Saturday, August 6, 2011

Winemaking adventures: Racking

New wine spends a week or two in the primary fermenter (bucket, on the home winemaking scale of production). During this time, fermentation is fast and furious and you can hear the contents fizzing like a newly opened can of soda. If you are making wine using fruit or grapes as opposed to juice, this is when the yeast is eking out every possible bit of flavor and sugar out of the solids. When fermentation dies down somewhat, the remains of the fruit can be removed and the wine is transferred into a secondary fermenter (glass carboy, for many of us) to finish fermenting. Primary fermentation can handle exposure to air because the yeast is going strong. Secondary fermentation limits the exposure to air, or you'd end up with vinegar.

Here's how this segment goes:

At the beginning of this batch, there was so much fruit in the bucket, I couldn't fit as much water and sugar as I needed to for the recipe. In fact, I had to take out some of the juice after the first day because the wine was bubbling out over the top of the bucket. Now, look how little is left of the fruit in that white mesh bag. The yeast took that fruit apart with relatively little waste. I have it in a colander over a bowl to drain as much liquid out as possible. The soda bottle on the left holds the juice I removed on the second day. The wine bottle holds the remainder of the sugar-water syrup that did not fit in with the fruit in the first place. With the fruit removed, there is plenty of room for both.

Since I added more sugars in the form of the sugar syrup and the unfermented juice, I let the wine stay in the bucket, covered with a dishcloth, for another couple of days until the fermentation died down a little bit again.

Then, I siphoned the wine out of the bucket, into the carboy. It's much better to siphon than pour because a lot of the solids that the yeast pulled out of the fruit settle to the bottom of the bucket (and later, will continue to settle out in the carboy as well). Racking the wine off these lees will help the flavor; leaving it on the lees can cause it to taste "off". In addition to solids from the original fruit, the husks of dead yeast cells also settle out. You don't want your wine to taste like dead yeast.

The easiest way I find to start the siphon is to hold the tubing with both ends up and fill it with water. Then I put my thumb over one end and lower it into the container I'm filling and the other end into the wine. When I let the pressure off the lowered end, it runs just fine.

I also racked the cherry wine, because it had dropped a lot of sediment as well. I made this wine with fresh cherries, which I mashed and dumped into the mesh bag, pits and all. When the primary fermentation was over, there was little left in the bag but skins and pits, so there are a lot of fruit solids in this wine which will need to settle out.
The frustrating part is how much wine is lost when there is a lot of settling like this. I had to stop about three inches from the bottom of the carboy, as the siphon was starting to pick up sediment. There are a couple of options to make up the difference when you rack wine. You can either top off with water, or top of with another wine that is similar to the one you are making. I used half water and half merlot.
Now that the wines are racked, I put the airlocks back on and they are back in the hall closet, working their magic in secret.

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