I wrote a few posts back on deciding to make wine this year – the first time we’ve done this unsupervised.
Before this year, we would make wine with my Nana, who would
give orders and criticize sensitively guide us throughout the delicate song and dance that is winemaking. Since we had never carried out the entire winemaking process start-to-finish, we went over the steps a hundred times before we came within gnat-swatting distance of a single grape.
We were ready.
So, we ordered grapes, crushed them, let them sit in the skins and stems, just like she said.
A few days in, I peeked inside the door to the cellar, and WHAM! It hit me.
Not the smell you want to get when you spent hundreds of dollars on grapes. And, when you secretly want to prove to your Nana that you’re not too pushey-buttoney, not too supermarket-minded to make wine. I did not, under any circumstances, want to hear, I told you so.
I panicked. True to my generation, I immediately jumped on Google before I would ever admit trouble to her.
I should probably mention that I have a supersonic nose. My husband couldn’t detect the sulfur smell in the wine, but oh, I could.
First things first – I found that sulfur overload was a common problem that could be resolved! I did a little happy dance, then went through my options to determine the best course of action.
We were in the middle of the spontaneous fermentation method of making wine, which means we added nothing at all. No yeast, no sulfites, no sugar, no yeast nutrient. Well, the internet’s answer was that my wine stinks because I didn’t add enough of any of these things.
Nana has been making wine this way forever. The spontaneous fermentation method probably dates back to Noah. There’s no way this shouldn’t work.
Unless the vineyard sprayed fungicides and who knows what else, that killed off the wild yeasts and threw off the natural balance. Entirely possible, the way farming goes these days. That’s the first place my mind went. They sprayed the crap out of these grapes, and now I have to buy packaged versions of what they zapped. Then I’ll have to add a whole slew of chemicals, because the natural flora got messed up.
That’s one way to give your wine a fruity, antiseptic bite with a soft cough syrup finish.
Onto the remedies…
I could use peroxide, which would pretty much neutralize into water, so it’s safe. Problem is, peroxide compromises quality. It will make the wine taste bland. Oh, I could just hear Nana now if my wine comes out tasting like purple nothing.
I could add yeast nutrient, but if the smell is coming from bad strains winning out over the good strains, I’ll just end up turbo-charging them.
Or, I could go nuclear on it. Add copper, either by stirring with copper wire, or adding copper sulfate.
While that’s a sure-fire way to fix it, there’s a catch. The copper sulfate, whether added that way or formed by stirring with wire, are toxic. So if I take that route, I’ll end up having to ask a lot of my liver…
I swallowed my pride and called Nana.
To my surprise, she was completely calm when I told her what was going on. I was expecting her to tell me that I ruined my wine, that I should have just let her make mine.
Instead, in a happens-all-the-time sort of tone, she gave me clear and simple instructions.
That’s it. It needed air.
I was pulling up all of these drastic measures – best case scenario, our wine would have tasted watery. Worst case, our livers get wrecked. When all I had to do was stir it.
Makes me question these master winemaker people. Makes me really afraid of commercially-produced wines – just what are they doing for consistency, for preservation?
The old people are where it’s at.