Home Winemaking - Fermenting Merlot

Making Great Wine at Home

The winemaking process for Orange, NSW Merlot 2013.


Week 1 -

After getting all six drums into the courtyard I left them for about a week, completely sealed.

The weather was still reasonably warm in Sydney, getting above 20 during the day. This meant after a week the grapes had started to slowly ferment. A combination of carbonic maceration and yeast fermentation was happening. After picking out a little mould off the top (eeck!) of one of the barrels, I lightly foot stomped the destemmed fruit. I did this to try and kick off the aerobic ferment a little more. By squeeshing the grapes to release more juice and give the yeast some food. 

Making quality wine at home can be a challenge. Cleanliness and sanitiation is key. Everyday I had a routine, morning and night I would plunge the must and sanitise the tops of the barrels. By doing this I was ensuring no nasties would spoil the wine. I used a standard sulphur/citric solution and cloth the keep everything clean.


Week 2 -

During the week I started to slowly tread the whole-bunch fruit, not much though. Just enough to get some juice out in the bottom of the drum and kick off yeast fermentation. I could smell and taste theses grapes were going through some carbonic maceration. I wanted this to happen, but not too much and not for too long. If you let it go for too long you can end up with a wine that is overly juby, with bubblegum flavours. I did what could be called semi-carbonic maceration. Doing this adds more complexity and lifts the aromatics.

After the second week, the destemmed fruit was really starting to fire. I jumped in the barrels and stomped the fruit, crushing the grapes extracting juice, colour and tannin. I also jumped into the whole-bunch fruit and stomped it. This was a lot harder! Stalks made it pretty difficult to full crush the grapes. I thought that I had done enough though and kept an eye on them over the next week.


Week 3 -

After 3 weeks, all 6 barrels (plastic drums) were in various stages of primary (yeast) fermentation. The issue at this stage was the weather was starting to really cool down, 3rd week of May. The ferments started to slow down, so I was a little concerned they would stop and I'd end up with a stuck ferment. This can be a nightmare to fix if it happens.


Weeks 4-5 -

However, after nearly 5 weeks of fermentation the must was nearing 0 Baume and ready for pressing. On the first weekend of June I pressed the Merlot with an old basket press.

After looking everywhere for something to press the grapes, including hiring one, I found a fantastic home-made basket press. Made for an Italian home winemaker in Leichhardt by his boilermaker son-in-law. I love buying old wine equipment and preserving history like this. 

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