The Wine Pages: Homebrew winemaking
January and February are not typical months for a frenzy of winemaking activity. This winter has been particularly cold so far, and the chances of any yeast fermenting in my kitchen are very small. My house is not well heated and the kitchen is almost as cold as outside. Most winemakers limit their winter activities to simply drinking - and this is a noble activity!
One of the key things you can do in the very cold winter months is attend to encouraging your wine to clear properly. Wine is often fermented in the summer months and left to clear over the winter. Wine fermented over the summer will contain a lot of dissolved chemicals. Many of these such as tartaric acid and certain proteins are not completely stable in the wine solution. Tartaric acid is perhaps the most well known. As the temperatures fall, the unstable compounds precipitate out and form crystals on the bottom of the wine. This is unsightly in a finished wine. THerefore, during the winter it is important to keep your wine in the coldest possible place. Put the demijohns or carboys in the garden shed, well protected from the light, and watch all the tartrates fall out of the solution.
When the temperatures fall below freezing for a few days, I carry all my 5 gallon fermentors outside and leave them to get very cold for a period of time. The amount of rubbish that comes out of the wine after a few days is quite surprising. Water in airlocks is apt to freeze, so take care, and if you live in a very cold climate there is a risk the wine itself will freeze, so always keep the wine above -10C, but have wine below 0C for a few days will not harm it.
If you have a wine that is a little over acid, give it the cold treatment - as the tartaric acid precipitates out, the overall acidity of the wine will fall, making it less tart.
Winter is also a good time for a spot of cellar reorganisation. During the year you have both bottled and drunk wine. As this process continues, you end up with different bottles of wine scattered at random around your cellar. Take all the bottles out and put them back in again in some semblance of order, so you have a chance of finding the bottle you want next time you are drunk. This is also a good opportunity to examine each bottle for seepage or threatening deposits that might indicate a build up of pressure.
Those winemakers that delight in making champagne should also use the snowy weather as a good supply of natural ice and do some disgorging.
And of course do not forget to prepare some of your best bottle of wine for Christmas. Make sure the bottles are clean and polished and neatly labeled and capsuled to impress your guests.
It is tempting to do a lot of bottling during the dark winter months. Whilst this is a good idea, caution should ne taken. Wine fermented in the summer may restart activity in the following spring as the warmth encourages malolactic fermentation. Wines that are particularly susceptable to this, such as apple, are best left until early summer before bottling to ensure they are completely stable.