Primary and secondary fermentation

             2014 was not a particularly warm and sunny year for New England.  The weather never really got that hot and I think I only turned on the AC about 4 times the entire year.  So, I wasn’t sure how ripe the grapes were going to be down in Rhode Island.  I decided to drop off the crates in late September, when my wife had a job down in New Bedford.  Tiverton is only about 30 minutes away, so it was a good excuse to not have to sit in the parking lot for 2 hours.  When I talked to the vineyard owner, he mentioned that the Brix was probably not going to be that high.  This rivaled 2011, which seemed a lot cooler and cloudier.  Anyway, I figured I would just have to bump up the sugar a little bit through chaptalization. 
                October just made the situation worse.  It seemed to rain incessantly during the middle of the month and there was a threat of rain for the remainder of the month.  The vineyard owner was trying to get everything harvested as quickly as possible to avoid the rain.  So, he suggested we get our grapes on Friday, October 31st.  This was Halloween, but the weather was supposed to cooperate and Saturday looked like it was going to be rainy.  Knowing that the harvest may end up later on Friday, I decided to go down at 3 pm.  I was dreading that the harvest would end up later and we wouldn’t get home until 8 pm.  However, they had everything ready to go by 3:30.  So, I packed everything up and we were out quickly and on the road by 3:40.  We made good time getting home and arrived at 4:45 pm.  I unloaded the grapes from the cars and had dinner. 
2014 grapes
                We started with the Merlot and with all the modifications I have made to the destemmer crusher, it worked perfectly.  I lost a few grapes here and there, but nothing compared to that first year.  After starting at 6:20, we were all done by 8:30, even after stopping to hand out candy to trick or treaters.  By 9:30 I had cleaned everything up and was ready to check the Brix and add the SO2.  I have learned that checking the pH and TA is not worth it on these grapes as they come out fine either way.  The growth is pretty balanced, unlike some California grapes, so there is nothing that needs to be done.  The Brix came in around 20.8 for the Cab Franc and 20.6 for the Merlot.  I decided to bump up the Brix by 1 before I pitched the yeast.  I added about 25 ppm of SO2 to each (30 mL of 10% SO2 solution to each roughly 34 gallons of must).   I then added some Lallzyme EX enzyme and Optired.   I put one Brute bucket in the fermentation chamber and 1 under an electric blanket to allow them to heat up.
                On Saturday, about 14 hours after I had put in the enzymes, I added FT Rouge, a fermentation tannin.  This specifically states to hold off at least 12 hours after the enzymes (or else they’ll bind to one another and be inactive).  I decided to add more this year than last to see what the outcome may be.
                On Sunday, the grapes had warmed up to 60 and based on last year’s wild yeast fermentation, I decided to inoculate. First, I had to chaptalize.  I did this with regular white cane sugar, enough to bump it up by 1 Brix.  I mixed it with a little bit of must and poured it into the fermenter.  I was now ready to put the yeast in.   I have stuck with my BM45 for the Cabernet Franc and BDX for the Merlot.  I rehydrated them with Go Ferm Protect Evolution (a new product available from Morewine!) and after a couple of additions of 1/5 must to get the temperature within 15 degrees, I pitched the yeast.  The Go Ferm protect evolution seemed to do a much better job getting the yeast going than the regular Go Ferm Protect I used last year.  It activated more quickly and seemed to take off.  This was especially true of the BM45, which has a longer lag time than BDX.  This year, however, there was no noticeable lag time.  I then was able to settle down into the punch down schedule.  This entails two punchdowns a day and a hydrometer check at night.  This allows me to keep tabs on the fermentation without having to give up my day job.
                Fermentation for the Merlot was completed on Friday night at 0.997 SG.  I decided to wait an extra day to press to give a little bit of time.  There was enough fermentation where I didn’t think it would be a problem.  I decided to press in the basement this year to alleviate some of the strain of carrying buckets into the garage (since my fermentation is in the basement).  I put down some plastic and things went generally very well.  I ended up with 20 gallons of wine.  About 16 was free run and 4 was from light pressing.  I never end up pressing too hard, just enough to press the cake semi-dry. 
                The Cabernet Franc took another day as is usual with the BM45.  However, it had a very short lag phase this time around due to the best rehydration I had ever done.  The new “Go Ferm Protect Evolution” really did wonders and the yeast were off to the races.  The Cab Franc had more volume, so I figured it would yield about 3 to 4 more gallons than the Merlot.  During pressing, it seemed as if the sludge was a lot greater, which clogged my drain.  This led to a small spill of wine when I removed the plug.  It wasn’t too bad, though, and we had the plastic down, saving a little more cleaning.  The floor is also poured concrete, so I wasn’t worried about causing any problems.  In the end, I ended up with 22.5 gallons, and I probably lost ½ a gallon to the spill.
               The next step was to inoculate with VP41.  I have had great luck with VP41 and it has completed MLF after 2 months in all occasions.  Innoculation is fairly straightforward, with a simple rehydration for the bacteria and some Optimalo Plus for the wine.  I think that next year I may try to use a specific rehydration nutrient to see if I can kickstart the process.  The Optimalo plus is dissolved in a small amount of water and then added to the wine immediately before adding the VP41.  This additive helps to keep the bacteria in suspension and provides some extra nutrients to keep them going.  I haven’t tried co-innoculation yet, but perhaps that is something else I will try next year.  After adding the VP41 to each carboy, I stirred gently.  I’ll now get ready to stir daily for a week and then every couple days the week after and twice a week thereafter until done.