When birds got the better of my 2016 Marquette crop, I turned my frustration into a learning opportunity. With fewer than 5 gallons of must fermenting from my meager crop, I had a few days to make a critical choice: dry or sweet?
Having never made a Port-style wine, I decided to stretch my limited supply with a sweet wine normally enjoyed in smaller quantities.
Most sweet wines are made by stopping the fermentation before it is naturally complete. In the case of a fortified wine like Port, that is accomplished by adding brandy to the fermenting must to kill the yeast and preserve any remaining sugar. Most wine yeasts cannot survive when the alcohol level exceeds about 16%.
The calculations for determining the amount of brandy to add rely on a little high school algebra. The goal is to add enough 80-proof brandy so that the finished wine will have roughly 18-20% alcohol. And if you do it at the right time when your fermentation is still quite active, you’ll be left with about 5-10% residual sugar. That’s enough to pair nicely with a blue cheese or chocolate dessert.
Right now my wine is aging with a medium-toast American oak and it’s ready for its second racking.
While the birds thought they got the better of me last fall, by the time I’m bringing in the next harvest, I will be drinking my first young glasses of sweet revenge.