The Questions We Hear The Most...
How long do I need to keep the fruit in the wine? When do I transfer the wine from my primary?
The length of time you keep your wine in your primary is a balancing act. You need to keep it in there for long enough so that you get flavor from your fruit but not too long that off-flavors will develop. It is also dependent on how you've processed your fruit, how much sugar you've added, if and when you are stirring and what type of yeast you are using. Temperature can also play a roll. We've done testing in-shop to figure out what's best for us. We usually keep it for 10 days in the primary before racking into a secondary (carboy). We stir at least once during this time. Every wine is different so this can change. When I made wine at home, I sometimes racked it at 5-10 days. It was harder to control the temperature in my house without air conditioning and sometimes it was finished earlier.
I got busy (or went to camp) and left my wine in the primary for over a month. Is it still okay?
Maybe.... You will probably have off-flavors from the yeast and oxidation by now. It might smell a little funny too. If there is anything weird (like mold) growing in there, don't taste it, just dump it! If it looks okay, you're brave and don't want to waste it, taste what's there and use your best judgement. If you are trying to keep it, add a little potassium metabisulfite right away. My advice: Dump it and get us to make your wine next time. Or, find someone who'll want to run it through a still. LOL
The yeast isn't working. What do I do?
My first questions to you would be, "How old was the yeast? What kind of yeast were you using? How cold is the area where you're making wine? Did you add any yeast nutrient? How long ago did you add it?"
The yeast was working but now there's nothing. Should I add more?
Nope! Adding too much yeast will only give yeasty flavors. Let's figure out what happened first.
There's fuzzy stuff growing on the top. Can I just scoop it off?
You can do anything you want, it's your wine. However, why would you want to risk it?! It's been compromised. It's contaminated. Dump it and start again. Just make sure you've washed and completely sanitized your equipment before you start again. Go over your wine making steps and see where you can eliminate contamination. Anything that touches your wine should be sterilized. Don't use wooden spoons. Scratches can hide bacteria. If you are making more than one batch at a time, sterilize equipment between uses.
How do I get the wine out of the primary? What size of a strainer should I use?
Wine should be removed from the primary using a racking/siphon tube. This is a hard cane shaped rod with a flexible hose attached to one end and a sediment tip on the other. This will ensure that the lees (sediment on the bottom of the pail) is not transferred into the carboy and the fruit at the top doesn't get into the carboy as well. If you want to get real fancy, ask us to sell you an "Auto-Siphon". These are the cat's ass! No muss with sucking on a hose to get the siphon action happening. As I've mentioned before, our forefathers made wine with little equipment and nothing too fancy. You don't need an auto-siphon, but once you've used it a few times, you'll never try to dump/strain your wine again.
Should I use a glass carboy or a plastic one?
Use glass if you are going to be keeping your batch in it for any longer than 3-6 months. The plastic carboys are made with food grade materials that will not leach into your wine. They are lighter to move around and won't easily break if dropped.
The color isn't right! My saskatoons were dark purple and I have a pink wine - or - My strawberry wine is orange.
The color of your wine is affected by a couple of different things. First is the amount of fruit you use. If you add more fruit and less water to your primary, those colors will be brighter. What is the color of the "meat" of the fruit? That will give you a better indication of color in the end. Some apples are really red on the skins, but the inside is white. Sometimes the color comes out of the skins, sometimes it doesn't. The clearing process will also pull some of the color out of the wine. I've had cloudy bright pink wine turn almost clear as water in the final stages. Adding a little red wine at finishing is the best way to add color before bottling.
The wine is in the carboy but it won't stop fermenting.
It will, eventually. There are 3 main types of sugar and they ferment at different rates. We've noticed that some fruits ferment faster than others. Huckleberries being the s-l-o-w-e-s-t of them all - sometimes not finishing until a month after the projected date! As long as it's still bubbling away and it's active, be patient.
Help, the wine won't clear.
How long has it been? Have you used anything to help the clearing process? Has it been degassed fully? If you don't use ingredients to help clear your wine, time is what is needed to eventually get clear wine. If you are impatient, like me, using kieselsol, chitosan, bentonite, sparkolloid, or even egg whites, will help. I prefer the 2 part clearing system of kieselsol and chitosan. It's easy to use and works pretty quickly without stripping the wine of color and flavor. Make sure it's de-gassed. If it's still bubbly, it won't clear.
The wine is still bubbly.
Has the SGV (hydrometer reading) reached a steady number for at least 3 days? Has the wine been de-gassed? If there is still yeast activity happening in the wine, there is still CO2 being produced and therefor the wine can be bubbly. Make sure you wait for the SGV to be stable. De-gas the wine by stirring it. Sometimes you might need to stir vigorously, a few minutes at a time, for a couple times a day. Invest in a wine whip! They will make easy work out of de-gassing.
How many times do I need to rack the wine? Can I just rack into a pail and then pour it back into a carboy again?
Racking is done to remove the good clear wine off of the lees (sediment). This should be done as necessary. I suggest adding a 1/4 tsp. of potassium metabisulfite each time you rack. The meta-K (for short) will help against oxidation while transferring from one carboy to the next. The less oxygen in the wine, the better. Invest in a second carboy.
Should I filter?
We filter in the shop because it makes the whole wine making process quicker. We don't have the facilities or the man power to rack wines over and over, for months on end. Most people at home don't need to filter their wines. If you are careful with your racking practices, you can eliminate this step, and in turn, keep your wine from undergoing an extra unnecessary step.
I can't bottle it right away. Is it ruined?
Once you've have stabilized it, it can sit for quite a while in the carboy. Make sure that the carboy is topped up properly and the airlock is filled and properly attached. If oxygen can get in, it can start to turn. Check the carboys and airlocks often. Liquid can evaporate over time.
What should I use to top up my carboy?
Once it's been stabilized, add some wine from a similar kind. Store bought wine is good enough for this. White wine works good for lighter fruit wines. Red wine for anything pink to red in color. Remember that adding extra wine can change the taste slightly.
How do I get the wine from the carboy into the bottles?
Invest in a pressure tipped bottle filler attachment that goes onto the end of your racking tube/siphon hose.
I bottled the wine and now I see sediment in my bottles.
Making wine at home gives you the benefit of letting the carboy sit for months at a time, ensuring the wine is perfectly clear before bottling. Sometimes it looks clear but sediment happens later. If you are concerned and want to fix it, the only way is to dump your bottles back into the carboy and reclear it using additives, or wait for it to settle and re-siphon the clear wine back into the bottles. You will lose some volume when you do this. Make sure that your carboys are topped up during the waiting game. You don't want the wine to go bad during the process.
Any other questions? Call us. We'll try to help!