How To Make Wine – Part 4
If you’ve been following along, this is week #2 of our 4 week home winemaking kit. For those who have reached this article without having read the first few, links to the earlier articles are at the bottom of this one.
Last week, we racked the wine from the primary fermenter into the secondary carboy. We’ve let the wine ferment a little more, and now we want to check the specific gravity. For a dry wine, we’re hoping we’ll obtain a reading of about 0.998 or lower. For the record, the reading on my Liebfraumilch was 0.996.
Here’s where we might vary a bit from the instructions that came with your kit. Some instructions tell you to draw a couple of cups of wine from the carboy, and then add the sulphite and potassium sorbate from the packages that came with the wine kit.
My preference to clean the primary and sanitize it, then rack from the secondary (glass carboy) into the primary, and get the wine off the lees or sediment. Then once in the primary, I add the sulphite and potassium sorbate and stir that up vigorously.
Adding sulphite and potassium sorbate is called “stabilizing” the wine. What this means is that we’re trying to stop any further fermentation. There seems to be a misconception from what I’ve read that this is when we kill yeast cells. Not entirely true. The combination of sulphite and potassium sorbate will stop yeast from reproducing. Some yeast cells may remain in the wine after we bottle it, but what we’re doing is hoping they will become dormant.
Adding sulphite OR potassium sulphite alone will not do this – we need both ingredients together. The sulphite will have an additional benefit for our wine, however. That is it will help to prevent oxidation as well as combat bacteria. If we’ve sanitized everything before touching the wine, hopefully we haven’t introduced much bacteria in the first place. But just in case, a wee bit of sulphite is added.
One thing to be noted here – in this series, we’re not going to be adding enough sulphite where we can trust aging our wine for more than a few months, perhaps six. Later we’ll discuss what to do if we’re hoping to keep wine for longer than a year.
After we’ve added the sulphite, we stir the wine vigorously. Then, we add the potassium sorbate, and again, stir vigorously.
This stirring also has more than one benefit. Obviously, we want to ensure that the sulphite and potassium sorbate are thoroughly mixed with our wine. But, if you’ve stirred vigorously enough, you should have noticed something which will give you a hint at the other benefit.
Notice all that foam at the top? That is CO2 gasses that have been trapped in the liquid, escaping. So not only are we stabilizing at this step, we’re also degassing. A couple of things on this in a minute though.
I like to put the lid back on the primary fermenter while we attend to the next step, which is cleaning and sanitizing the glass carboy. All that sediment on the bottom should be removed. A shower head that has adjustable water pressure can be helpful in this situation, or a power washer. Also, try to make sure the sides of the glass are cleaned up as well.
If you don’t have any sulphite solution, you could use a half cup of bleach and fill the carboy up with water and let it soak 15 minutes. But be sure to give it a good rinse so that you no longer smell any bleach inside the carboy. I don’t recommend bleach however. If you don’t get it all completely rinsed out, you’re wine will not turn out very well. Best bet is to stay away from the bleach and ask your supplier for some sulphite to make your own sanitizing solution.
After we’re done that, we’re going to put the primary up on a counter top or somewhere high, so we can rack back into the carboy. Once you get your siphon going, just let it rack – you should be able to put your syphon hose into the carboy and leave it unattended.
While doing that, it’s likely that your kit came with a fining agent called Isinglass or some other fining agent. You’ll want to get about a half cup of water and empty the contents of the Isinglass package into the water to “hydrate” it. Just follow the directions that came with your kit. Most of the “stuff” in your wine right now is negatively charged – and Isinglass is positively charged. Once we’re finished racking into the carboy, we’ll top it up with the water and Isinglass.
This is called “clearing” the wine. Now, if you were making wine that took longer than six weeks, you might not need to use a fining agent. But because this is a four week kit, we’re using some “tricks” to help the wine along a bit faster so we may enjoy the fruit of our labour earlier.
Once we’ve topped up, we put the air lock into the mouth of the carboy, lift the carboy back up onto a table or countertop, and let it be. The positively charged molecules of the isinglass will bind to the negatively charged particles in the wine, and their combined weight and density will cause the particles to fall to the bottom of the wine.
But over the next couple of days, you should put the end of your spoon into the carboy, stirring vigorously three or four times per day, to help release more CO2. Instead of stirring, you could simply lean the carboy on its side and shake it back and forth. You should see bubbles floating to the top as you help the CO2 become displaced.
After about three days, you should have enough CO2 released, and there should also be noticeable clearing of the wine. You’ll probably be quite surprised the first time you see this!
And now we’re going to just let the wine sit for another two weeks, to let it continue to clear.
So, in summary, what we did today, which really only takes about half an hour or less:
- Rack the wine into the primary.
- Add Sulphite and stir vigorously.
- Add Potassium Sorbate and stir vigorously.
- Clean and sanitize the carboy.
- Rack the wine back into the carboy.
- Hydrate Isinglass.
- Top up carboy with water and Isinglass solution.
And now we wait!
The earlier articles in this series:
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