The MLF Wars Ensue Slaying more Myths
The MLF wars continue unabated. Winemakers are easily found on Winemaking Forums lamenting the thought of the impending battles of Malo Lactic Fermentation. The cries of despair, fear and frustration are not new. Every year forums are visited by winemakers faced with the recurring battle of MLF. So in the interest of providing support to these winemakers I see this as an opportunity to at least set the record straight.
First it does matter what bacteria culture you buy. For the Cheapskates you get what you pay for. If you buy Viniflora® malolactic bacteria because it is cheaper you can expect a tripling of fermentation time. But VP41, VP31, Alpha or Beta expensive yes but it works. By the way does anyone ever complete an MLF with White Labs Bacteria?
Second if you buy stale ML bacteria from your local home brew store you are wasting your time and adding to your frustration. LHBS’s seem to have a problem selling fresh product. Probably because most don’t know what it is for and more don’t keep it frozen. And if they do carry some it is usually some liquid variety which usually sucks. But it is cheap, I know.
Third What don’t you know about temperature? 72 degrees in your wine will get you done at triple the time frame than 68. So turn on the heat and stop moaning.
Forth For the Chemists in the Crowd. Shut up already! Your ph is usually never a problem and neither is your alcohol level. You geniuses should just follow 1, 2 and 3 above.
Fifth In a hurry? Make a culture for 3-4 days prior to inoculation. It isn’t that hard and it really makes a difference than those Winemakers who sprinkle the fairy dust on the Must as some directions say you can. It is interesting Scott Labs implies for exactly that sprinkling for the direct addition Alpha YET the package calls for rehydration. Follow the Package.
Sixth. For the Stylistic ones. Well get over it. Inoculate at 2 brix or sooner. What better environment can you achieve than an 80 degree medium for bacteria to grow? Especially with all those nutrients floating around.
And this brings me to a myth that needs slaying. One of the fears that have dictated procedure for a very long time and sometimes for the worse is not racking off the lees when you have introduced ML in the Must prior to pressing. For logistic reasons, the introduced ML bacteria is already in the Must prior to pressing, then wine is placed in carboys to go to respective winemakers homes to complete MLF. Following the rules the Myth dictates this would not allow a winemaker to rack off the lees 24 hours later for fear of losing all the drowned bugs. Instead the Wine would have to complete MLF and sit on the lees until it was completed then and only then could the first racking could occur.
In order to accomplish this and not have a great deal of gross lees to worry about we adopted a method of multiple screenings during pressing to minimize gross lees in the first place going in the carboys. This system has worked well and gross lees have been kept to a minimum. Even with the elaborate screening we never experienced poor MLF action. But one could argue the bugs were still in suspension. However on the rare occasion of an H2S problem or fear of one, racking quickly was considered an issue as to not upset the MLF.
All of this worry comes from the idea that the ML bacteria can’t swim and fall to the bottom of the vessel and so if you rack you lose the bacteria and ruin the MLF. If you stir then you can’t rack off the lees either. Some have gone to lengths and we have too on a few occasions where H2s was feared to rack off the gross lees first and inoculate the carboys with a syringe. But this method does not allow you to take advantage of starting the MLF in the Must where conditions are supreme.
While this conventional wisdom of non swimming bacteria issue is spread in winemaking circles as a big deal I think it is terribly over blown. In fact I think it is mostly nonsense that has no bearing on the ability of the bacteria to get around. I think enough C02 in the wine gives bacteria all the movement they need in spite of their lack of swim fins.
In any case for me reality trumps pontification. This year using the new equipment we have talked about here in other posts, we pressed into tanks and distributed the wine to the carboys as usual on pressing day. Except mine that is. Mine remained in the tank until the next day. With tanks equipped with racking arms I took advantage of leaving the wine in the tank 24 hours before pumping it into my MLF room. (boiler room 75 degrees) In the process I left the gross lees behind. With wine in tanks in the boiler room the question was would MLF continue and be ok. Don’t think I didn’t have more ML bacteria and Nutrients at the ready. After all at this point I am still believer in the myth. Can you blame me? One added problem is you can’t see what’s going on in a tank but the action in the air lock was impressive. Was it the final AF finishing? Or was it MLF? Probably both. The only way to tell was to wait for air lock action to subside and break out the Accuvin test kit. All action has stopped. We wait with baited breath for the results.
Never mind Fellas, take my advice go the sleep on this Thanksgiving Eve. All is well and another paranoid winemaking myth has been slayed. Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers and contributors.
Maybe one of you has the balls to post this on your favorite forum. I would just love to hear the “experts” react. Especially when it seems sometimes they like making things more difficult then they need to be so it serves their Forum needs then actually serving winemakers and the procedures that need to be.