Wednesday, April 9, 2008

flowers of wine

We have had our last night of the winter season at the restaurant. We have filed our paperwork, cleaned out the refrigerators, left an away message on the answering machine, and locked the doors. At home, we finish packing, clean the house, and generally try to organize our lives so that we can be away for a month and not feel our own absence too much.

Twenty-four hours before we fly out of Boston for Milan, I decide I should do a barrel tasting of our wine that is patiently waiting in demijohns in our pantry. The fine layer of scum that has accumulated on the top of both varietals has been giving me some good pause, and along with tasting the wine, I think perhaps I should look at one of our wine books and try to determine what is actually causing said scum, or if it is natural and I have nothing to worry about.

It turns out that I have done two bad things. I have left the wine on dead yeast for too long, and I have exposed the wine to air without racking, or transferring to another vessel and re-sealing until the next racking or the bottling. The combination of air and dead yeast has made something ugly with a very pretty name: flowers of wine. A bacteria that makes little white flowers or flecks on top of the juice. When they are just dots of white, it is possible to save the wine, but when it becomes a thick layer, it is too late. I think it is in fact too late for the Barbera, but I think there still may be hope for the Nebbiolo, and we decide to follow the directions for correcting the bacteria for both wines, and see what happens.

My wine books don’t tell you much of what not to do. They explain how to measure sugar, how to rack, how to sterilize your equipment, but they don’t talk about the mistakes of first-time wine makers. There is nothing about how best to facilitate a barrel tasting,and nothing about when to rack if you want to let your wine sit longer in the carboys before bottling. It is as if they take it for granted that these things will be obvious to you.

So we rack the two wines, straining as we go along, and add the requisite Camden tablets which are a natural purifier. The Nebbiolo goes into a bucket with an airlock spigot—for barrel tasting safety—and the Barbera into another carboy ( we only have the one bucket with spigot). We will hope that all goes well over the next month, and we’ll know if this solution has worked just by looking at the Barbera in its glass jar when we return. Fingers crossed.

While it will be disappointing if the wine isn’t drinkable this vintage, the lessons learned have already been great. I could have read those wine books backwards and forwards, and the necessities of how to handle the wines would never have made real sense without making the mistakes that explain the reasons behind the wine making. We must fall before we can rise.


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