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Primary Fermentation

Why do the instructions say I need to use a 27-46L primary fermenter? Can’t I ferment in my carboy or the 23 litre pail the juice came in?

Answer: No, if you ferment in a smaller than recommended container the yeast may suffocate. As juice ferments into wine carbon dioxide is created, if the gas builds up, because it is in too small or a sealed container the yeast may stop fermenting or work very slowly. You could end up with a stuck wine or off flavours. Also, in a smaller container there is a risk that the wine will foam over the top or through the airlock.

Do I really need a hydrometer?

Answer: A hydrometer is your best tool for determining how fermentation is progressing. If the wine doesn’t seem to be fermenting well, or at all, the first thing you’ll need to know is the specific gravity, without that information we don’t know what is happening with the wine.

What is bentonite? What does it do?

Answer: Bentonite is a fining agent, it helps to clear the sediment out of your wine, and it also works during primary fermentation as a “nucleation site” meaning it helps the juice to ferment. Bentonite is a type of clay, known as aluminosilicate, it is found with various minerals attached to it, ours is composed of sodium and calcium. When used in winemaking, it is stirred into the wine to remove proteins and other haze causing particles. Bentonite works through adsorption, it attaches itself to a particle and together they are too heavy to stay in suspension. They then fall to the bottom of the carboy, Bentonite settles out so completely that it does not leave any residue of taste or color behind.

What kind of water should I use for making my wine, is tap water okay?

Answer: If the tap water is fine to drink then it is fine for wine making, if your water has high metallic or chlorine levels or contamination it would be a better to use bottled water. Water that has been treated with reverse osmosis or water softener can have a lower pH due to high levels of dissolved carbon dioxide and may cause issues with wine clarity and stability.

The instructions say to leave the wine in the primary fermenter for 14 days, why? Isn’t there a risk of oxidation?

Answer:  No, one of the by-products of fermentation is carbon dioxide, it forms a protective layer of gas over the top of the wine as well as being dissolved throughout the must protecting it from oxygen. We suggest leaving the wine in the primary fermenter for 10-14 days to allow the fermentation to finish completely as well as settle out a majority of the dead yeast cells which may still be floating in suspension. Once the fermentation has finished and the wine is ready for racking, it is important to ensure that the receiving carboy is kept topped up with wine leading up to bottling.

I want my wine to be sweet should I add sugar to the juice?

Answer: No, any sugar that is added to the fermenter will be converted into alcohol, if you want to sweeten your wine you need to add wine conditioner after it has been stabilized. Please follow the addition recommendations included with your wine conditioner bottle or pouch.

Can I make my wine less than 23 litres to increase body, flavour and alcohol content?

Answer: Our wine kits are intended to be made into 23 liters, if you do not add enough water the balance of alcohol, sugar and acid will be thrown off, the resulting wine may be very sharp tasting. Also, a wine with too high starting sugars may not finish fermenting, the yeast will reach it’s alcohol tolerance and stop fermenting, then your wine will have residual sugar and be sweet.

I accidentally added the 2a-Sulfite instead of the yeast – what do I do?

Answer: It is highly recommended that you follow the yeast hydration protocol on the back of the yeast pack if this issue is encountered. Sulfite won’t prevent fermentation completely but it will increase the time it takes for the fermentation to begin.

I accidentally added the 2b-Potassium Sorbate instead of the yeast – what do I do?

Answer: Sorbate, neutralizes yeast, this is not as easy a fix. Try adding calcium carbonate (Tumms or Rolaids), grind it up, dissolve it in water and add to must, the carbonate bonds to the sorbate and should rise to the top as a layer of scum within 24 hours. Skim this scum off, sprinkle the yeast and monitor to make sure fermentation proceeds normally.

What is the shelf life of the kit? How do I know how old it is?

Answer: On the label that says the type of wine you have is a date code, this is the day the kit was manufactured. The code is simple, YYYYMMDD, so a kit that has 20160214 was made on February 14, 2016. If they are stored correctly the kits will last 12 months. After one year the quality will begin to decline as the juice will oxidize, similar to wine.

I have a silver foil bag that says “tstoak” and has some numbers on the bag, what’s that?

Answer: That’s toasted oak powder – add it into the primary fermenter on day 1 and stir it in well.

I have a package of something that looks like peppercorns, what’s that?

Answer: Those are dried elderberries, rehydrate them in hot water and add to the primary fermenter on day 1

What do I do with the raisins?

Answer: Rehydrate them in hot water and add to the primary fermenter on day 1.

What should the temperature during the primary fermentation be?

Answer: Ideally your fermentation should be at 20-25ºC/68-77ºF.

What is the gas coming from my fermenting wine or beer and is it dangerous?

Answer: The gas coming from your fermenter during the fermentation is carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide will give you a prickly or burning sensation in your nose if smelt. It is only dangerous in large quantities and can accumulate in confined spaces such as closed cupboards or temperature controlled fridges. It is not flammable and will actually extinguish a flame so don’t worry if you are fermenting close to a live spark or flame.

What do I do if my fermentation is foaming over in my primary fermenter?

Answer: Remove your lid and very gently stir the foam back into the beer or wine to help disperse it. If your fermentation continues to foam over, siphon 4-5 Liters of wine or beer from the fermenter into another sanitized container. Add this liquid back to your fermenter once the foam has died down.

Stabilizing & Clearing

I forgot to add the bentonite on day 1, is my wine ruined? Should I add it now?

Answer: If you forgot to add it on day 1 do not add it on day 14, it won’t help the wine clear and it will react with Kieselsol and Chiotosan causing them to curdle. Your wine will be fine.

I tested my wine with a hydrometer on day 14 and it says the wine is 0% alcohol, what happened?

Answer: A hydrometer does not give you a reading of what percentage alcohol your wine is, it tells you the potential alcohol. You need to have the specific gravity reading before and after fermentation, and you can then calculate your wine’s alcohol. To do this take your original specific gravity and subtract the specific gravity of the finished wine. Multiply the result by 131, this gives you the percent alcohol by volume. An example:
Day 1 SG = 1.085
Day 14 SG = 0.998
1.085 – 0.998 = 0.087
0.087 x 131 = 11.397
The wine’s alcohol content is approximately 11.4%

I don’t want to add sulfites to my wine, is there an alternative? What do they do?

Answer: Sulfite protects the wine from spoilage causing microbes and oxidation, you need to add it to the wine otherwise it will go bad. A wine made without sulfites needs to be consumed as soon as one month after bottling. Also you’ll need to find an alternative sanitizer to clean all your equipment.  You can use SaniBrew for cleaning your equipment followed by a sanitize rinse of StarSan if you wish not to use sulfite for sanitizing your equipment.

What about potassium sorbate, do I have to add that?

Answer: Potassium sorbate inhibits the yeast from re-fermenting in the bottle. If your wine starts to re-ferment in the bottle gas will build up inside and they can push out the cork or burst the bottle. If your finished wine has a specific gravity higher than 0.996 it is highly recommended that you add the potassium sorbate.

The instructions say to top within two inches of the carboy, what should I top up with?

Answer: The best choice is a similar wine, either kit or commercial. Topping up with water is not ideal because it will water down the wine.

What temperature should I store the wine at during stabilizing and clearing?

Answer: It is best if it is a little cooler than fermentation, 60°-65°F/15°-19°C, it will clear better at lower temperature, if it is warmer than this the wine will clear a little slower.

I added all the ingredients on day 14 and now the wine has stopped bubbling, is something wrong?

Answer: No, after the first 14 days all fermentation should be complete, however you should confirm this by taking a specific gravity measurement. At this stage all the sugar has been converted into alcohol and potassium sorbate as well as the sulfite will kill any remaining yeast in the wine.

Filtering, Bottling, & Corking

My wine doesn’t taste very good at bottling time, is this going to improve?

Answer: Wine that is young or “green” can be sharp and acidic tasting and this will improve with time. When the wine has matured the flavours will smooth out and mellow.

Do I have to filter my wine? What is the benefit to filtering?

Answer: You do not have to filter your wine, doing so removes sediment better than racking and gives wine a “shine” that is not possible otherwise. Secondarily, it removes yeast, this is important if your wine contains residual sugar, filtering lowers the risk of fermentation in the bottle.

Can I use screw top bottles for my wine? Can I use screw top bottles with corks?

Answer: Re-using screw top bottles is not recommended, the threads can chip and you cannot be sure how good a seal you have. It’s also not a good idea to cork a screw top bottle, the neck is not as strong as a bottle made for corks and may break, also the neck shape means the surface of the cork that touches the bottle is much lower.

The instructions say that if I am planning on aging past 6 months I should add an extra ¼ teaspoon of sulfite, I might keep a couple bottles that long – should I add extra sulfite?

Answer: Sulfite dissipates over time as wine ages, if you are planning on long term aging all of your wine before you drink it, add sulfite. If most of it will be consumed before 6 months do not add the sulfite, as you will get a sulphurous flavor (like burnt matches) in your wine right after bottling.

What is Metatartaric Acid?

Answer: Metatartaric acid is added to wines that have a higher proportion of juice as these kits are likely going to form potassium bitartrate crystals (wine diamonds) when bottle ageing.. Wine diamonds are totally benign and are not considered a fault, but some people prefer to not have them in their wine. If metatartaric acid is added to the wine it will keep the crystals in suspension for up to 18 months. This is an optional step.

Cellaring & Aging

How long after bottling should I wait to drink my wine?

Answer: That depends on the wine, generally higher end kits need more time to age than more inexpensive kits, reds need longer than whites, dry wines need longer than off-dry and more full-bodied wines need longer than lighter, fruitier wines. Our “Cellaring Tips” handout gives you an approximate length of time.

The Cellaring Tips Handout says I need to wait 6 months to drink my wine, really?

Answer: The flavor of wine is like an arc, it will improve over time and reach its peak. Typically, a white wine kit will be drinking its best at around the 6 month mark and maintain that quality up until 12 months. For a red wine kit it will also be drinking best around the 6 month mark but should maintain that quality up until 18-24 months.  If you are aging your wines beyond 6 months it is highly recommended that you add an extra 1/4 teaspoon of sulfite at bottling.

How long will my wine last?

Answer: That depends on a few factors: storage conditions, the type of corks you used, the amount of sulfites you added and the type of wine. Four-week wine kits will last 6-12 months, 6 and 8 week wines will last two to three years. If you want to keep your wine over 6 months add an extra ¼ teaspoon potassium metabisulfite. Red wines will typically last longer than whites and remember storage is important! Storing your wines at (12°-15°C/55°-60°F) will help to maximize the ageability of your wines.

How should I store my wine?

Answer: Ideally it should be in a dark, humid, cool (12°-15°C/55°-60°F) place with little temperature fluctuation and no movement. If you’ve used natural cork store the wine on its side, if you’ve used synthetic it can be stored standing up.

Can I store my wine in my fridge then?

Answer: That is not a great place to store wine long-term because it is too cool, too dry and is generally vibrating. It is recommended that you place your wine in the fridge just prior to drinking. Extended aging in the fridge can also promote the formation of potassium bi tartrate crystals (wine diamonds) in your bottle.

After three years has my wine turned to vinegar, what happens?

Answer: Wine doesn’t ever just “turn to vinegar,” vinegar-making is an entirely separate process. If your wine has begun to smell like vinegar, it is possible that your batch has gotten infected with acetic acid bacteria during the winemaking process. The wine will start to oxidize after 3 years of bottle storage and you will notice the flavor is not as nice as it once was. The wine will not be as fruity and fresh tasting, it may be flat and flavorless.