Pinotage 2014: Malolactic Fermentation

Since day 5 the wine has been in the barrel and fermenting away (I hope!).  This process should take a couple of weeks and I’ll know it’s done when there is no gas leaving the barrel.

The airlock seems to be working.  Here is a video clip that shows how the gas escapes from the barrel and how the airlock prevents any gas from entering.  Quite cool if you ask me.


Pinotage 2014: Day 4

Morning Check In

The hydrometer reading this morning was 1.000, which means it is 0 sugar and fermentation is complete.  This is much faster than I had hoped, but I was warned that Pinotage ferments fast when it is warm.  I am glad that I used the iced bottles to cool down the temp.

So, this means that I have to press the wine as soon as possible and get it into the oak barrel.


Pressing and barrelling

I let the wine stand during the day so that all the skins can rise to the top to make syphoning the wine off easier.  The hydrometer reading (for old time’s sake) was Once the wine is syphoned off into the buckets the grapes came in I poured the wine into the barrel.  This was quite a task and a half and I made some mess, but all in good sport.

Eventually the barrel was filled, and I still have 7.5 litres of juice/wine left which is now in the freezer.  I’ll use this to top off the wine when it is ageing.

Next time I should consider syphoning directly into the barrel instead.


Malolactic Fermentation

The primary fermentation (sugar to alcohol) is done and now it’s time for Malolactic fermentation (tart-tasting malic acid is converted to softer-tasting lactic acid).  This is done by bacteria.  The bacteria can be added now, but I added the bacteria at the beginning, even before the yeast fermentation.  The bacteria won’t be able to do their job while the yeast is doing its job, so they were waiting patiently until alcoholic fermentation was complete.  Now they are working away (I hope).

After the wine went into barrel, I plugged the hole at the top with a bung with a hole and used the airlock.  Malolactic fermentation also creates gas which needs to escape from the barrel, but you can’t leave it open since you want to prevent oxidation. The airlock to the rescue.  It allows gas to escape but won’t let any gas in.

Here is a picture of the airlock in the barrel.


Now we wait.  This should take a couple of weeks.


Date Time Hydrometer Balling
23 Feb PM 1.100 23.774
24 Feb AM 1.096 22.897
24 Feb PM 1.096 22.897
25 Feb AM 1.092 22.014
25 Feb PM 1.077 18.652
26 Feb AM 1.042 10.475
26 Feb PM 1.014 3.574
27 Feb AM 1.00 -0.005
27 Feb PM 0.995 -1.305


Pinotage 2014: Day 3

Morning Check In

I had a big of a fright this morning when I saw that the Balling dropped by 8 from 18 to 10.  So, I chucked in some bottles of ice since I knew the day was going to be a scorcher.

My dad replaced those bottles with freshly iced bottles around 3pm.  When I got home and took them out at about 6:30pm, they were water, and not cold at all.

Afternoon Check In

On my way home I was thinking about what to do next should the fermentation be done when I get home.  With a lot of eagerness and anticipation I checked the hydrometer reading, and it was at 1.014 (balling of around 3.5).  Phew, for now at least.  This means that fermentation is still not done.  It also means that the sugar dropped from 18 to 3.5 in 24 hours. 

I added some freshly  frozen bottles to the Huge Green Container, and put the other bottles back in the fridge.  I also put ice underneath my fan in the hopes that it would cool the air a bit.

I hope that fermentation continues, but that it slows down significantly so that I can do the pressing on Saturday.  Only 2 days to go.  Let’s hope for the best.

On a different note

Every time I take the hydrometer reading, there is juice in the measuring tube.  What to do with that?  Taste it of course!  I could taste a definite drop in sweetness last night.  Today I started tasting some tannins (I think).  I can still taste some “yeastiness” and some bubbles on my tongue.


Date Time Hydrometer Balling
23 Feb PM 1.100 23.774
24 Feb AM 1.096 22.897
24 Feb PM 1.096 22.897
25 Feb AM 1.092 22.014
25 Feb PM 1.077 18.652
26 Feb AM 1.042 10.475
26 Feb PM 1.014 3.574


Pinotage 2014: Day 2

Morning check in

The garage smelled a bit more strongly than yesterday.  When I opened the Huge Green Container, the skins seemed a bit higher and “denser”, trying to engulf the poor little pool thermometer.  The temperature has risen to about 22 degrees Celcius.  I also include a pic that shows the hole left in the skins when I removed the thermometer.  The hydrometer reads 1.092 (22.014 Brix) which is lower than yesterday, so things seem to be going along well  I expected a must lower reading, but I’m happy to see that it is indeed making progress.  I also mixed the skins into the juice.  You can see how the level fell by looking at the ridge on the side.


Afternoon check in

I could smell the wine from outside my house when I got home tonight.  Fermentation is definitely in full swing and you can see the level is even higher than this morning.  You can also hear a soft purring sound when you hold your ears close to the skins.  The thermometer reads 32 degrees Celcius and I’m a bit worried that the temp is too high.  You can see the juice and bubbles bubbling through the hole of the thermometer.

When I stuck my arm in to get juice for the Balling test, I kind had to break through a barrier of the skins until my hand reached the (much cooler) juice.  I took a temperature reading of the juice as well and that is around 24 degrees Celcius.

The hydrometer reading is at 1.077 which is significantly lower than this morning.


I decided to do a check on the calibration of the hydrometer by floating it in water.  Sure enough, it is all good with an expected reading of 1.000.


After I did this, I checked on the Huge Green Container again, and saw that the the skins have already drifted to the top and settled in, in less than 10 minutes!



Date Time Hydrometer Balling
23 Feb PM 1.100 23.774
24 Feb AM 1.096 22.897
24 Feb PM 1.096 22.897
25 Feb AM 1.092 22.014
25 Feb PM 1.077 18.652

Pinotage 2014: Day 1

Morning check in

I checked up on the Huge Green Container this morning to see how things are going along.  It seems like the yeast is settling in since I noticed a change in the colour and the temperature rose slightly.  But nothing exuberant.


My ritual of taking taking Balling readings has started and here is the pic for morning of Day 1.  It’s not very clear on the picture, but it reads 1.096 which is slightly lower than yesterday’s reading of 1.100.  I take this as an indication that the fermentation has started.


During the day

The must must be mixed a couple of times during the day.  My dad will do this during lunch, and I’ll mix it in the morning and afternoon (and before I go to bed).

Afternoon check-in

I couldn’t wait to get home to check on things.  When I opened the garage door I could definitely smell something is happening.

The balling reading tonight is still 1.096.  I expected a lower reading, so I’m a bit concerned that something is not all right.  Let’s see what happens tomorrow.



Date Time Hydrometer Balling
23 Feb PM 1.100 23.774
24 Feb AM 1.096 22.897
24 Feb PM 1.096 22.897

Pinotage 2014: Day 0

The Pinotage grapes have now completely defrosted and the winemaking can begin.

Fill the Huge Green Container

The first step is to get the contents from the buckets into the huge container.  This isn’t necessarily an easy task since the lids are quite tight.  But after some effort, the berries and juice are nicely in the container.  Just look at them all happy in the container waiting for the adventure to start!


Measure initial sugar content

Before starting the fermentation, it is important to take a balling reading.  For this, I used the hydrometer.  My hydrometer measures the Specific Gravity and must be converted to degrees Balling (i.e. Brix).  I found a nifty website with a conversion tool:

In my case, the SG is 1.100, which converts to 23.774 Balling.  A rough indication of the % alcohol this wine will have is to take the sugar level and multiply by 0.58.  This works out at 13.78% alcohol.


Hydrate the yeast

Before the yeast can be added to the must it should be hydrated first.  This is done by adding the yeast to a mixture of the juice and water.  I added 30g of yeast to 300ml of liquid (210ml water and 90 ml juice).  This mixture must be kept at a temp of around 35 degrees Celcius.  After 30 minutes I added some more of the juice to the yeast mixture.  The must was still very cold and I wanted to prevent a yeast shock.  Here are some pics from this crucial moment.  The yeast smelled quite nice actually, and this feels very similar to baking bread.


Add the yeast to the must

Now the yeast can be added to the must.  I simply poured the yeast mix into the must, very slowly in one spot.  Here is the end result.  Note the blue pool thermometer floating.  One thing the kit didn’t have was a thermometer and this was the best I could get.  It seems to do the job quite fine.  Let’s hold thumbs for the yeast to settle and fermentation to start.


Garagiste I wanna be :)

I recently did a garagiste course at the University of Stellenbosch presented by Dr Wessel du Toit.  It is a weekend course starting on a Friday night after work and ending on a Sunday afternoon.  We learned quite a lot and made good friends. 

My friend and ex-colleague, Leon Britz, did this course as well, and I had the pleasure of enjoying some of his wine.  You can read about his adventures on his blog

To start my adventures, I thought it wise to start with a starter kit which I ordered from  The kit was delivered on Saturday 22 February 2014 and contains the following:

  • HUGE plastic container for fermentation
  • 50l Oak barrel, syphon and stomper
  • hydrometer
  • Goodies (yeast, nutrients, bacteria, corks, bottle covers, plugs, fermenting cap)
  • 60 bottles
  • 6 buckets of frozen Pinotage (20l each, so 120l)WP_20140223_005

The grapes are indeed very much frozen, and must be defrosted completely before the wine making begins.  The anticipation and excitement is electrifying.  My main concern is keeping the temperature from soaring since Pinotage ferments faster.  I created a section in my garage where all of this will happen, and it is a cool-ish spot.  Let’s hope for the best!