Malolactic Melodrama

I once bragged that my favorite malo-lactic bacteria strain surpassed magical fairy dust. Sprinkle it into your wine barrels, and pouf, secondary fermentation concludes before you can blink. I also once bragged to a fellow mom that my son would never play shoot ‘em up gun games. Then he ran past us both screaming “Bang! Bang!” and brandishing a mock gun he’d fashioned from a thick blade of playground grass. You’d think I’d have finally learned to stop bragging. It’s been three harvests since my misinformed, bacterial affirmation. (“My bacteria is better than fairy dust. My bacteria is better than fairy dust”). And even though I chant “Ohm, malolactic finish now” for daily mediation practice and post chains of gram-positive cocci on my Oprah Vision Board, I’ve got three pokey barrels. How can I admit to Oprah that my positive affirmations failed to advance ML? Twice. It’s just one lot from one vineyard, 3 measly barrels, but it’s still a bugaboo.

I’ve been really patient. I waited 3 hours before sending my latest plan of attack to William at the winery. My email was time stamped 2:48 am. Of course, the offending barrels were at the very bottom of the very back of the barrel rows in a packed barrel room. To excavate them into the foyer would take at least a full morning of forklift gamesmanship. I waited 20 minutes before making sulky faces at the forklift driver (conjuring inevitable bad Bruliam karma for harvest 2015). Winemakers are not superstitious. But if you don’t stir the barrel lees in a counter clockwise direction, the aeration won’t work. And then the bacteria get upset, affronting me personally with mean-spirited catcalls and pathetic blips of carbon dioxide. Don’t read this in the barrel room. They communicate with telepathy.

I decided to add yeast hulls, to mop up any offending fatty acids and/or negative juju. Then I’d rack and re-inoculate a third time, with a new, more powerful strain. I purchased the 50hL packet. That way I’d still have enough left overs to re-do it 10 more times. A small safety buffer is reassuring. Half way through the yeast hull addition, I smelled something, kind of buttery, like newly completed ML. Sure enough one of the barrels was already done. Must’ve been the methodical stirring, in sync with my Gregorian chanting, or maybe the special tune I hum when I walk three step right then three steps left while sanitizing the mixing baton. I felt bad I hadn’t waited until 5:30 am to send that email. Just to be triple certain, I sent another sample to the lab before adding the new bacteria. It turns out I was pretty close to being done! The PhD lab gurus assured me that with patience, the barrels surely would finish on their own. So I drove home to get some more gear from my garage.

When I returned to the winery, William had kindly moved the two incomplete ML barrels into the morning sunshine, to warm them up naturally. This would be perfect, organically speeding up fermentation kinetics with thermal heat. I’d just add some electric fish tank heaters and my continuous-feed temperature probe to monitor the things second-to-second. When I do finish ML fermentation, I can attribute it to carefully calculated intervention. And patience.