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Old 04-17-2012, 02:19 AM   #1
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Default Curious about my dad's old winemaking methods

As a kid my dad made a red wine in a used bourbon barrel every year (new barrel each time). When I got into brewing beer I thought he would have a lot of good advice for me, but it turns out he was pretty much just throwing 5-gallon buckets of pure grape juice (boy, was that some tasty juice) into the barrel, letting it catch wild yeast, covering the hole with a towel for a few days, then capping with an airlock.

When I was 19 or 20 I filled a few glasses from the tap on the bottom of the barrel and I thought it tasted pretty good, maybe not fantastic, but not hooch either. This was also towards the end of the barrel and it didn't taste oxidized.

How did he get away without sanitizing or pitching yeast and still end up with drinkable, consistent wine that didn't seem to oxidize over the half a year of drinking it straight from the tap?

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Old 04-17-2012, 05:21 AM   #2
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The first part is probably luck and area. Yeast and bacteria are all around. Some are useful, some are not so useful.
The yeast specific to a San Francisco Sourdough is found in San Francisco. The Yeast found in the Senne valley makes Lambics a Lambic beer.
Back in the heyday, wine was made using crushed grapes and the yeast that resided on the the skin of the grapes. The same with cider.

I expect that the burbon infused wood assisted in the sanitation process.

Oxidation, I'm not sure. I would guess that there was enough of a co2 blanket that remained undisturbed (since it would lie on top of the fermented juice as the level lowered) I don't know enough about the permeability of the wood staves and the size difference of an oxygen molecule vs a co2 molecule to really say more on this.

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Old 04-17-2012, 12:10 PM   #3
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Wine was made that way for thousands of years, so that is why it works.

Was it a sweet wine? Sugar is a very good preservative.

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Old 04-17-2012, 12:38 PM   #4
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Thanks guys, that's kind of what I thought about the bourbon barrel and wild yeast, but I just figured he would have an infected batch every once in a while. The grape juice was really sweet and sugary, but the wine came out dry.

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Old 04-17-2012, 12:41 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DoctorCAD View Post
Wine was made that way for thousands of years, so that is why it works.
So was beer.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DoctorCAD View Post
Was it a sweet wine? Sugar is a very good preservative.
Probably not at the concentrations in the finished product. It probably has more to do with the alcohol being a good preservative.
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Old 04-17-2012, 04:31 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by broadbill View Post
So was beer.



Probably not at the concentrations in the finished product. It probably has more to do with the alcohol being a good preservative.
Alcohol (at wine levels) is not a very good preservative, tannins are also considered a preservative as is the naturally occurring sulfites, but none by themselves are strong enough. Must be a really good mix of all of them to keep the wine safe.

Just lucky, I guess.
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Old 04-18-2012, 03:10 AM   #7
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alcohol is not a preservative, it is a poison. At certain concentrations it will kill bacteria and yeast, that is why some yeast will die before it ferments all of the sugar...If the wine is exposed to oxygen for a long enough period there is a possibility that it could turn to vinegar but if its sealed good enough it usually doesn't. There isn't any luck involved here, he used an airlock and the wine fermented naturally...

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Old 04-18-2012, 08:05 AM   #8
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I can't remember the reference, nor the exact figure, but once the alcohol content gets above ~12-13% then apparently getting any wild infection is extremely unlikely. Acetobacter is probably one of the very few exceptions.

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Old 04-18-2012, 11:43 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Honda88 View Post
alcohol is not a preservative, it is a poison. At certain concentrations it will kill bacteria and yeast, that is why some yeast will die before it ferments all of the sugar...If the wine is exposed to oxygen for a long enough period there is a possibility that it could turn to vinegar but if its sealed good enough it usually doesn't. There isn't any luck involved here, he used an airlock and the wine fermented naturally...
Wine can't "turn" into vinegar. I found this info on the net. Sorry to the author, but I couldn't find the name to give credit...

The Answer

Wine cannot turn into vinegar.

As I mentioned above, winemakers try to kill as much of the natural bacteria that come with the grapes as possible, however, as with all living things, a little bacteria always remains. This bacteria however, is not the kind of bacteria that creates vinegar. One of the most common types of bacteria found in wine is Brettanomyces bruxellensis, commonly known as Bretts. A yeast, Brett's ability to create unwanted smells and flavors is directly linked to unclean winery equipment. It does not make wine vinegar, it merely makes a wine taste bardyardy, or bandaidy. This is one example (debatably) of spoiled wine. Wine can become gross, or spoiled, but it cannot become vinegar.

Unless.... you add the bacteria that turns sugar into acetic acid. This is known as a "mother" among vinegar makers. I recently helped a farmer in the Lazio region of Italy transport a demijohn of 30-year-old vinegar across his barnyard. It had a thick cloud at the bottle of the demijohn, and this is the mother: a unique bacteria that makes vinegar. If you have a mother (and I hope you do), you can turn all of your old wine to homemade vinegar.

Alright, that's enough of wine 101. Any questions?
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Old 04-18-2012, 01:16 PM   #10
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Thanks a lot, you guys have been very informative

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