European Winemaking Techniques and How They May Benefit You

From the April 2015 Newsletter. Looking at how a seemingly small amount of wine consumed can cause a headache, not a hangover, and how sweeter wines using arrested fermentation instead of back adding sugar results in wine with little to no glucose and a lot fewer calories:

But back to the Max’s Small Batch Red #42 and the Turtle Run Winery philosophy on winemaking. Too many folks wake up today with headaches from drinking too much wine the day before, or so they think. Perhaps, they think that maybe they are now allergic to wine, or a wine type in general. I don’t think it’s from too much wine, and I don’t think it’s from a newfound allergy. I think the headache and other maladies are caused by the explosion of additives that have crept into the wine industry. I’ve had too many conversations with too many consumers over the years (such as “I can go over to Europe, drink their wines and feel fine the next day”), that philosophically, I have become more and more entrenched in relying on winemaking techniques not chemistry books to make our wines. Our 2013 Pinot Noir, for instance, got a tannin and structure boost by taking the pressed cabernet sauvignon skins and adding them to the pinot noir tank, then re-pressing the pinot noir 6 weeks later. This technique of double use of skins is something we developed here after learning that wineries in the south of France used this idea well over 100 years ago, before powdered tannins came into vogue.

Our challenge for the Max’s Small Batch Red #42 was realized a year ago at this time. We simply didn’t have the red wine inventory in barrels to provide us with well-aged wines for the spring of 2015. But how would I soften reds from the 2014 harvest? Naturally? I think the root of the red wine headache comes from a common practice in today’s modern winemaking – additives and fining agents, none of which I have an inherent aversion to using, but the combination of added tannins, Gum Arabic products, and fining agents, to me, has to be at the root as to why these headaches and other maladies have become more commonplace. Nothing else has changed in the past 15 years or so except for more additives available for winemaking.

The reds in Max’s 42 are Sangiovese, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc, all reds with a pop of tannin that typically takes aging to soften. Over the past 15 years, we have intently studied every facet of red winemaking that affects the final flavors and structures in our red wines – temperature, pump-over versus pressing, pump-over intensity and duration, bacteria, yeast strains, skin contact weeks, press intensity, and press fracturing to name a few. What we discovered was an adaptation from white wine making – sur lees, or stirring the lees or spent yeast cells, but with a twist – all done with red wine while the wine remained in contact with the skins. It is well known that some contact with spent yeast cells for white wine will soften whites and add a silky mouth feel to the wine. The cost for doing this process is the scouring of some fruitfulness in the wines. So timing is everything in determining what the proper length of time is to keep the wines on the yeast. We also use this exact same technique to build body and mouth feel with our “My Mind” wines, sweeter reds, and blushes made from American grape varieties.

Speaking of those “My Mind” wines (Red My Mind, Lost, Crossed, Blue, and Slip) we start “My Mind” fermentations at room temperature, then promptly “freeze” them at 6% alcohol and let them very, very slowly ferment over the next 8 weeks with some of the spent yeast cells breaking down into the wines to enhance body and mouth feel without a spike in alcohol. The “My Mind” wines have a silky full mouth feel structure of wines with 14% alcohol but are only at 10% thanks to old yeast cells decomposing into the wines while fermentation is slowly inching along. We thus avoid Gum Arabic and all other smoothing additives.

This process for the “My Mind” wines, is high risk winemaking. Leaving sweet wine on yeast for an extended period of time runs the risk of potentially having the wine finish with not enough residual sugar – you see, the yeast want to eat all of that sugar, glucose first, then fructose last. And we want to keep some of that sugar – we only want fructose though and the yeast are very respectful of what we want. We want the yeast to do so many things for us to make the “My Mind” what they are: sweet wines with a clean refreshing finish, no sugary aftertaste, fruit forward with a nice full flavored expression that is much lower in calories than the typical American sweet wine. We need yeast to consume sugar to make alcohol, and we want them to consume the health challenged sugar first, glucose (glucose is what cancer feeds on, it’s the sugar of diabetes, etc), and impart body and mouth feel which can only be done with extended time of the yeast in the wine. Cold fermentation is the way to do this. This idea dawned on me back in 2004 while teaching a wine appreciation class. We had a German Riesling at 8% alcohol, slightly sweet that had body and mouth feel of a wine with a much higher alcohol percentage. Because it was a highly rated QMT wine, it couldn’t have any added juice to sweeten it. Historically, German white wines have always been sweet and low alcohol. As an aside, yeasts can naturally ferment juice up to and slightly above 17% alcohol. Due to their latitude and continental location, German wineries traditionally have picked their grapes well into October to get the fruit as ripe as possible. As fermentation begins, winter sets in, and since no central heating existed for many centuries, fermentation typically started then stopped, frozen in time due to the cold climate. Over several weeks, some yeast de-compose back into the wines, adding luscious mouth feel and complexity. Then by spring, the clean wine on the top of the tanks was / is racked, siphoned or pumped leaving the yeast behind. So all we do to make the “My Mind” wines is following that approach — duplicating traditional German winemaking processes through the use of extended cold temperatures in the vats. As another quick aside, we discovered EMSL labs in New Jersey several years ago. Having them test what sugars existed in juice and the final wines gave us an idea that yeast are preference based organisms. If my math is correct, if given a blended liquid of glucose and fructose, yeasts will consume glucose over fructose at well over a 90% rate.

Understanding this softening affect of yeasts with German wines and the “My Mind” wines, and already having done research on tannin reduction through extended skin contact, which seems counterintuitive, the fall of 2014 we set about to make bold, dry red wines, which were ready to drink early, but would have no fining agents or any other additives put into play.

All 3 wines aged 7-8 weeks on the skins. All were rigorously pumped over during the first week of fermentation twice to three times a day for 45 minutes each session. All tanks were sealed with 2% residual sugar remaining to build a carbon dioxide head in the skins to add complexity to the wines. Afterwards, the wines were sub circulated every 3 days under the skin cap to speed up the yeast integration process. All were pressed at slightly heavier press settings than in previous years. After another 6 weeks passed, each wine was lightly filtered to remove particulates including yeast. The result, very fruit forward, full bodied red wines with nice tannin structure that lack any harsh astringency and with only one additive – sulfur dioxide.

One more thought on the “My Mind” wines. After exhaustive research and extensive lab tests, we unlocked several positive attributes to how the German Riesling and the Turtle Run sweeter wines are made, a process known as “arrested fermentation.” We discovered that yeasts are highly selective organisms, choosing to ferment glucose before fructose. No wonder bees make their honey into fructose – so yeasts won’t break it down. Arrested fermented wines contain just over 60% less calories than sugar added wines. For instance, fructose has 3 calories per gram versus 4 calories per gram in glucose and sucrose, and with a taste that is 2.2 times sweeter than glucose and 1.72 times sweeter to taste than sucrose, fructose is the best natural sugar option. Add up the calorie difference per gram with the fact that the perceived sweetness of fructose is far greater than any other sugar, and the result is we can greatly drop our percentage of residual sugars over sugar sweetened wines. Add in the alcohol calories, and a wine which starts with the same grapes as us, but is fermented dry then has sugar back-added to create sweetness to the perception level of our wines, will have 62% more calories than our wine – a benefit for everyone! But there is another benefit. Diabetes is ravaging our country, and the sugars which cause diabetics problems are sucrose and glucose. Arrested fermented wines have very little to no glucose left behind. Thank you, yeasts!!

Some of this is re-iteration, but here is part of an email I sent to some other winery owners I’ve gotten to know in the US. I attached our lab results to this email, but I can’t figure out how to get them attached to this blog.

I wanted to send this information along to you so you could see that yeasts are very selective when it comes to fermenting sugars. While fermentation is ongoing, yeast will consume all types of sugars concurrently, however, it’s looking very conclusive that they have an extremely strong preference towards metabolizing glucose before fructose.

I’ve submitted wines over the years to EMSL to gather data about yeast activity, but I was especially curious about some wines from this year.

We chaptalized, or added sugar, before fermentation for all three of these wines. For vignoles, we chaptalized by adding cane sugar by 5 degrees brix. For the other two wines, we chaptalized by a gaudy 10 degrees brix. We arrested fermentation via filtration, leaving vignoles much drier than the other two.

There is no trace of glucose left in vignoles, which I knew would be the result due to the 5 degree addition and the percent of R/S I was leaving behind. Too many previous lab tests over the years told me vignoles would be devoid of glucose. However, there is very little glucose left in the other two, especially compared to fructose. The yeasts really attacked the glucose and with the sugar addition, there was a lot of glucose to start with.

I’ve done the math. If Winery A starts with a juice at 23 degrees brix and arrests fermentation at 3-4% residual sugar, and Winery B completes fermentation then back-adds sugar to the same sweetness by taste level as the Winery A wine, if the same ounces are poured, the Winery A wine will have approximately 38 calories, and Winery B will have approximately 100 calories. Half of Winery B’s sugar calories will come in the form of glucose, which is the sugar that causes more health related problems than fructose such as Type 2 Diabetes.

I am not marketing this information. But there are too many sick people these days, taking pills, seeing physicians, etc.

I pretty well knew what would happen when chaptalizing by 5 degrees as we have run that test in previous years. However, I thought the yeast would have a tough selective problem on their hands with so much sucrose added to the juices when we chaptalized by 10 degrees. Nope. Glucose first. And “mother nature” already had the pathway established. Bees figured it out many years ago. Make honey into fructose and not glucose and the honey would be yeast resistant. Of course degrees brix plays a role, but the bees figured that out too.

My conclusion from running this test is very simple. I’m just not a fan of adding sugar at bottling. It’s a banned practice in Europe and the back-adding of juice is either banned for some wines or is severely frowned upon. Aside from making wines that are much more tolerable to our diabetic society (new stat: over 40% of the US adult population over 35 years old are diabetic or pre-diabetic) due to much lower calorie content, low to no glucose remaining, which is the sugar that affects diabetics the most, they taste better with arrested fermentation. The sugary aftertaste seems to be more associated with glucose and not fructose. Try diluting honey which is fructose in water and comparing it to sugar water. We have actually been able to monitor fermentations without lab equipment just through the residual sugar aftertaste. Once that sugary aftertaste is gone, then we know it’s time to test for alcohol concentration and sugar levels. Consistently, that number at first testing is 8.25% – 8.75% alcohol.

I thought you would be interested in this information. It costs me a decent amount of money to do these lab tests, but it’s good information. Customers love the clean taste which is the number 1 reason we only do arrested fermentation. But knowing we are making wines in the healthiest way possible allows me sleep well. We can’t market much about it, but that’s okay.

The philosophies of Turtle Run Winery are simple: First, make exceptional quality wine enjoyed with food and friends. Second, make it in the most health conscious way. Make it beneficial to the consumer in more ways than one.

We just gave away a ton of secrets on how Turtle Run Winery wines are made. We sincerely hope you, the consumer, appreciate our health conscious approach. Too many people are feeling the effects of today’s modern winemaking in the morning. Perhaps, many folks are deciding they can no longer drink wine or a certain style of wine. I’m saying not all wines are made equally, and if you have been having problems with wines, please give ours a try.

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