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Good Brandy From Bad Wine?

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Can good brandy be made from bad wine?

I am a nu-bee small producer that started out as a winery. Over the years I accumulated over two hundred barrels of flawed wines that were not fit to be bottled. I ignored these barrels of bad wine for several years. When it came time to move my facility, I opened some of the barrels. I was amazed that the wine (although badly oxidized) was not vinegar.Now licensed as a DSP , I have been using this badly oxidized wine to make neutral grape spirit (190 proof) and some amazing Vodka. Needless to say, the head and tail cuts are quite large but I can produce extremely clean hearts. The Vodka requires an additional pass through the plated column but emerges super smooth with just enough wine character to be very pleasing.

I start by using a 26 gal. compound still (4" SS column with copper packing and a reflux condenser) as a stripper. The low wines produced are not appetizing . Then I re distill using a 26 gal. 4" ten plate copper reflux column. The heart cut from this spirit run is flavorful in its own way, but it doesn't speak "BRANDY" to me.

My question is, can oxidized wines make a decent barrel aged brandy? When I am sampling the collection jars, the rejects smell and taste of paint thinner, nail polish, etc.. The heart tastes and smells wonderful but seems "too clean" to make an interesting brandy. I don't want to waste a lot of time putting neutral spirit into barrels if all I am going to get is barrel extract.

Your experiences would be greatly appreciated.

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Have you tried less reflux, so as to pull off the hearts at a lower proof and perhaps retain more character ?

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To add to what Scrounge said, you could just pot distill the low wines.

Also, check the standards of identity. To call it brandy (when distilled from grapes) it has to be aged 2 years or more in oak. If it's aged less than 2 years, it has to be called immature brandy.

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Very well timed discussion. Right now as I write this I have some slightly oxidizer red wine (Pinot) running a wash run, alembic with no plates.

Getting a little bit of sulfur nose but minimal compared with some ciders I have done. Surprising how much colour there is in the first run.

And I also suggest doing your final run with no plates. It sounds as if you split your run into small containers. Try running further into the feints and you might find those brandy notes there. With the small containers you have a choice of where they end up depending on the taste/nose.

I don't have to comply with TTB but I recall someone quoting your regs that if brandy is made from spoiled wine it must say that on the label ??

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To PeteB,

Are you doing two passes with an alembic?

Yes, 2 runs with alembic. I want to keep lots of the original flavor.

I have done a sauvignon blanc which is ageing, at approx 1 year now. I plan to leave 4-5 years but might sample tomorrow since you reminded me.

The Pinot from last week has only 1 run to date. Too busy with whisky.

There are quite a few wineries near me and I am getting quite a few requests to distill non-premium wines, but haven't done much yet.

But have distilled quite a bit of cider (apple wine)

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Just to expand on what PeteB said concerning the regs for using bad wine. You must call it substandard brandy, but that is only for wine with major microbial spoilage. So high VA wines, basically. Highly oxidized wines... aka Sherry ;) do not fall into that category. There may be limits to the g/100mL of VA set for distilling wine that are different for those set for bottled wines.

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I know this is a pretty old feed, but I just thought I'd add a few observations.

I've done a decent amount of grape wine distillation for local wineries who plan to use their distillate in port-style wines. They usually give me their wine that isn't suitable for straight-up drinking as wine, i.e. poor quality wine. I have found that the reason it is defined as "poor quality" greatly affects the quality of the distillate. If it is simply boring wine or is long past it's maturity peak or has oxidized, these can yield rather tasty distillates. However, if they are truly "spoiled" wines that have gone far down the road towards vinegar or have major brettanomyces influence, don't bother distilling them. Even with my best distilling efforts, the distillate is awful with low yield, and in the vinegar cases the acetic acid trashes the copper of the still, stripping off a ton of copper and coloring the distillate blue. 

I now taste test the wines customers bring to me for distillation to avoid the headaches caused by truly "spoiled" wines in my still.

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