Frissant Fireworks

By , August 13, 2016

Tuesday morning, at 4:30, all was quiet. Suddenly, a shot rang out!

I thought I was having a bad dream. Not “bad” in the nightmare sense, but as in poor quality. Michelle and I jolted awake.

“Sounds like breaking glass,” Michelle said. We immediately looked for the cat, and found her on the bed with us. She, too, sat up and looked around in confusion.

A wine bottle had exploded under the stairs, in “the wine cellar.”

I got up and checked the newly bottled birch wine (see Birch Batch) but thankfully, it showed no signs of trouble. I found a long bottle shard just outside the cubby where we store much of our wine. That led directly to the discovery of wet, glass-littered, extremely cramped space.

It took me about half an hour to clean it all up, not bad considering what it could have been, I suppose. I found that the over carbonated wine had forced the cork upward, where it met the roof of the space and stopped. I found another bottle in the same situation. I put on thick gloves and managed to free it from the space. The cork popped immediately. I put an airlock on the top of the bottle, and we drank it “young” and frissant that evening. The remaining three bottles show no sign of distress at the moment, but I’m not going to trust them.

I’m disappointed by this incident. I like to use the bottles they use for Charles Shaw wine, commonly called “Two Buck Chuck.” They’re smaller than many wine bottles, which makes them easy to store. Unfortunately, their very thin glass, so they’re far more likely to break from handling or explosively carbonated wine. I don’t think I’ve lost more than a couple of these bottles to explosion since we made our second try at making wine five years ago (see A Return to the Vineyard). In that time, I’ve also learned that even robust bottles may fall victim to explosion when we make our sodas (see Bottle Rocket).

Further, I’m a bit discouraged by how many of my batches, particularly of grape wines, turn out “frissant.” Some are very light, others may as well be called wine soda. Michelle likes it, and others who have sampled it say they do, too, so it’s not a total failure. Still, that’s not “the way it’s supposed to be,” and I’m working to change it. I had hopes that changing to different yeasts, but this latest, explosive batch, indicates that there’s something else to consider here.

What’s puzzling is that it stubbornly stays carbonated after a certain point. I just know that were I making soda, and wanted the carbonation, many of these same batches would go flat on me! It makes me wonder if trying for soda might produce proper wine? It might be worth a try . . . .

4 Responses to “Frissant Fireworks”

  1. Dick Pilz says:

    Mark,

    I use empty US (not foreign) champagne bottles and carbonated cider bottles with crown caps for this reason. These can be gathered after wedding receptions and the like. Ask and leave word when you will take them elsewhere.

    I once used a batch of long-neck beer bottles for a batch of ginger soda. Two days later, there was a mess on the basement floor and a set of bottle caps staring at me in the ceiling where the necks had snapped off, flipped, and embedded themselves. It was a very warm summer.

    Trying to bottle stuff you want to stay sweet and still is always hazardous unless you kill the yeast. I have never succeeded.

    Good luck,
    Dick

  2. Evan Dolson says:

    If the wine is not completely “dry” when you bottle it, it can continue to ferment in the bottle. You can check with a hydrometer and it should be reading just under zero if it is completely fermented or in other words all the sugar is turned into alcohol.
    If you are back sweetening the wine, it needs to be done fermenting. And you have to add potasium sorbate and camden when you sweeten, to prevent the fermentation from restarting. If fermentation is still happening when these chemicals are added, they may not stop fermentation from happening and it will continue to ferment.

  3. Mark Zeiger says:

    Hi Dick, your flying, flipping broken bottlenecks sound truly nightmarish! I think if that were happening, I’d likely give the project up all together!

  4. Mark Zeiger says:

    Hi Evan, thanks for the advice. I’ve got all this information from several books, but I really dislike adding chemicals to my wines unless I absolutely have to. It’s all been more or less by guess and by gosh, so the one or two explosions I’ve experienced over the years are a pretty good average. I only sweetened a batch once, and that didn’t go well–not because of any restarting ferment or anything, just the finished product.

    As for the hydrometer, I usually ignore it, because it’s so hard, with my methods, to get an accurate initial reading on the must. Everybody talks about that being the essential data to compare to the finished product, it never occurred to me to test at the end just to check the sugars. I’ll have to start doing that.

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