RJ Cole Winery

Insights into the world of an amateur home winemaker.

Location: Charlotte, North Carolina, United States

Cole Wines anagrams to Senile Cow.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


So it's been a while since I posted something new. Well, I've been busy and/or away from a computer. Kat and I went up to Mom and Dad's for Thanksgiving. What a delicious meal! We opened a bottle of the Blackberry Wine, and I have to say, this was the best one yet. I think it's still getting better as it continues to age.

Anyway, there hadn't been a whole lot of new development in the Pumpkin process, so I figured there wasn't much to report. After the SG had dropped to .990, I decided to let it sit a few more days to see if the pulp would compact some more to make sure I could get enough liquid out to fill up my 5 gallon carboy. Boy, did it! I also filled up and old 1.5 L bottle of wine, and put the rest back in the primary bucket to see if it would compact any more!

The racking went smooth. I had recently purchased a new tip for my racking siphon, which keeps the sediment from going through the racking tube to the bulk aging carboy. So I put that on, and (after sanitizing the 5gal. carboy) started racking. I made sure to stay with it the whole time, as I wanted to keep the end of the siphon out of the pulp. It didn't take too long before I had finished this step. I added 5 Campden Tablets, put the airlock on, and moved it back into the closet.

Next step. Waiting!! They say patience is the key to winemaking, and I'll have to try to have some! All in all, the wine should bulk age now until time for bottling. I'll be keeping an eye on it though to see when more sediment falls out. It's my understanding that it takes a lot of work to clear pumpkin wine. That means watch, rack off new sediment, watch, rack off new sediment, lather, rinse, repeat. Basically, I'll do this until I'm satisfied with the clarity and then bottle it.

As for the extra wine, I've got the bottle in the fridge with a cork on it. I'll stop by Alternative Beverage soon and get an airlock to fit that. Let that settle some, and maybe try something fancy with it, or put it aside to use as a topper next time I make pumpkin wine. I'll see how much liquid I can get out of what's left over in the primary and maybe find something to do with that. If I get enough, maybe I'll try to make a jelly or something.

Also, I'd like to say hello to all my family members who have been stopping by to check this out. Check out the archives if you want to read about the process from the beginning. I will try to post the pictures I have from the beginning soon.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Someone at Winepress linked to this article about French Winemakers and the decrease in demand for their wines. One of the things they are looking into is using surplus wine to convert into bio-fuels. France already produces the 3rd most ethanol in Europe.

But it's a sad state of affairs for the French Winemakers:

"French wine growers have been in a deep crisis over the last five years when consumption in France stabilized and exports started to drop," a spokeswoman at Onivins said.

Consumption in France averages 3.5 billion liters, exports 1.5 billion liters and around 0.4 billion liters are distilled to produce brandy, she said, adding that France did not have outlets for more than 5.5 billion liters.

"And because the 2004 harvest was at 5.8 billion liters we now have a stock of 4 billion liters, which is a level we had never reached in the last 10 years.

"This year we had to distill 150 million liters, including Bordeaux and Cotes du Rhone wines to lighten the market," she added.

Bontemps said the sector had to react. "There is no reason why sales should increase so we have to find other solutions."

Courteau said the crisis was such that vintners were contemplating ripping out vines, but he did not want to see vineyards turned into wasteland.

"Also we can't exclude the possibility that young wine producers may commit acts out of total despair because of the money they have borrowed for their businesses," he added.

So, in the spirit of sharing, as the Indians and the Pilgrims did a few hundred years ago, I want to help my brothers in the winemaking industry. So to any French Winemakers who are thinking about ripping out vines, I will "dispose" of them if you send them to me. Then you don't have to worry about producing too much anymore.

It's all about helping others out.

And it has nothing to do with me getting free vines to start up my own vineyard.


Monday, November 21, 2005

Fermentation Complete!

I finally got around to checking the SG on Saturday. It was down to 0.990 - that's as low as it goes. That means that the wine is completely dry - all the sugar has been converted to alcohol. The next big step is to rack the wine and let it settle out some more as it bulk ages. However, something I read on Winepress has made me decide to wait a few days before this. Evidently, pumpkin doesn't compact as quick as other fruits. That is to say, the sediment in the bottom of the carboy is not as dense as it could be, and if I rack the wine before it has compacted more, I could lose quite a bit of the wine as it will still be in the sediment.

So a few more days before racking!

That is, unless I decide to go ahead and do it...

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Update Day 14:

Two weeks into the pumpkin wine! Here's a little "taste" of how it's going!

The bubbles are starting to slow down. I've been shaking the carboy a little bit once a day - not enough to stir up the sediment, but just trying to move the wine around so that any CO2 bubbles will rise and not be absorbed into the wine. I decided after further reading on malolactic fermentation that this is not what's going on with my wine. Jack Keller's blog talks about this, and says that as long as the must was properly sulfited, you should not expect to have mlf as long as you didn't introduce any malolactic bacteriato the wine. I didn't, so I don't. Most likely, it was just some "bottom-feeder" yeast putting out CO2 - they may even be down in the sediment and the bubbles are havign a tough time making their way up to the top of the carboy.

I will check the SG tonight, and if it has fermented out, I should probably rack into the 5 gallon carboy to get the wine off the sediment, and allow more of the lees in suspension to fall out. I think I'll try racking a few times to get the wine clear, instead of adding fining agents (at least at first - if racking doesn't work well enough, I'll use the fining agents.) Maybe add some glycerine before the final racking to improve the body and sweeten a little.

That's all for now. Check back tomorrow for an update on the SG and possible racking!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Update Day 12:

My trip was good. I had a lot of fun, met a lot of people, watched a lot of football and ate a lot of food! The flights were full leaving Panama City Beach on Sunday, so Kat and I rented a car and drove back. I was worn out yesterday! That's why my update is here today.

I got home and took a look at the wine, it's doing pretty well. There has been a lot of settling - I've got about an inch and a half to 2 inches of sediment on the bottom of the carboy right now. The wine is still pretty cloudy, so there's liable to be a lot more settling. There is also still a lot of gas in the wine as it's constantly bubbling. Most of the bubbles in the wine are very small, but they're coming up pretty fast. I've read a lot on Winepress about malolactic fermentation, and I'm wondering if that's what this is. The way I've seen it described on that site, it sounds like it, but then again, I haven't checked the SG since the transfer, so I need to do that. It's possible that it's still the regular fermentation going on.

Malolactic Fermentation is a process that can occur naturally when malolactic bacteria (creative name, I know) convert malic acid into lactic acid. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Some winemakers will actually introduce cultured malolactic bacteria into a wine in order to cut the acidic "bite" caused by malic acid. Lactic acid, while still an acid, has a more smooth, almost creamy feel to it, making the wine easier and feel more bodied than with malic acid. However, it can be overdone, leavign the wine tasting (or feeling) kind of "flat". Most of what I've read about this is that it comes down to personal opinion on what you prefer. So my next step is to test the SG of the wine to see if it has fermented out, and if it has with all these new bubbles, then I should probably rack the wine to get it off the lees that have formed and see where I stand then. I may need to go out and purchase a SO2 testing kit and check the sulfite levels. The sulfite can either kill or keep the malolactic bacteria from reproducing (I'm not sure which) and if needed, I will add some Campden Tablets (which I need to do anyway.)

I was reading back through my post about aging sur lie, and I came across this sentence: If finely particled gross lees form after transfer, it is best to forego sur lie with the current batch. Well, that looks like what has happened with all of the sediment, so I may have to give up on that idea. I'll check either Winepress or Jack Keller to see if there is another way to improve mouthfeel after fermentation.

That's it for now!

Update: Evidently, the trick to improve the body later in the process is th addition of glycerine. Glycerine is normally found naturally to some degree in wine, and it does nothing more than add a little sweetness and body, if used in the right amounts. It's non-toxic, but if too much is used, it can ruin the wine.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Transfer Complete

I made the transfer last night from primary to secondary. I pulled out the bag of pumpkin pulp and squeezed to get some more liquid out - porbably about a gallon more came out! The 21.5 pounds of pumpkin meat were now big enough to fit into a small tupperware container. I guesstimate there was about 4 cups of pumpkin meat after the maceration.

The must (I'm not sure when to start calling it wine!) ended up being around 5 gallons. I put this into the 6 gallon carboy, so it wasn't enough and I had to top up. I used a cheap Riesling, because that's what I had read that this wine comes out like. I used a big bottle of it, but still needed to fill the bottle up again with water to complete the topping up! I left some pieces of the ginger root and 2 cinnamon sticks in to keep adding a little more flavor.

I tasted the wine again, it was a little better last night. I definitely think I'm going to like it. Measured the SG, it was down to 1.010, so that's a good sign.

Some Notes:
I made sure to thoroughly clean my carboy and siphon. On the Carboy, I used dish detergent first to get it clean (with the bottle brush) and then I used a B-Brite solution (which I also used with the siphon.)

Still attached to my siphon was the bottle filler - a tube with a little lever at the bottom so that when you're bottling, you press down and the wine flows out, and when the bottle is full enough, you just lift the tube and it stops the flow so there's no spillage. The siphon tube is very narrow, so it doesn't allow air in, and nothing falls apart. Unfortunately, it means that nothing can ever get taken off of it. So to get the bottle filler off, I ended up having to cut the tube! Hopefully everything will still work, though.

I waited for about an hour and a half after transfer to top up. I was waiting to see if the fermentation would get going violently again, because I didn't want it to overflow. After an hour and a half, the airlock was bubbling, but there was no foaming, so I went ahead and topped up. After that, it looked like it was about to start foaming, but it didn't, so things worked out well.

I'm taking my camera with me this weekend to try to finish up the roll of film that I've been using, so hopefully next week I'll have photos to post here!

See y'all next week!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Update Day 6:

With a little help from my friends

Time to check in again! I checked the SG on the Pumpkin Wine again last night as I stirred. It was at 1.016 down from the original SG of 1.090. This means that my yeast friends have done a stellar job so far. In a little under a week, they've converted most of the sugar to alcohol. On the scale of Specific Gravity, or SG, 1.000 has no sugar in it. Between the natural sugars in the pumpkin and the 11 pounds of sugar I added, 6 gallons of liquid had the original SG reading of 1.090 (13% Potential Alcohol (PA).) You must check this at the beginning to know what the alcohol percentage will be, because as soon as the SG starts dropping, you can no longer be sure.

The fermenting is definitely slowing down, the airlock was not bubbling that much which means that less CO2 is being released by the yeast. But there is still some fermenting to go on (as the SG is not down to 1.000.) The wine must ferment out dry or there could be problems in the future - regular wine bottles and corks don't like a whole lot of built up pressure!

As I said in an earlier post, Kat and I are going out of town this weekend. So there will be no one to stir the must as it continues to ferment out. What to do?

The answer is obvious: go to Winepress and start a discussion topic asking for advice! I asked if I should just leave the must sitting, or if I should go ahead and transfer it to the secondary fermenter. Everyone suggested I go ahead and transfer it, saying that the SG had reached a low enough level that it should cause any problems in the big Carboy with an airlock. So that's what I'm going to do tonight.

I also tasted the wine last night just to see how it was going. It still tasted pretty good, the cinnamon and ginger were still evident, though not quite as much. It was very fruity, but still a little "orange juicy". I guess what I mean by that is it didn't have a lot of body in the mouthfeel - it tasted very young (which it is.) I think this is something that will correct itself in the aging process - whether I do sur lie or not. The color was kind of a light orange, which I imagine will clear to the normal color of a white wine - except maybe slightly golden or amber.

Someone suggested that I taste it frequently to see when the ginger flavor is enough, and then be sure to take the ginger out immediately. I didn't think the ginger was overpowering or anything last night, so it's till in there, but since there was a hint of it, I reckon I'll just take it out tonight during the transfer.

I'll let you know how the transfer went tonight or tomorrow. Later!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Sur Lie

Interesting method I just read about over at Winepress today. It's called sur lie which means, literally, "on the lees." The lees are the "detritous of fermentation, consisting of dead yeast, fruit debris and schmutz." Per the Wikipedia. Sounds nasty, right? Well, Jack Keller pointed out that aging the wine on the lees, or sur lie, is actually "...an advanced winemaking technique for adding mouthfeel to a wine."

"Interesting," thought I. I posted a reply on the discussion board asking Jack more about sur lie aging. Here is his reply:

Sur lie aging is begun deliberately. You must remove all gross lees (pulp, skins, seeds) before beginning sur lie. This is best done by straining the wine well during transfer from primary to secondary. If finely particled gross lees form after transfer, it is best to forego sur lie with the current batch.

Allow fine lees (yeast lees) to form in secondary over a two-three month period as wine clears. Remove airlock, add maintenance dose of sulfite, and gently stir wine with long wooden dowel or plastic rod (sanitized, of course). Mark calendar.

Stir lees gently every 5-7 days. Mark calendar each time to get a regular interval established. Measure SO2 with SO2 test kit every 30 days. When sulfite level drops below 30 ppm, add maintenance dose and stir.

You must maintain this schedule of regular stirring and periodic maintenance doses of sulfite. If wine does not really clear, add a little pectic enzyme (1/2 tsp per gal).

Sur lie aging usually lasts at least 6 months, but 8-10 is more common. Taste the wine once a month after 4-6 months and rack when the wine tastes good. You may have to rack 2-3 times, 30 days apart, to get absolute clarity, but usually twice is enough. Always remember to check sulfites because you are removing the airlock often and exposing the wine to oxygen.

Wow. That sounds like a LOT of work! So, in the space of a couple of days, I'll have to decide if I want to try this on my Pumpkin Wine or not. I'd definitely like to try it sometime, but as busy as I've been lately, I don't know if I'll have the time to do all that. But then again, as fun as winemaking can be, the majority of the time (during aging) is spent doing practically nothing to the wine. So this might make it more interesting, and it couldn't hurt to improve the mouthfeel.

Also, Jack Keller responded to me!!! For anyone who might happen to visit here, you should check out both Jack Keller's Blog and The Winemaking Page from my links at the left. Mr. Keller is, from what I can tell, the home winemaking guru. It was the Winemaking Page where I first found the recipe for my Blackberry Wine, and read through the process to discover it wasn't so difficult.

Thanks, Jack!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Update: Day 4

Same old, same old.

Well, the fermentation is going well, it appears. I've been stirring daily. It smells pretty powerful, but that's alright. I have noticed that the liquid isn't as sticky as it was at the beginning, which tells me that the yeast are doing their job and eating the sugar, lowering the SG and raising the actual alcohol levels. I'm going to have to actually use the hydrometer and measure the SG in a day or two to see if it's time to rack to a seondary fermenter. I would wait until Friday, so it would be a full week, but Kat and I are leaving Thursday night to go to her dad's wedding on Friday, so I won't be around until Sunday. So I'll have to hope that it's ready before. I'll keep you posted!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Primary Fermentation Day 1

Nothing big happening. I can hear the airlock bubbling, so I know the yeast are at work, but there's no violent foaming yet. Hopefully that will come today. I stirred the must this morning to get so oxygen to the yeast and try to get them mixed in a little more so they can get at all of the sugar and nutrient and all that other delicious good yeast food! The smell definitely had a suggestion of ginger, and the taste was almost pie-like - not exactly pumpkin pie, kind of a mix between that, apple pie, and orange juice (?!). Weird stuff, but it tasted good! I could discern the cinnamon and ginger in the taste so I hope I didn't use too much as my plate isn't the best in the world (in other words, if I can taste it, then it's most definitely in there!)

Anyway, that's the update for now! Let's hope the fermentaqtion kicks it into high gear today!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Some Maintenance Points

First, let me thanks my brother and sister-in-law, Andy and Jen for the book they got me for Christmas last year: The Joy of Home Winemaking by Terry Garey. It came through during a minor emergency last night.

Second, just some notes about things I want to do here, and will be trying to set up soon.

Over at Winepress I found a really nice winelog spreadsheet, which I would like to try to add here to keep track of my winemaking in simple detail. I don't know how to get that done without creating a new blog and then just adding a link to it, so I'll be trying to figure that out.

I'd also like to figure out how to add in new pages to the blog in order to separate out the recipes and processes with links from the main page. Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, and I'll just need to start a real website for this. I'll have to ask around. I like how blogger makes things simple, though.

Anyway, that's it for now. I might add more links soon to other folks' wine websites, but not quite yet.

Cole out!

Mmmm... Must!

So I finally finished cutting up the pumpkins!! Good Lord that was a lot of work. After that, I added the sugar water solution, ginger root, cinnamon sticks (I used 6), and checked the SG (specific gravity or potential alcohol) and acidity. The SG came out right at 1.090 or 13% potential alcohol. From what I've read, this should drop some after I remove the pumpkin, so I'll have to check to see if that will be alright or if I need to add more sugar. The acidity started at .001%. That's low, way low. Winethief's recipe calls for the acidity to be .60%, so I had to add some acid blend. I ended up using the whole bottle or 4 ounces. That got it to exactly the right percentage of .60. I was pretty surprised by how low in acid pumpkins were!

Next, I went ahead and added in the tannin and yeast nutrient. And now the must is completed. This morning, I added the pectic enzyme, which will prevent any jelly from forming, because although that might be nice on toast or a biscuit, I don't want to drink it. I also prepared my yeast starter. I will pitch that into the must this evening, and then, boys and girls, we've got wine. Nothing you would want to drink yet, but it is wine! The next step will be to let it ferment for a week and let my little yeastie friends do the hard work now. I'll have to stir a few times, but that's no big deal.

Some notes:
The total amount of pumpkin used came out to 21.5 pounds. That's quite a bit less than the recipe called for, so I added a little more water (about a half gallon). I don't know if that will reduce any pumpkin flavor or not, but hopefully it'll be fine.

As I said, I had to add 4 ounces of acid blend. This was my first time using an acid testing kit. Pretty cool. It brought me back to my high school chemistry days! But since I used all the acid blend I had, I didn't get to add any into my yeast starter. I don't think that'll be much of a problem though.

Stiring 6 gallons of sugar water with pumpkin in it can be tough, mainly just because the floor gets really sticky when some of that sugar water splashes out. Yes, I mopped, or rather used a Wet Swiffer (the 2nd greatest invention ever, right behind the Swiffer that actually squirts the cleaning solution onto the floor) immediately once I finished up. Hopefully, as I walk around, the stickiness will wear off of the bottoms of my shoes.

I followed all measurments indicated in the recipe unless otherwise noted above. The other exception was with the pectic enzyme, as I have a liquid concentrate of it, not the powder as I imagine Winethief used. For this, I just followed the indications on the bottle, which called for 1/4 teaspoon.

It's still fun, especially since the first hard part is over!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Slow Going

Who would've thought it would take so long to gut, cut up, and scrape of 25 pounds of pumpkin meat from 3 pumpkins? Of course, there are other things that have slowed me up, such as the Panthers' game on Sunday. Well, I should finish getting all the pumpkin meat out tonight. I'll go ahead and add my sugar water and some cinnamon sticks and about 3/4 of a ginger root that I decided to add as well. I've been taking some pictures of the process, so as soon as I can get them developed, I'll try to post them up here.

Here's what I've done so far:
I needed a few supplies, so first thing on Saturday morning, I got up and went to Alternative Beverage to get a nylon straining bag and an acid test kit. Then I headed over to Kat's place to check on it while she was out of town (and to steal an ice cream scooper and a big pot to boil the water - thanks, hon!) Next I made a stop at Harris Teeter to get the Pumpkins, Ginger Root, Sugar, and Cinnamon Sticks.

Total cost of everything: $29. That's one nice bottle of wine, 2 decent bottles, or, a little more than 3 bottles of what I normally buy. I should end up again with 24 bottles. That's pretty good.

I cleaned the primary fermeter bucket with B-Brite, as well as my airlocks and bungs. The next step was to cut up the pumpkins. It took me a while and a few tries to figure out the easiest way to do this was to cut up the pumpkins into small pieces the scrape using the ice cream scooper. At first when I tried this, it wasn't working out too well, so I innovated. I love to say that those who adapt survive. I first took a smaller knife and sort of scored the pumpkin meat. Then I sliced it off, and usually had to repeat this 2-3 times per piece of pumpkin. Later I figured out that if I scored it first, then used the ice cream scooper, that worked out better. Then I was getting tired, so I figured out that I hadn't been using enough force at first, so I quit scoring the pieces and just started using the scooper again. That's where I'm at now.

I've finished with 2 pumpkins and I got around 16 pounds of meat from them - 8.5 from the first, and 7.5 from the second. I'm guessing the third will be somewhere around the same, so I'm predicting 24-25 pounds of meat total.

Well, I'm learning that it's hard work to get started on this, but I'm hoping that it will all be worth it this time next year!