are pressed and the solids thrown out. White wines are pressed immediately and only the juice is fermented.

There's also the matter of space. Whether you're an amateur like me with a dozen five-gallon carboys in a small basement, or a bulk wine plant like Milbrandt Vineyards in Mattawa with dozens of huge stainless steel tanks and millions of gallons of capacity, you still have to move the old wine out to make room for the new after each vineyard harvest.

Many small wineries invite friends over to help them bottle a few dozen to a hundred cases and turn it into a party. Wineries can call in a commercial bottler for larger amounts. The bottler will bring a large van with mechanized equipment to bottle the wine on site.

For the miniscule amount of wine I make — about 30 gallons annually — I can easily bottle a case or two at a time myself. One five-gallon carboy of wine fills about 25 750ml bottles, two cases plus one bottle for sampling.

I bottled all five gallons of my 2013 white wine recently. It's not really white, although it was made completely for Pinot Gris and Chardonnay grapes I grew. Pinot Gris is a relative of Pinot Noir and looks fairly similar on the vine. Some bunches are dark purple, others are red, still others stay green even when fully ripe.

Pinot Gris is usually pressed and fermented without the skins to make white wine. I really dislike the flabby, bland taste that's common in many cheaper commercial bottlings of Pinot Gris. I suspect that's due to grapes grown in hot Central California climates that don't result in much acidity or character.

The best examples of the wine are made right here. Jones of Washington, Cave B Estate Vineyards, Milbrandt and a few other local wineries produce delicious Pinot Gris from grapes grown in the Quincy area.

I've been experimenting the past two years with blends and fermentations with the grape. With my own 2012 crop, I co-fermented Pinot Gris with Chardonnay after pressing.

I made two other batches of wine from Pinot Gris grapes purchased from Milbrandt's Evergreen Vineyard near Quincy. One five gallon batch was crushed and left on the skins for 12 hours before pressing and starting fermentation. The second five-gallon batch was left on the skins 24 hours before pressing.

The two versions allowed to sit on the skins for awhile came out different subtle shades of  pink. I really liked the color and the fuller body and flavor of the wines. So did my friends.

I used the same technique last fall with the few pounds of Pinot Gris and Chardonnay the deer left me from my own vineyard. I ran the two grapes together through my crusher, added pectin and a sulfur dioxide preservative and let the slurry sit on the skins and seeds for 24 hours before pressing off the juice and then fermenting at 50 degree cellar temperatures for about three weeks.

The cooler temperatures allowed slow fermentation and clearing of the wine. I racked the wine of the precipitated yeast a couple times over the winter. It needed no other process or filtration to produce a beautiful light copper colored wine that I think will be a hit with my wine drinking friends.

I have one last carboy of a 2012 red blend to bottle. Then it's on to another 30 gallon batch of 2013 red wines before the new wine gets made in late September or October.