We knew failing was going to be part of the learning process. And still it hit us hard this year. Really hard. Although we had selected the grapes carefully during harvest all of our reds – Schwarzriesling for the Pet-Nat experiment, Dornfelder and Regent – came in with terrifying amounts of volatile acidity. If you’re not familiar with that term: it basically summarizes a couple of acids like formic acid or butyric acid. And the scariest one: acetic acid.
There had been quite a bit of acetic acid rot in the vineyards. Which we of course threw away. But those bacteria can be incredibly lively and strong, strong enough to seriously infect the juice. I hadn’t learned that checking volatile acidity is something to do right after harvest. So the days of fermentation passed by and made the mess worse without me spotting it.
The Dornfelder is fine now although I had to add 20mg/l of sulphur to stop the bacteria doing their job. But for the Regent help was too late. The vinegar flavor was smellable and tastable in a way where it was clear that there was nothing left to do. The 2014 Wanderlust had passed away. Quantitatively this was more than half of our whole harvest. And yields had been sadly low already. This really sucks. In the end it was almost liberating to pump the mess out of the barrels and start cleaning them with sulphur so there won’t be any bacteria left next year. Catharsis if you want so.
So, what did we learn? First of all if I’ll spot anything close to that in the vineyards around harvest again I’ll run to the lab right away. Secondly shorter skin contact if there is danger in sight and thirdly keeping several batches separate in case not all of them are spilled that badly. It’s these mistakes which really hurt you learn the most of.