Explorations of Winemaking Techniques

By: anthony On March 18, 2022

I am grateful that to have access to high quality wine grapes. It has allowed me the ability to create beers I would, otherwise, dream of making. Over the past couple of years, I've made three different wine inspired beers with an additional two in the works as of publication of this piece. While the first two were simple - whole grapes in blended sour ale, the third took a twist where I employed Methode Champenoise and treated beer like champagne would. The resulting beer, D'Alliance, hit every aspect of a champagne inspired beer that I was hoping to achieve - dry, bubbly, and bright. My approach towards fermentation, aging, and bottle conditioning shifted radically after tasting that beer and I began researching how I could apply more wine-making processes to what I was doing.

Enter my friend, a professional winemaker. While she was home between harvests, we decided it was the perfect time to see what we come up with combining her skill with wine-making and mine with beer. We did not have the opportunity to brew something together. However, I have a large selection of bulk aging stock to blend from. We spent a couple hours drinking through the cellar stock and she went to town crafting a blend based on her own tastes. The blend was based around a floral batch of young spontaneous beer that's aging. She decided it needed something else, originally playing with the idea of rose petals - but that's near impossible to source at this time of year. We settled on using the leftover wine grapes I had - 15 pounds of 2018 Syrah and 10 pounds of 2019 Chardonnay, with the objective of making this beer come out a vibrant pinkish-red once it's finished.

Let me preface this - any winemaker would have a stroke if they saw these grapes. I pushed the Syrah to its absolute age limit, two months shy of two years in freezing. The Chardonnay was only about three months old, but showing signs of oxidation. Freezing grapes long-term has a very interesting effect on them - their Brix content goes up. These grapes were showing Brix readings higher than when they were fresh. Some juice can also be pushed out of the grapes if you pack it tight enough. So, we had this perfect storm of a situation - high gravity grapes and super concentrated frozen juice.

The Syrah grapes developed a very interesting flavor profile after being frozen so long. Strong notes of leather, tobacco, and ruby port are the easiest descriptors for giving a sense of flavor. We separated all 15lbs of the Syrah grapes from the stems, put a couple of pounds to the side, and, using a colander, gently pressed them to collect the juice. The pressings, combined with the super concentrate, netted us about 48oz of juice. The Chardonnay was still quite spot on to what they were fresh. We separated all the grapes from stems, put a couple of pounds to the side, and again, pressed the remainder to collect the juice. This yielded us about 24oz of juice. After juicing, we took the remaining whole grapes and added them to the carboy. We then added the juice, which was a little over a half gallon. We proceeded to rack the beer blend on top of it and let it sit.

After a couple days of sitting quiet, the beer began to referment aggressively. The massive amount of new sugar added to the beer caused the yeast culture to go nuts and start devouring everything again. On April 11th, 2020, I bottled the beer, a little shy of four months of aging on the grapes.

This beer needed an extended bottle conditioning time. It wasn't ready to drink until August, 2020. The beer is absolutely bone dry, quaffable, with one of the most interesting flavor profiles I've ever encountered in a beer.