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Wine FAQ
  • frydogbrewsfrydogbrews
    Posts: 44,679
    this is a discussion to answer questions about winemaking.
    making wine, from grape juice, is one of the simplest forms of alcohol you can make. at its core, it truly is just juice and yeast. this is a fairly simple discussion to get you started on your winemaking journey. feel free to ask as many questions as you have, nothing is too basic to bother with asking. remember, no one is born knowing how to make this stuff, we all have to learn.

    Q1: what do i need to make wine?

    A: if you make beer, you have, probably everything you need for wine, with the exception of a corker, although you can bottle in beer bottles with crown caps without any problems. you need a primary fermentor AND a secondary fermentor. great debate exists about secondary's for beer, but this debate does not exist for wine. you need to have another vessel to rack out of your primary to allow the wine to clear and finish. also, unlike beer, when you rack to the secondary, it is vital that you top up the secondary to the skinny part of the neck; preferably this is done with the contents of the primary, but you can use water to top up if you must. this is done to prevent oxidation.


    Q2: should i buy a kit?

    A:kits are great ways to get into making wine. i would suggest staying away from the concentrated kits that you have to add 2-3 gallons of water too. while these do make wine, it generally needs more finings to clear and creates a much thinner wine. many online purveyors will sell juice. it is expensive to have shipped, but remember what you are paying for commercially made wine in the first place, it's still a bargain and more rewarding because you made it. with shipping, the pure juice kits generally run 100-150 dollars, although you may be able to get your LHBS store to order them and save a little on shipping. bulk orders can create huge savings if you can find some friends to share a pallet with.


    Q3:is cheaper juice available?

    A: of course! you just need to time this right and buy from a local winery in the fall. every state has wineries now and chances are good there is a winery within an hour or two of where you live. wine areas typically have many grape farmers as well. these individuals will grow wine varietals and sell the grapes or the juice to the wineries. these will be the cheapest areas for juice and oftentimes can be found for 10 bucks a gallon. these kinds of purchases need to be set up well in advance of the harvest. around the 4th of july holiday, begin contacting grape growers or wineries to open communications about purchasing some.


    Q4: so i have my juice, what do i do know?

    A: if you have quality juice, all you really need to do is aerate it, pitch your yeast and maintain proper temps. rack after one month, or once your fermentation has ceased, let clear for 4-6 months in a secondary, and bottle. once fermentations has ceased, it is important to sulfite your wine at every racking. if you are making a sulfite free wine, then you will skip this step, but just realize that sulfites serve an important purpose of stabilizing your wine and you run risks of things going bad if you choose not to use them.



    Q5: what if my juice isn't quality, but its what i could get?

    A:this is common. sometimes you can get juice, but its not optimum because growers sell the best fruit to the wineries who can pay more or wineries simply refuse to purchase the other fruit. the biggest issues are pH and brix level (sugar content) brix level is an easy fix. while i dont' recommend adding actual sugar, or corn sugar, honey is an easy addition. technically this makes it a pyment (honey +grape juice). the desired sugar levels are variety dependent and taste dependent, so just follow the guidlines for your style.
    pH is very important in wine. if yoru pH is too high, your wine will taste very thin and lack body. for this you need winemakers litmus papers (~usually around 5 bucks for 100) or a pH meter, which can vary widely in price. many kits already have pH adjusted, but you can still adjust for your personal taste. again, pH is variety dependent, but is usually between 3.7 and 3.2 if you stay within those guidlines, you will have fine wine. if you choose to adjust pH, remember to do it before fermenting. the acid used to adjust ph doesnt' bind as flawlessly in the presence of alcohol. generally tannic acid is used for wine making, but a generic acid blend can also be used.


    Q6: what is degassing:

    A:de-gassing is opening the primary and stirring for a minute or two to allow the co2 to release from within the liquid. this is especially important for most wines as a the tiny amount of co2 absorbed during fermentation can be very offputting. thankfully, this only takes a few minutes. just spray a long spoon with stra san and stir, you will visibly hear and see gas escaping from the must. when you no longer see or hear it, put the lid mack on and check again in a few days. repeat until no more gas escapes. IMPORTANT, only do this during primary fermentation or you risk oxidizing the wine.


    Q7: the wine is in the secondary, and i want to add finings to make sure it is clear.

    A:generally time will clear most wines, but if you are worried about it now, you can add finings. there are many to choose from but you generally want to use a positvley charged one and a negativley charged one. follow package instructions.
    easy positively charged : chitosan and gelatin
    easy negatively charged : kieselsol and bentonite


    Q8: I'm ready to bottle

    A: if you are ready to bottle, you pretty do it just like beer. the only difference is adding sulfite stabilizers into your bottling bucket and using a corker if you decide to put it in wine bottles.


    ENJOY, and don't hesitate to add questions

  • Ace_ClubAce_Club
    Posts: 1,907
    1. Why not rack when most of the primary fermentation has ceased but not completely. That way you don't have to top up because the CO2 produced will blanket the headspace?

    2. Is degassing really necessary? Won't time in the secondary allow degassing to happen naturally?
  • frydogbrewsfrydogbrews
    Posts: 44,679
    1: you don't want the wine to hang out with a bunch of CO2, because it will absorb it. minimize headspace and there is not enough to absorb. this is a serious issue with red wines. carbonation and tannins do not mix. i can't explain it, but its true. white wine, mead, those are all different and you could probably get away with it.

    2: basically, see answer number 1. de-gassing releases the CO2 and so it doesn't get absorbed by the wine. trying to get it out later will lead to oxidation. and without shaking it up, or leaving it exposed to the air for an extended period, it won't escape.
  • C_BC_B
    Posts: 76,461
    These are some good facts. I just a used a kit to make my first wine. The instructions said to use a six gallon carboy, I think mine is a 6.5 now... Any topping up would have meant adding a half gallon or so of water. I didn't want to thin it out that bad so I left it. Will two weeks exposed to the co2 in the headspace be that detrimental? The kit is a sweet strawberry wine that supposed to be good young. Not aged much.

    Also when bottling, should the same care be taken to not oxidize the wine? Minimal headspace in the bottles is the goal?
    "On it. I hate software." ~Cpt Snarklepants
  • C_BC_B
    Posts: 76,461
    Oh yeah, and the kit didn't give me sulphite stabilizers for bottling. Should I use them anyway? If so, what and how much for 6 gallons?
    Thanks.
    "On it. I hate software." ~Cpt Snarklepants
  • frydogbrewsfrydogbrews
    Posts: 44,679
    i'm a huge fan of sulphite, because it covers simple mistakes. wine isn't easier to oxidize than anything else, but it does tend to show oxidation at much lower levels, so i use sulphur (campden) at every racking. this is a tricky thing though because different kinds of wine hold onto sulphur longer. dry wines can use less and be administered less frequently than sweet wines and if you are racking really frequently, (every week or two) there is no reason to add as much.

    there are whole equations to answer this question in serious depth, but, since most here are just starting out, i would say just use 3 campden tablets (thoroughly crushed) at each racking assuming you haven't racked and sulphured in the last month. smell before adding any sulphur. it does not have the rotten egg smell of hydrogen sulphide, sulphur dioxide smells like burnt matches. if you catch any whiff of this, do not add more sulphur! smell again in 3 weeks and judge from there.

    as for bottling, you want to limit headspace, but also leave plenty of room for the cork to expand and the liquid to expand. generally this is an inch below the level of the cork once inside the bottle.

    as far as your other question about the carboy......is that the primary that is a half gallon too big or the secondary?
    primary it wouldn't matter at all and many people dont' even put the fermenting wine under airlock because of the frequency of degassing. if it's in a secondary, you will need to do something. easiest solution is to let it ride for only a week or two to drop out some sediment, then rack into a five gallon carboy. you can bottle anything left in the original carboy, but mark those 3 or 4 bottles well because they will have more sediment. to cover your bases, a gentle degas in the bottling bucket would be advised. you will be hitting it with campden at bottling, so that will cover any oxidation risk that comes with degassing late like that.
  • C_BC_B
    Posts: 76,461
    The sulphite helps to offset the symptoms of oxidation? I am planning to bottle two weeks from adding the F pack, metabisulphite?, isenglass, and a third thing I can't remember. It sounds like I probably don't need to give it campden that close.
    "On it. I hate software." ~Cpt Snarklepants
  • frydogbrewsfrydogbrews
    Posts: 44,679
    campden is potassium metabisulfite, although i just refer to it as sulfur, usually.

    so you are already adding it. this can vary by kits, but many kits don't add enough sulfur to age wine for very long. as you are making a strawberry wine that doesn't need (or want) much age, i wouldn't worry about it.

    many kits will tell you in the instructions that if you want to age the wine for longer than, say, 6 months, you should add extra sulfur.

    campden doesn't just offset the symptoms of oxidation, it stops them from happening in the first place by binding to the molecules and essentially taking up all the room that the air would want in order to oxidize your wine. imagine it like a avocado. its fine until you cut into it, then it will oxidize and turn brown. campden is your lime juice in this instance.
    mmmmm....avocados.......
  • FuzzyFuzzy
    Posts: 46,013
    How about pitching rates? Specifically for cider, but wine as well.

    How does under/overpitching affect the wine? I've pitched into ciders as if they were beer; is that the best method or should I be doing it differently?
    "Oh, you were serious? I was drunk."-C_B
  • frydogbrewsfrydogbrews
    Posts: 44,679

    How about pitching rates? Specifically for cider, but wine as well.

    How does under/overpitching affect the wine? I've pitched into ciders as if they were beer; is that the best method or should I be doing it differently?



    regular beer pitching rates is fine, can get away with slightly less, but i never bother with that.
    most professional winemakers just toss in the dry yeast, but i always bloom mine in water because there is no reason not to
  • FuzzyFuzzy
    Posts: 46,013

    How about pitching rates? Specifically for cider, but wine as well.

    How does under/overpitching affect the wine? I've pitched into ciders as if they were beer; is that the best method or should I be doing it differently?



    regular beer pitching rates is fine, can get away with slightly less, but i never bother with that.
    most professional winemakers just toss in the dry yeast, but i always bloom mine in water because there is no reason not to


    cool. thanks.
    "Oh, you were serious? I was drunk."-C_B