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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Wine Dogs Make Wine: Lesson 4 (Mellowing Out)

Three Fox Vineyards

Delaplane, VA
Not to worry. Munchkin is as tart as ever, but our wine is getting mellower as it ages.

Today's a big day... Munchkin and Pomeroy are going to transfer our wine from the primary fermentation unit (aka bucket) to the "barrel" (aka carboy), where it will undergo malolactic fermentation, oaking, and aging.

Step one, as always, involves cleaning our equipment and the carboy. While we're washing up, John explains we'll be using VP41, a freeze-dried bacteria known as enocoucus oeni that produces malolactic fermentation. Putting bacteria in wine seems a little like putting botulism in your face, but John assures us it will do good things... enhance "mouthfeel" and introduce good tanins.

A little 2.5 gram envelope produces enough bacteria for about 66 gallons of wine - plenty for our 10 6-gallon batches. John mixes some with hot water and passes it around for the smell test. Ummm. Smells milky, and everyone knows Munchkin loves cream. John says we want to make sure we don't throw diacetyl acid (which produces a buttery taste; good for Chardonney, but we've got Cabernet). Pomeroy says if you're going to throw butter, he'll be happy to catch it.
Time to check out the wine. Appropriately, we appoint Uncle Jeff our Hydrometer or is that "High-drama"-ter expert. The wine measures in at 1.005, meaning almost all the yeasties are done.

Of course, we have to taste again. Classmate Dave asks "How much of a gulp do I need?" John replies, "Just enough." Ours is still a little fizzy, but starting to taste like real wine. We may have taken too much... but the team doesn't let it go to waste.

Now we take our siphon and transfer to the carboy. It looks like a blood bank with all that red fluid flowing. John says to position for max air flow. The more oxygen the better at this point (for reds; deadly for whites), because it helps malolactic and yeast do their thing.

Meantime, it's time to oak the wine. No Munchkin-size oak barrels; instead, we put oak into the wine.
The Wine Dogs opt for a 50/50 combination of the French oak that came with our kits and the Hungarian oak that John has provided. The former looks like shavings; the latter are actual chips.
John says they will sink to the bottom as they get saturated. We put the airlock back on, and get a couple of gurgles as the wine starts to release CO2.

Well, the carboy's nearly full and we have some left over. Only one solution... pour it into our glasses and drink up!


The Wine Dogs will be back in a month to see how the wine's aged.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Easter Miracle for the Wine Dogs

Miracle Valley Vineyard
Delaplane, VA


Turbo, the Miracle Valley Jack Russell Terrier, hangs around with the Wine Dogs party.


Easter Weekend seemed a most fitting time for the Wine Dogs to officially check out Miracle Valley Vineyard, which opened its tasting room last August (Munchkin already had a preview).

We entered the converted farm house, with its wide--planked hardwood floors and beautiful stone fireplace, and were greeted warmly by owner Mary Ann Cunningham and daughter Michelle (as in Sweet Michelle, but more on that later). It's a family business at Miracle, with husband Joe serving as winemaker.

Michelle guided us through a tasting consisting of a Viognier, three Chardonneys (one finished in steel, one in Hungarian Oak, and one in American oak), a Cab Franc, a big Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Sweet Michelle.
Michelle told us she's not really a big fan of sweet wines, but when your Daddy wants to name a wine in your honor, you go for it, girl!

While the humans sipped the wine, Munchkin and Pomeroy joined local wine dog Turbo, a 2-year-old Jack Russell, on an exploration of the winery. Munchkin was most impressed with the full kitchen and stayed to supervise, while Pomeroy showed uncharacteristic independence and followed Turbo out to inspect the grounds. Miracle Valley makes all of its wines except the Sweet Michelle from its own grapes. All told, 7 acres currently are under vine, with plans to add Petit Verdot.

We chose a bottle of the Cab Franc to enjoy by the fireplace. Little did we know the surprises in store. Half-way through our first glass, Wine-making classmates Carrie and Elisabeth entered the tasting room. Small world, considering the growing number of area wineries. Turns out our teachers at Three Fox, the Todhunters, actually helped the Cunninghams get their winery started, and recommended the visit.

Then Mom went out to get some fresh air (and close the open top on the jeep... my seat got wet!). She came back in carrying a dog-on-a-stick. She said that Turbo was a perfect 8-lb weight and was going to start on her new exercise regime. Me, I prefer frisbee, which is also one of Turbo's favorite games.

The Wine Dogs are hoping to come back when the weather's warmer to enjoy the beautiful grounds, the nicely developing wines, and dog-friendly family atmosphere at Miracle Valley.

Wine Dogs Make Wine: Lesson 3 (Doing Acid)

Three Fox Vineyards
Delaplane, VA

No, you're not on an acid trip of your own. Munchkin does indeed have bunny ears - just her way of celebrating.

Happy Easter from the Wine Dogs!

Who knew winemaking was going to be an acid trip for the Wine Dogs? This week, Munchkin, Pomeroy and their classmates learned all about acids and how they affect the taste of wine.

Munchkin, who is a little bit of a brown-noser, stayed up late reviewing her notes and arrived at class looking a bit harried (hairy?).

First step was to use the hydrometer to check our wines. Specific gravity's down to 1.07 and visual observation says the yeasties are very active and the wine is effervescing. Now for a lick. Yep, there's less sugar now. In fact, it tastes like a grape fizzy.

Next, John showed us how to calculate the brix or percent of sugar based on the hydrometer reading. Our wine was aout 14 (that's down 3 percent).

Finally, John told us that our wines currently had malic acid, which is a kind of citrusy flavor that's good for whites, but a real dog for red wines. That's why we do the malolactic fermentation.

To illustrate, he mixed up some chemicals in our wine glasses that mimic the taste of malic acid. We sniffed and tasted. Hmm. Kind of like green apples. Then, he added chemicals to make it taste like citric acid. Have you ever seen a dog pucker his lips? Pomeroy took off at this point. Finally, John turned the liquid into lactic acid and presto... it was drinkable. Bottoms up!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Wine Dogs Make Wine: Lesson 2 (Primary Fermentation)

Three Fox Vineyards
Delaplane, VA
This week the Wine Dogs got to 1) meet all our fellow classmates, and 2) start primary fermentation of our wine. First thing John told us was that we have to clean, clean, clean. Pomeroy sheds and we don't want any "hair of the dog" in our wine. So we all sprayed down our primary fermentation units (aka buckets) with B-Brite and rinsed. As you can see, we are using very sophisticated equipment.

At last, we are ready for the good stuff. John showed us how to open our home wine kits, which contained the "must", a fancy word for grape juice. Munchkin and Pomeroy supervised as we poured it into the bucke... er, primary fermentation unit. It reminded Munchkin of the Welch's frozen concentrate -- except these are not Concord, but reserve French cabernet grapes. Still, we mixed it with water just like Mommy does to the Welch's, and the taste we snuck (it just dripped out, honest) was very sweet. In fact, we tested the sugar (or Brix), and it measured 17.53 percent. That's going to change once the little yeasties get in there and start turning the sugar into alcohol. We put six grams of yeast into our six gallons of wine. There's a couple of other measures we're watching. We've got a hydrometer to measure the specific gravity (right now, 1.072), and pH strips, which gave us a starting pH of 3.2.

So far, I'd say winemaking is pretty easy, unless you're the yeast. We left them to do the work while Munchkin and Pomeroy went back to the winery and enjoyed a bottle of CabFranc (and a bottle of Merlot) with our new classmate, Elisabeth Morgan, in honor of the Patron Saint of Wine Dogs.



Happy St. Patrick's Day from Munchkin, Pomeroy and our Three Fox friends - Milano, Della, and Giovanni!

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Sunday, March 9, 2008

Wine Dogs Make Wine

Three Fox Vineyards, Delaplane, VA
Your favorite wine dogs are about to become winemakers. Munchkin and Pomeroy have enrolled in the home winemaking course offered by John Todhunter of Three Fox Vineyards. John started out as a home winemaker -- for 30 years -- before following his dream and opening Three Fox with wife Holli.

Classes are on Saturday, but because of a conflict, we had a make-up lesson for the orientation on Sunday. We met classmates Joe and Bethany, who are already experienced home-winemakers. The closest we've come is when Pomeroy's Dad left apple cider in the refrigerator to ferment.

We're getting a real winemaking kit, with buckets and carboys and oak chips. We're making Cabernet Sauvignon -- 2-1/2 cases worth, as are five others in our class. Three adventurous groups will be making a Zinfandel-Shiraz blend, and two groups, including Joe and Bethany, making Sangiovese. That's one of Three Fox's specialties, and we got to taste some yummy wine from the barrel, as well as a full set of the current wines thanks to Holli -- the perfect hostess.

Keep watching. We'll be posting after each lesson.

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