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Friday, November 6, 2009

It is 7:30 am, what are you doing? Chillin, taking some numbers. Daily fermentation monitoring is pretty simple here at Rosa d'Oro. Large wineries have teams of tense pimply interns staring into microscopes, looking for this or that little bug floating around, measuring assimilable nitrogen, volatile acidity or some such. Morning protocol for us most importantly means smelling everything, and trusting your first impression. Fermentations get a little stinky sometimes, and that is o.k.; the yeast are very malleable and their lifestyle changes throughout, and their by products can smell good to a little bad - a lot of bad is when you worry. Most important for us is simply taking a sugar reading by hydrometer at least once a day and a temperature reading followed by a cup of lukewarm watery coffee. The (first) two should correlate nicely - if either seems out of sync - time to intervene. PH readings are important to us as well. Some grapes, like the Primitivo, have large amounts of potassium (presumably - we can't verify this) in their skins, so when you press them and combine the juice, you get a deacidification, so you want a little more acid than you think. The Barbera doesn't seem to do this. The Sangiovese only drifts upwards by about .07. All of this should be taken into account when monitoring the acid. Temperatures are pretty straight forward in a tank fermentation - don't let it get too hot or cold to finish. We did a lot of fermentations in plastic 3/4-ton bins this year - good for some varietals but not all. Pinot guys swear by the bins, and fruit forward dudes like Runquist like them. The nice thing to me is that you can break a small lot down into smaller parts, use different yeasts and/or temperatures. For example, our Aglianico tends to have a lot of black fruit primary characteristics, but real old world ones are known for much gamier attributes and the curious blood and iron descriptors. (Robert Parker always says "melted asphalt".) Sure enough, by using a heater, one bin was fermented about seven degrees hotter, burning away some of that yawn-inducing pedestrian fruit and getting down to some real minerally earthiness - maybe not bloody but a little metallic salinity. Our basic devices work well for monitoring this type of thing. We can ever pump it over and splash it easily to incorporate air as necessary, or stick a floor heater next to the bin overnite. The Dolcetto above is at fourteen degrees Brix, about halfway done fermenting. Temperature is at a nice eighty two degrees - perfect at this point in the curve for a middle of the road fermentation, pH at 3.65 - just right for this grape. If it was Barbera we would need to add about three pounds of acid per ton, but this number is just right for our Dolcetto (and we did not add any acid to our Barbera at all this year either - hah).
If this all seems dry and boring - it is. But very necessary and probably the most important time in any wine's life. If it all goes well, you can drain the wine, press the skins, mix it together, put it in a tank overnight to settle out any junk, then fill barrels by gravity at a toasty seventy five degrees, starting malo-lactic fermentation quickly and cleanly so that it finishes before Christmas dinner - nice, clean and stable.

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