The beauty of winemaking is that no matter which side of your brain you use more often, it encompasses both; bringing together the art and the science of winemaking. But here is the real question. How many of our readers make their wine in a scientific fashion? Noting every single detail about your sulfite levels, color of your wine, the taste, the smell and even the location it is stored in? Or are you the type of winemaker that adds sulfite without measuring or doesn’t take notes and just does “what the wine tells them to do”?
I realize that not everyone has had to live through the long and trying hours of writing in and maintaining a laboratory notebook. I remember in college, my lab partners and I would get together and try to remember how many milliliters we pipetted here or how long we incubated there… If only I would have learned sooner that the attention to detail and the thoroughness of a lab notebook can make or break it in the end. It’s the same when you are making wine. If you keep a detailed notebook you will have all the information right at your finger tips should you ever need it.
How many of our readers wish they were able to duplicate a vintage wine with a new harvest? It may be possible to do so, especially if you keep thorough notebooks. Plus, this sort of practice is great if you decide you want to become a bonded winery somewhere down the road.
So, what are the tricks to keeping a great winemaking lab notebook?
Setting up a great lab notebook:
- It’s always good to start with a sturdy notebook with bound pages, such as a standard composition book available in most stores and office supply places. M ake sure to put your name and contact information on the front page.
- A table of contents is also a great feature to start with. This is especially good if you plan on having several types of wine or carboys in one notebook. This brings up another good point; you can’t use a table of contents without numbers on the pages! I know this may be a bit time consuming but it will be worth it! Trust me! So number your pages right away.
- I also always like to leave several blank pages at the front of the book for a “random notes” section. Here I may write the information about the potassium metabisulfite (KMBS) I purchased such as where I bought it, how much it was, the LOT number on the package and the vendor. This information may seem boring, but hey! It’s always good to have just in case.
- If you are using one notebook for several wines, break your notebook up into sections and write any distinguishing information about the separate varietals on “cover pages”. Make sure to write these “cover pages” down in your table of contents.
What do I record?
- It is important to write down detailed information as you are performing a procedure. The rule of thumb is that your notebook should be detailed enough so that someone with little or no knowledge of what you are doing can replicate the exact same procedure. Make sure your entries are clear and legible too! This can be important if you are not the only one testing sulfite levels in your wine.
- Make sure you write down the barrel number you are testing and any identifying information of each sample.
- It is a good idea to record as much as you can even though you may not need all the information. Record pH levels, ppm SO2, amount of KMBS added, etc… It is very important to keep track of your units of measure. If you are adding KMBS to your sample and it is a 10% KMBS solution and you write down 10 as the amount added, someone else looking at the notebook may think that is 10 grams of KMBS powder or that you added KMBS 10 times. Units of measure are very important in a lab notebook.
Finishing Up and Maintaining the Notebook:
As you record your activities in the laboratory, ask yourself, “Did I…”
- Keep up with the table of contents?
- Date each page?
- Number each page consecutively?
- Enter all information directly into the notebook?
- Include complete details of all first-time procedures?
- Include calculations?
- Highlight my results?
Now, I am not saying that this type of detailed lab notebook should be followed by everyone. This is simply a nice way to keep your notes organized and maintained. Always remember to keep your notebook in the same spot after testing.