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Blusco

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About Blusco

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    Troy, NY
  1. Blusco

    Half Measures

    The old business adage is true. If you have experience, you make good decisions. How do you get experience? By making bad decisions. We’ve adopted some steps that many home winemakers avoid in response to problems. Most of the time we bottle wine without incident but from time to time, the wine that seemed perfectly clear will throw a sediment a month or so later. Now we rack from carboys into gallon jugs and rack five bottles at a time as I need them. Since I make wine at least twice a year (when the California grapes come in, when the local grapes are ready and in the spring for Chilean grapes,) this frees up some of the carboys. The gallon jugs can also support bench trials or making a small batch of a blend or two. Also, we use tasting corks (look like mushrooms) instead of conventional corks when we think they’ll be returned. If someone needs to keep a tasting cork to recork their (our) wine, that’s fine too. After a while, we may recork with conventional corks to free up the tasting ones. This fall for several reasons, we crushed outside but had to press in the basement. After fermentation had almost concluded, we transferred the wet and dripping must not to the press but to a six-gallon pail I perforated with small holes. The ¼ inch holes are on the bottom and 1/3 of the way up the sides The pail was suspended over another pail and the liquid was allowed to run and then drip into the lower pail. The first six gallons of free run went into a carboy and the drier must was collected for pressing. It was all easier to work with, less mess and seemingly more free-run juice
  2. Maybe this is the year to try local grapes? You can make some new friends and possibly help out your neighbors if you are willing to take a look at grapes that grow in your area. We get grapes from all over: Chile, Argentina and South Africa in the late spring and Europe, California and the Finger Lakes in the fall. There are so many choices, you can feel like a kid in a candy store. To be completely candid, although the grapes have been to some exotic places, I get them through a distributor, Musto Wine Grapes in Hartford, Connecticut. I enjoy picking up the grapes but exotic it isn’t. In the Capital District of New York, now part of the Upper Hudson Valley AVA, we have a good selection of grapes that thrive in this climate. At one point, Maquette, and Frontenac seemed the signature red grapes and now there are some others. Once for fun, we made an Amarone-style wine from Marquette that was rich with tannins, flavorful and dark as sin. There are a variety of whites as well and my favorite has been LaCrescent, a voluptuous big shouldered white with assertive stone fruit tones and impressive Brix. high Brix. I didn’t start out to sing a love song about the grapes of the upper Hudson. My thought is that in your region, local farm wineries have probably been restricted from their traditional markets due to the coronavirus and may have a surplus this year as well as unsold stock from last year. Farmers’ markets and farm sales have certainly been muted and vineyards might have extra grapes to sell to home winemakers. It might be a good opportunity to meet some nice people who have gone pro and expand your palate and winemaking repertoire. You could help your neighbors, maybe save some money and minimize your travel. A word of caution: European red and white wines are often the gold standard of wine making and hybrid grapes often fall short by that measure. That is not to say you can’t make juicy aromatic wines with those grapes because you can. Hybrids were developed for our range of climates and you can find hybrids that outperform vinifera (European) grapes in the same vineyard. Be prepared to watch Brix, pH and tannin levels and adjust. Remember, blending isn’t cheating if a good wine is the result.
  3. My ability to make wine at home is not a central issue in our current times just as this blog post is neither “Journal of the Plague Year” or “Love in the Time of Cholera.” It did make me realize how closely related are my excitement about making wine and the social activity around it. Often, I will rack and bottle wine by myself, but I almost always have company for crushing and pressing and there is usually a crowd around and a meal. The first wine I made, from a kit if I remember correctly, prompted a neighborhood bottling party. Our neighbor Steve, who went on in life to join a group of first-class winemakers, was our corker. We had a fellow about eight year’s old with a hair dryer shrinking the neck capsules and an assortment of people putting on labels. Earlier, soliciting ideas for labels, we got suggestions that included “Jeff’s Jammy Juice” and a crowd-pleaser, “Basement Bounty.” Years later I was trying to identify a wine to submit to the Winemaker Magazine’s international contest. Again, we filled the house with people and they were invited to sample several wines and classify them as “Send it” (to the contest,) “Blend it” (with another wine) or “Upend it.” There was a stainless steel bucket for the last classification. One friend, trying a wine, commented that he would like the red wine better if it were “plummier.” I agreed with him until he suggested that I actually put some plums in it. One useful take away from this event was the notion that blending wines can contribute new strengths to a finished wine and a level of complexity. Working at a friend’s vineyard years ago, wine and people were completely entwined. My wife and I would get there in the morning with bread, pasta, sauce and salad and I would help with chores. During the morning, other friends and our kids would arrive with their children. In the middle of the day, someone would put on the pasta and the sauce and we would have a dinner with really good wine – sometimes with 12 people or more. Chefs from throughout New York would stop by and on one occasion, the owner invited a group of rabbit hunters to join us. This year, we’ll make wine but the occasion will have more solemnity than usual but I’m still able to periodically put a bottle on all the neighbors’ porches and keep the spirit alive. Stay well.
  4. Don’t be discouraged by a bad batch of wine. As an amateur winemaker, I may have learned more from my mistakes than from my successes. My first wine was from juice fermented in the same 6-gallon bucket it came in. A little yeast, a new lid with an airlock and winemaking was underway. It was palatable and red and dry and alcoholic but not outstanding. Then I discovered that the local Homebrew Emporium carried Winexpert kits that made a very drinkable Chardonnay and it extended my winemaking season to year-round. One batch of Sangiovese made with juice and grocery store grapes won a gold medal in a Winemaker Magazine competition and a Chardonnay won a local competition and I was convinced I could make wine. I got pretty good at two complementary tasks: blending wines to make a really good beverage and diagnosing wine faults. Both skills resulted from producing wines that needed a little help. I’ve had to deal with over and under-sulfited wines, vinegar bacteria, hydrogen sulfide, corked wine and color fading. Some we win. Some we don’t. As blending goes, we typically get grapes from California in the fall (like half a ton) and lesser amounts in late May from the Southern Hemisphere. Lately, I’ve discovered that blending a tannic wine like Carnellian with a Malbec or Carmenere that may still have a little “green pepper” quality to it can produce a good balanced wine that would normally not be found in nature. @Garagist
  5. "Lucy, I'm home!" Ricky Ricardo used to call to his wife on the show, "I Love Lucy." Few younger folk remember that show from the 50's but they remember Lucille Ball stomping grapes. Many people have grape stomping on their bucket lists. My winemaking partner Lucas and I produce a public grape stomping at the Hill at Muza a beer garden in Troy, NY once a year. Just as the winemaking hobby takes on a life of its own and threatens to grow to absurd dimensions so has this event. This has grown from grapes, some local, some donated and some bought stomped in half whiskey barrels to this year's 900 pound wine bath in a galvanized stock tank 6 feet across. Hundred of people come and it's hard to stay serious for too long. For us, it's several hours of discussing home winemaking with people who seem fascinated with the process. We explain many times that not only is wine acidic (you folks knew that) but it soon becomes alcoholic and is only really threatened by wild yeasts and vinegar-producing bacteria. The have a mildly sanitizing foot bath before and after stepping in to a half ton of grapes. (Our supplier, Musto Wine Grape Co. of Hartford, CT is always generous.) I'm a big fan of the technique. After a few hours, the grapes a smashed to a thick wet mass and yet the stems and seeds aren't damaged and can be removed without adding their tannin. Next year, we'll add a band and there is talk of closing the street.
  6. Blusco

    Oak Barrels

    Barrels make good servants but poor masters. Several times over the last ten years of winemaking, the size and availability of barrels influenced my winemaking decisions. When I empty a barrel, I rinse it and fill it with a new batch of wine. I make extra just to make sure there isn't an empty barrel. Not everyone I know agrees. Wayne is one of the best home winemakers I know. He and I met with a group of Old World style winemakers and one of them advised his colleagues to empty the barrel after bottling the wine and then let it dry until the next harvest. Wayne and I were horrified. Half a world away, we traveled with our wives to Panzano in Tuscany and heard a world class winemaker describe how he empties the wine from the barrel in mid-winter, rinses and partially dries the barrel and puts the Chianti Classico back into the same barrel. (Wayne looked pleased.) I love the concentrating effect and the flavor notes that oak barrels bring to wine. When they get old enough, I add oak chips to replace the flavor that has faded. We've had good results cleaning out used distillery barrels that can emerge from the barrel cleaning with muted flavors but still valuable for the concentrating effect. I used to park barrels with water to which I added meta, but on one occasion found that it was difficult to control the amount of sulfite that wound up in the wine even after rinsing. I like to give malolactic fermentation plenty of time to complete. Replacing barrels every few years makes sense. The photo that accompanies this post features Ken Macintosh next to a Pommery champagne barrel in Reims, France. The barrel may be the largest champagne barrel in the world and it was crafted in 1903! Comments are certainly welcome either here or on Twitter as @Garagist
  7. Good comments both. The commercial guys don't look down on us at all. We can take risks they can't as well.
  8. Good article. I found that if you start add a small amount of sugar to homemade dry white wine it makes dramatic (and aromatic) fragmentation grenades when capped in beer bottles.
  9. Once you're comfortable with your ability as a home winemaker, consider contacting wineries and tasting rooms before you visit. Nobody appreciates how much effort winemaking can be more than another winemaker. If they know you'll be coming, you may get tours, barrel tastings and offers not available to tourists. In return, the commercial vintner gets a knowledgeable customer who can talk the language. A year or so ago, a winemaker in Paso Robles invited a couple of us to go behind the tasting room to give our opinion of his still barreled syrah. I've had tasting room people pass the money back across the counter saying "We don't charge winemakers." We've been invited to trade tastings. If you get something free, enjoy the feeling but if it's allowed tip generously and be sure to buy some wine.
  10. My wife and I have been fortunate to make some award winning wines from a variety of sources (upstate New York, California and Chile) and we enjoy traveling to winemaking regions to talk with professional winemakers. We've found them to be very gracious and generous with their time, wine and advice. So far, we have been to Bordeaux, Champagne, Provence and Lanquedoc in France; Tuscany, Umbria and Campania in Italy and Sonoma, Paso Robles, Napa and (our new favorite) Suisun Valley in California.
  11. I often use both. I like grapes because I have the neighborhood kids stomp them and we make a party out of it. If you add a bucket of juice to the grapes, it extends it and you can still win awards.

  12. I did the grapes last year Malebc and Cab. Time and money issues caused me to do the juice this year. I am not happy at all with the juice.

  13. Thanks. I use grapes and juice and I'm getting impatient. Good luck. I use malbec by itself and for blending with cab and syrah.

  14. I got it from Keystone Homebrew in Montgomery PA.

  15. May I ask where you got your juice. My supplier tells me that we are looking at next week for Chilean juice and grapes.

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