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Taking Good Notes When Making Wine

By Ed Kraus

Taking good notes when making a batch of wine is essential to becoming a consistent and progressing winemaker. While the notes you are taking may seem trivial at the time, they can become very valuable pieces of information when later comparing the results of one wine against the next.

It is this accumulated information over time that will give you the power to keep improving upon what has been accomplished before. For example, after taking notes on several batches of wine you may notice that you seem to like the wines that where made with one particular type of wine yeast verses the others. Or, maybe you'll discover that one type of sugar works better for you than another.

Relying On Memory

To rely on memory to recall what you did four batches ago, for example, can be a desperate endeavor at best. Sometimes, even when we think we remember what transpired--with great clarity--in reality it is just our minds playing a cruel joke on us at our expense.

Even winemakers using packaged wine juices and following the wine recipes provided should be taking notes. It's regretful to be drinking a wine you made months earlier, a wine that you eventually discover is well to your liking, and not be able to even remember which brand of juice you used to make it.

What Type Of Information Should I Record?

The idea here is to record pieces of information that has an actual bearing on the outcome of the wine. Certainly you don't want to record things like how the weather outside was when you added the yeast and such. Instead, you would be concerned with the temperature of the must when the yeast was introduced. The more detailed you are with the things that matter the better your position will be when later trying to make heads or tails of batches results.

Here are some guidelines as to what information should be accumulated in your notes:

The ingredients are the cornerstone of any batch record. The types of ingredient and their amounts will usually be the most critical information. How much fruit was used; the amount and type of sugar, yeast, fruit acids, nutrients, etc. should all be noted.

Dates should be kept as well. They can be recorded as a visually oriented line-graph or you can take them down as a journal entry such as what you might find in a diary with dated entries. Or, maybe you have another idea of your own. Which ever you prefer is fine.

The critical dates are:

1. The starting date. This is the time when the yeast is actually added to the must.

2. Dates of rackings. Any time the wine is transferred from one container to the next, the date should be noted.

3. Dates when ingredients are added. Not all ingredients are added at the beginning of fermentation. Sometimes there are ingredients that are added a day or two before the fermentation is started. Sometimes ingredients are added during the fermentation, or even after it has completed.

4.  Date the wine was bottled. Nothing special here just note on what day the wine was transferred in to bottles.

5. Also, put a date to any comments you may have about the look, taste or smell of the wine. These may be notes not only taken during the fermentation but also later as the wine develops with age.

Track Hydrometer Readings

Specific Gravity readings should be noted and dated as well. It is consecutive hydrometer readings through time that will paint a picture of how the fermentation went along. It is also hydrometer readings the are used to determine how much alcohol was made.

Hydrometer readings should be taken at: the beginning of fermentation, during rackings and at the end of fermentation. Also, if either more sugar or fruit is added to the must during the fermentation a reading should be noted before and after it is added.

What Should I Put My Notes In?

You can use something as simple as a spiral bound notebook for these records, and this is what many people use. The only disadvantage with it is your are starting with a blank page. You have to remember by yourself what pieces of information need to be recorded. This can lead to holes in your story--so to speak.

Also, the notes might not be consistent from one batch to the next, making it harder to later compare several batches side by side. The notes simply are not visually parallel enough to one another to allow you to come to any solid conclusions.

With these things in mind we have created our own Wine Log that handles these very issues. Simply put, the Wine Log is a bound book of identically formatted pages that will prompt you for details about every batch you make in a consistent and complete manner.

Later you will be able to readily make comparisons between batches simply by quickly flipping from one identical page to the next. It is this uniformity that allows things to visually stand out more clearly when holding one wine up against another.

The Wine Log also has handy conversion charts to help your convert weights and measures from metric to English and a basic winemaking overview section for quick referencing when making your wine.

Related Articles:
"Sample Your Wine As You Go" 
"Getting To Know Your Hydrometer"

Make sure you check out our wine making supplies and wine making equipment departments.

Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.