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White Burgundy Style from Frozen Juice

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  • White Burgundy Style from Frozen Juice

    I have to confess that I'm not a big fan of Chardonnay - especially some of the overblown, buttery, overoaked examples from California. When I do drink it, I prefer two styles, the first being the refreshing, off-dry, unoaked style that's coming primarily from New Zealand. But I also have a warm spot for traditional white Burgundies from the southern Cote d'Or region of France. Montrachet is king in this region, but is ridiculously expensive for everyday plonk.

    Last week I was very lucky to stumble across some premium frozen wine grapes and juice from California's Napa and Sonoma regions. There was a very good deal on '08 vintage Chardonnay, so I bought a 5-gallon pail. Cost: £65.

    The Sangiacomo vineyard, where it was grown, sells their grapes to many top winemakers in the area. The vineyard itself is in a small area that straddles Napa and Sonoma counties called Los Carneros. Some of the early wine pioneers in the region deemed that the soil and climate was much like Burgundy's and planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay there. Some of those vines are now 50-60 years old and still producing fruit.

    For this tutorial, my goal is to make a reasonable knock-off of a decent White Burgundy using California fruit. I'm using Chardonnay, but I think you could substitute any acidic white variety with full flavor. Sauvignon Blanc or Semillon would also be good choices for this style. If you didn't have fresh juice available, you could also use juice from a kit (just be sure to skip the malolactic fermentation step later on. MLF on kits is a no-no).

    Chard0.jpg Chard3.jpg Chard1.jpg
    Last edited by NorthernWiner; 25-08-2009, 12:38 PM.

  • #2
    What is a White Burgundy?

    So let's define what comprises a white Burgundy (besides Chardonnay).

    First, many of these wines are fermented in oak barriques of various age. Some are new, some are old. The different types of oak adds some complexity to the finished wine. Seeing how I don't have a barrique laying about (well, I do, but they have all had red wines aged in them, and I really don't fancy pink Chardonnay), I decided I would put the oak into the wine rather than the other way around.

    I found these nifty French oak spirals at the brew shop. Cost: £8.50


    The package instructions say to use two spirals for 5-6 gallons. Since I only want a little oak in my wine, I've decided to use one. I may add the other when I age it, though. We'll see. Again, oak cubes or chips could be substituted.
    Last edited by NorthernWiner; 25-08-2009, 05:23 AM.


    • #3

      White Burgundy is fermented using native, wild yeasts. Now that may sound like a shot in the dark, but keep in mind that the French have been making wine in this area for millenia, and what they refer to as "wild yeasts" are actually quite domesticated by anyone else's standards. The yeast cells are on the grapes in the vineyard and float about in the air. When the time comes and the juice is released from the grapes, the feral yeast goes to work.

      I don't have the luxury of wild yeast, so I've selected a laboratory isolate from Lalvin called CY3079.

      Here's Lalvin's description:
      Lalvin CY3079 was selected by the BIVB with the objective of finding a yeast that would complement typical white Burgundy styles. CY3079 is a steady, average fermenter, especially at cold temperatures (13°C). Its fermentation finish is slow due to an early autolysis resulting in roundness. This yeast greatly benefits from using rehydration nutrients and complex yeast nutrients designed for use during fermentation. When properly fed, CY3079 has good alcohol tolerance (up to 15%) and is a low producer of VA and sulfides. It is recommended for barrel-fermented Chardonnay and sur lie aging. Chardonnays produced with CY3079 have rich, full mouthfeel and are characterized by aromas of fresh butter, almond, honey, white flowers and pineapple.

      Sounds like it will fill the bill nicely.

      Cost for 8 gms yeast: £1.20

      Last edited by NorthernWiner; 25-08-2009, 12:40 PM.


      • #4
        Malolactic Culture

        White Burgundy is almost always put through a second fermentation. Malolactic fermentation uses special bacterial cultures that convert the harsh malic acid in grapes to softer lactic acid (the same acid that is found in milk and cheese). This second fermentation is what causes some commercial Chardonnays to have a somewhat dairy-ish/buttery aroma.

        I picked up a liquid malolactic culture made by a company called Wyeast.

        Cost: £4.25

        If you are making white Burgundy style from kit juice, you should skip the malolactic fermentation steps. Kits are already acid balanced, so putting them through MLF will only result in a "flabby" wine.

        Last edited by NorthernWiner; 25-08-2009, 12:43 PM.


        • #5
          Thawing the juice

          The first thing I did with the frozen juice was to set it out to thaw. I was surprised at how quickly that happened. The brew shop told me it would take 48-72 hours. In actuality it was more like 24. Unfortunately, the yeast hadn't yet arrived, so I cleared out some space in the refrigerator to keep the juice chilled for another day.

          Now keep in mind, I am using frozen juice because that's what was available, but you could just as easily use fresh juice.
          Last edited by NorthernWiner; 27-08-2009, 05:54 AM.


          • #6
            Back to the task at hand

            The yeast arrived the following day, so I pulled the juice from the fridge and allowed it to warm to room temp.

            Initial readings on the juice:

            Brix: 25°
            pH: 3.31
            TA: 6.4 g/L

            The Brix (a French term, essentially equating to the percentage of sugar) was a little high. Actually it was very high. I would've preferred it to be in the 22-23° range, but a taste of the juice seemed to indicate good balance. The acid/pH numbers looked great.

            In my opinion, sometimes people get too caught up in numbers. In the end, taste is what really counts. And a quick search on the internet for winemaking notes from this vineyard verified that all the measurements were right in line with what other wineries recorded. Nothing wrong with high-ish alcohol, provided there is plenty of flavor to back it all up.

            On we go.
            Last edited by NorthernWiner; 27-08-2009, 05:57 AM.


            • #7
              Having worked with previous vintages of Chardonnay, one thing I can tell you is that the juice typically contains more solids than that of other white grapes. To ensure that it will clear properly, I added a good middling dose of pectic enzyme.

              In this case I used a product called Lallzyme EX (made by Lallemand). It's a little different from most pectic enzymes in that, in addition to tackling the pectins, it also breaks down glycosides, which are aroma-related compounds. This has the effect of enhancing the nose of the finished wine. Or so goes the theory. The glycosidic compounds have to present to begin with.
              Last edited by NorthernWiner; 27-08-2009, 05:55 AM.


              • #8
                I rehydrated the yeast and pitched Saturday morning (22 August). I also added the oak spiral at this time.

                Within 12 hours, fermentation was underway..

                Chard6.jpg Chard7.jpg
                Last edited by NorthernWiner; 05-09-2009, 01:21 PM.


                • #9
                  When fermentation slowed down enough to allow, I transferred the contents of the larger carboy to a smaller one to eliminate some of the headspace or ullage. I also added the sachet of malolactic culture at this time.

                  On this subject, there are many opinions regarding the best time to add ML cultures. Some advocate adding it after primary fermentation is complete, since there is a lesser risk of wine developing volatile acidity (aka "VA", a vinegar type aroma) from interaction with oxygen. I'm of the mind that if you are fermenting in glass, you can freely add it at any point. And since ML bugs are sensitive to alcohol, it's often better to add it when there is less alcohol. I aim for about the mid-point of fermentation to inoculate.


                  • #10
                    Primary Fermentation Complete

                    Here is where we are today. About two weeks have passed, and primary fermentation has finished. Malolactic fermentation is still underway, however. At this stage, it's very important not to rack the wine or introduce any air. As you can see below, the container is topped up and the wine is starting to clear. If you were to look closely, you would see a flurry of tiny bubbles rising to the surface. This is an indicator of ML activity, as the microscopic bacteria convert Malic acid to Lactic (and produce a minuscule amount of CO2 in the process), thus softening the wine.



                    • #11
                      Stinky Sediment

                      One further note. It is generally not a good idea to have a thick layer of sediment at the bottom of any container holding wine. Over time, the sediment will compact, and as the dead yeast and detritus begin to decay through autolysis, they will emit hydrogen sulfide, a foul-smelling gas. Too much H2S and your nice wine will begin to reek like rotten cabbage.

                      The problem, as I stated earlier, is that you don't want to rack during this stage, either. So how do we keep the nasty H2S at bay?

                      The French found that by periodically stirring up the layer of sediment, any hydrogen sulfide gas will be safely bubbled up to the surface and out the airlock. But there is also an added benifit to this stirring. The mannoproteins formed by the decaying yeast also add a creaminess to the mouthfeel of the wine.

                      They even invented a word for this stirring of yeast lees: batonnage, after the baton-like implement used for the process.

                      To stir the sediment, sanitize a long dowel or the non-business end of a stir spoon. Slowly and carefully break up the sediment until it goes back into solution. Yes, it will cloud up the wine. But we don't care at this point.

                      Do this once a week until ML finishes.

                      More to come...