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an urban vineyard, spring not only applies to the new year’s growth but also symbolizes
the sprouting of our social “vining” for the year. Since the introduction of the vines to the
front yard, spring is now my wife’s favorite time of year. As daylight is extended and the So Cal
weather “reclines” toward the consistently sunny, the vines sprout new growth
and it kicks of our annual front yard parties.
These events are turning out to be popular with our friends. With a few years of gatherings under our
belt, the vineyard seating area is now affectionately referred to as the
“grotto” by friends, sans the clothing optional water feature (and activities)
of another infinitely more famous “grotto”.
preparation for urban vining both in viticulture and city-culture however, there
are always a few tasks to take care of right before spring. This year was no exception.
year there are two primary adversaries that I must fight against, powdery
mildew and the ubiquitous (here in Southern California) glassy winged
sharp-shooter (GWSS). The latter posing
the most significant threat to a small endeavor like mine. To prepare for these I have concocted my own
combination of Surround WP, Stylet and Neem oil which seems to be working thus
far. Reminder: I am by no means any kind of authority on
viticulture (nor did I sleep at a Holiday Inn Express)…Thus any observations,
statements or claims of fact about viticulture may be slightly, or grossly, inaccurate;
however the facts of my experience are accurately related. If you are a beginner, a prudent follow up
prior to planting your own urban vines, would be to research books and Wine
Maker Magazine archives, visit local wineries to pay for a tour and ask
questions, and finally, ask questions on forums, such as WineMakingTalk.com.
Would I Lie to you? Like a cheap rug, bay-bee.
“I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche
One of the most useful pieces of kit that a winemaker can have is a hydrometer. Simple devices, they are closed cylindrical glass tube weighted with steel shot at one end (steel, not mercury or lead like some sources claim). Inside the tube is a piece of paper with a scale of numbers, usually running from 0.990 to 1.100, in increments of 0.002. Because the sealed tube is hollow, it floats in liquid. Because it is weighted, the heavy end points down, ensuring that the scale is upright and readable.To use it, you carefully place it into your wine (works on beer too) and read the scale where the liquid touches the tube.
Many people, when asked what a hydrometer does, will answer, 'Measures alcohol'. Some will say, 'Measures sugar'. Neither answer is true. Hydrometers compare the the ratio of the density of the liquid to the density of water, and that's all. It's what we can do with this reading that's useful to us.
If we use a standard home winemaking hydrometer on our must before fermentation, the liquid will be very high in sugar, and thus will have a density higher than that of pure water. Depending on the wine type, it could by anywhere from 1.070 to 1.110 times as dense. After we pitch yeast and the fermentation is ongoing, the sugar will be metabolised into carbon dioxide and alcohol. As the sugar levels drop, the density of the must will go down and the hydrometer won't float quite as high. This drop shows us the progress of fermentation--which is why it's important to record the initial gravity reading, so you can compare it. More on this below.
As fermentation completes, all of the sugar is gone. It's normal to assume that the hydrometer would now read 1.000--without any sugar it should be only as dense as water. But that's not the case: alcohol is far less dense than water and since your wine is now somewhere between 10% and 16% alcohol, it's going to read lower--usually between 0.990 to 0.998.
In addition to demonstrating the point at which fermentation is complete, we can use the reading we initially recorded (told you there'd be more) and our final reading, along with a bit of math, to determine the alcohol content of the wine. You take the difference between the two readings and multiply it by 131. Don't worry about the 131--it's a derived number, just remember it.
For example, if your gravity started at 1.090 and the wine finished at 0.994, the difference between the two numbers is 0.096. Multiply 131 x 0.096 = 12.576, or about 12.6% Alcohol by volume. Pretty neat, no? There's a little chart, provided with each hydrometer, for applying temperature corrections (warmer liquids are less dense than cold ones) but for most purposes your wine will be the same temperature each time you measure it. What could be more accurate?
I came across a Portuguese wine at the Boston Wine Expo in February that had a wonderfully complex spicy profile to the nose. From the
Alentejo region the Garrafeira Vinho Tinto 2002 is a DOC labeled red blend from
a region of Portugal that is primarily known for its ordinary table wines but
is garnering more attention recently for its higher end wines. The spiciness in
the nose of this wine transformed and continued through the finish, totally
captivating me. In some follow-on research I found a number of tasting notes
for wines from the region that similarly highlighted the spicy attributes of
In thinking about the wine more I found myself sticking my
nose in the spice rack. What exactly had I been smelling? There was some black
pepper, some vanilla and clove, but it seemed so much more complex than that.
I pulled out the black pepper corns, whole cloves, cinnamon,
vanilla and even the Garam Masala, the last item more so because it was a blend
of spices and I thought that might give me context for the blend of spices
represented in the nose of the wine.
Nothing on its own came close. The masala blend definitely
smelled more like what I was reflecting on, with earthy aspects to it from
cumin and coriander, but a touch more savory that I was hunting for. When I got
to the ground white pepper I found another hint. Unfortunately I found I was
out of other types of peppercorns, I often have green and red on hand as well,
which I think may have also filled out the profile I was honing in on.
Now that the “brutal” southern California winter has blown through and begins to wane, and the need for a long sleeve shirt has come and gone, it is time to reflect on the past season outside in the vineyard. It has been a rough year in which the day job averaged 12-14 hour days and weekends, thus requiring quick efficient work to get anything done. Given I only have 4 vines (5 now, more to come on that), it was still manageable. While there were some areas of concern and timing issues, which I will get to later, overall the vines have thrived this year.
I've written about wine decanting and aeration in this space before, but I recently came across a very interesting take on pouring from an unlikely source: the porrón.
It would certainly reduce over-consumption, because I'd never hit my mouth
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons
As stated by Wikipedia, A Porrón is a traditional glass wine pitcher, typical of Catalonia but famous throughout Spain. It resembles a cross between a wine bottle and a watering can. The top of the bottle is narrow and can be sealed off with a cork. Stemming upwards from the bottom of the pitcher is a spout that gradually tapers off to a small opening. Seems cool enough, and a cheerfully playful sort of decanter. It's design, however tries to minimise contact with air, and makes for pretty slow (if long-distance-capable) pouring
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