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When and How Often Should I Degas My Wine?

- Apr 7, 2016

When and How Often Should I Degas My Wine?

This is a seemingly straight forward question I get asked quite often. The answer, however, depends a lot on your wine making methods and what tools you use to degas. I recommend degassing a wine only once. It’s a lot of work, especially if you use the agitation method (with a drill attachment), and there’s really no reason to degas in the middle of fermentation as you’ll only wind up with more suspended carbon dioxide anyway. Degassing through agitation can introduce oxygen into your wine so it’s best to keep that to a minimum. There are times, however, when degassing a wine is difficult and you may have to come back for a second try. This can happen, for instance, if you’re degassing a wine that is cooler than 70 degrees F. This can take FOREVER (I know from extensive experience). If you find that your wine is not degassing very well and that you’re going to have to come back for an additional attempt make sure you rack off the sediment. Many wine kits have you add clarifiers and then degas as a way of both degassing the wine as well as mixing in the clarifier. Mixing the sediment back up after using a clarifier to settle it out can result in a wine that is difficult to clear. In my own experience, I did this and ended up having to add a second dose of clarifier which can potentially start stripping character from the wine. Stirring up that first clarifier put everything back into suspension and the clarifier did not work a second time, thus the additional dose. Vacuum Degassing Another way to degas a wine is to draw a vacuum in your wine container. The drop in pressure will literally suck the carbon dioxide out of your wine. As this method does not rely on agitation it does not introduce oxygen to your wine, nor does it disturb sediment that has collected on the bottom of the carboy. So you could degas as many times as you like as often as you like. That being said, it still is a bit of work to set up the compressor and run the lines. Personally, I would not want to do all that more than once. When to Degas a Wine In summary I recommend degassing: only one time after fermentation is over at temperatures above 70F, ideally 75F (24C) before adding a clarifier or after you’ve racked off of settled sediment Going by these rules reduces the risk of unnecessary oxygen exposure, needing to degas many times, and undoing the work of clarifiers. Commercial Wineries Don’t Degas Most commercial wineries do not degas their wines at all. They simply bulk age the wine long enough that the carbon dioxide escapes on its own. In so doing they avoid the cost of degassing equipment and having to invest the effort to get it done. You can do this too, even if you make wine from a kit. However, you’ll need lots of patience. Also, as a side note, it is sometimes beneficial to degas mead during fermentation as the suspended carbon dioxide can inhibit the yeast. Because honey is difficult to ferment and most meads ferment for months at a time the yeast needs all the help it...

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Choosing a Wine Kit – Part 1 Overview

- Mar 22, 2016

Choosing a Wine Kit – Part 1 Overview

Selecting a wine kit can be a little daunting especially if it’s you’re first one. A lot of factors come into play including the type of wine, cost, kit complexity, processing time, minimum aging time and feedback from other kit winemakers. In this two part series I’ll try to demystify the process. In this first article we’ll start by identifying the key characteristics that separate one product line from another. In part two we will use these key characteristics to analyze each product line and compare the different categories of kits. Then we’ll finish up by discussing how to select your first wine kit and how your kit choices can help build your wine cellar. I’ve used the Winexpert product line for examples because those are the kits I am most familiar with. However, the same basic guideline should apply to other kit makers product lines as well as long as they start out with approximately the same number of liters per kit. Does size matter? One of the things that puzzled us the most when we first started making wine kits was – other than the price, what is the difference between all these different kit product lines?  The short answer is 1) the quality/cost of the grapes used to make the kit and 2) the physical size of the kit.  The quality of the grapes seems obvious but does size really matter?  The answer, at least in the case of wine kits, is an emphatic “Yes!” The more expensive kits are roughly twice as large as cheaper kits yet both kits produce the same 6 gallons of wine.  This is only possible because the smaller kits have a much higher percentage of juice concentrate (juice with a significant amount of water removed) than larger kits, as a result you have to add a lot more water to make 6 gallons of wine with a small kit. The use of a juice concentrate provides two benefits. The first and most obvious is that it reduces the size of the package and the weight of the kit thereby saving on storage and shipping cost. The second less obvious benefit is that the concentrate has a much higher sugar level which acts as a preservative to protect the juice in the kit and extend the shelf life. This may seem counter intuitive at first that sugar would protect anything from spoiling but if you think about things that are high in sugar like the sugar bowl on the table, honey, jelly and fruit preserves. They can all sit out for weeks or months without spoiling because of the high sugar content. The downside of juice concentrates as we all know from experience with things like orange juice and other concentrates is that a little bit of the flavor seems to get lost in the process. Larger kits have a lower percentage of juice concentrate and a higher percentage of regular juice. Basically there is a lot more “stuff” in the juice bag for a “big kit” which gives the wine a richer, more complex flavor. If you take a small kit and a large kit and rehydrate both to 6 gallons and then sample the must before adding the yeast you will find that both taste good but the juice...

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Questions on Wine Fermentation & More – WMA039

- Sep 25, 2015

Questions on Wine Fermentation & More – WMA039

http://traffic.libsyn.com/winemakersacademy/wma039.mp3Podcast: Play in new window | DownloadSubscribe: iTunes | Android | RSSQuestions on Wine Fermentation & More In this episode of the Winemaker’s Academy Podcast Matt gets back to some listener and reader questions of wine fermentation as well as safety concerns regarding carbon dioxide. Also, Matt shares a bit about his own winemaking adventures and how they’re going. Click on the player above to listen in now! Questions Answered Is my wine fermentation too warm? What is “TA” and how do I measure it? Can I grind oak chips into oak dust before adding it to my wine? Is it safe to ferment wine where my family hangs out? Resources & Products Mentioned Measuring Titratable Acidity Winemaker’s Log Book Oak Products...

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Always Use Airlocks On Carboys

- Sep 10, 2015

Always Use Airlocks On Carboys

It’s a fairly common mistake to use airlocks only during fermentation and switch to a solid plug or bung for bulk aging in a carboy. Why wouldn’t you? After all fermentation is over so there really shouldn’t be anything going on in there. The truth is that there are other forces at work that can cause problems when using a solid plug on a carboy. The Trouble With Solid Plugs on Carboys Typically we like to leave a bit of headspace in our carboys when we rack our wines. While it’s best to minimize this headspace we often do still have some space (i.e. trapped air) in there. As you can imagine a glass or plastic carboy does not “breath” and it’s certainly not flexible. Solid plugs or bungs also do not breath, nor can they accommodate any changes in pressure within that headspace. You put the two together and there’s no room for pressure changes or for suspended carbon dioxide to come out of suspension. So what happens when a carboy warms up a few degrees? Or when a bit of carbon dioxide finds its way out of suspension? The plug pops out leaving your wine unprotected. Let’s say the opposite happens and the temperature drops. This creates a vacuum in the headspace causing the plug to get sucked down tightly into the neck of the carboy and can be quite difficult to remove. This happened to me once while making a one gallon batch of mead. The plug was so far down into the neck of the carboy that there was nothing left to grab hold of to pull it out. I decided to go after it with a screw driver and try to pry it out. This resulted in a lot of chipped glass and a decent size hole in my hand. I also tried drilling a screw into the plug and pulling on the screw. This valiant effort merely put a hole in my plug. It didn’t move at all. After wrestling it for an hour, and eventually got it out. At that point I vowed never to use a solid plug again. It’s actually a pretty common occurrence for winemakers to have trouble with solid plugs in carboys. On average I get two to three emails per month from winemakers who are trying to figure out if their wine has gone bad or not because they came home to find that the plug has popped out of the carboy left their wine exposed for three days or more. It happens all the time. Always Use An Airlock With Carboys It doesn’t matter how long fermentation has been over, always use an airlock. Yes, you do have to check the water level from time to time as evaporation, however, this is a small price to pay. The alternative is coming home from a week long vacation to find that your plug is on the floor and your wine has been sitting there for who knows how many days open and unprotected. Airlocks provide a flexible barrier that can give with pressure changes. They can also tip you off if spoilage micro-organisms have taken hold as the airlock will start to bubble again after being in active. That being said airlocks certainly aren’t perfect. They do...

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First Time Winemaker – Part III

- Sep 4, 2015

First Time Winemaker – Part III

http://traffic.libsyn.com/winemakersacademy/wma038.mp3Podcast: Play in new window | DownloadSubscribe: iTunes | Android | RSSAlas, here is the third and final installment of the First Time Winemaker series where Matt walks Academy member Chris through the entire kit winemaking. Start from the beginning here: First Time Winemaker – Part I, or catch up on the second installment here: First Time Winemaker – Part II. In this episode Chris and Matt talk about how the first racking went and what to expect in the third and fourth steps in the kit winemaking process. As usual Chris has some great questions that take us into how wine is made. Click play on the media player above to start listening! Resources & Products Mentioned Meadmakr Podcast Cider School The Ultimate Guide to Kit Winemaking The Winemaker’s Academy Community The Winemaker’s Log Photograph by: Tim Patterson...

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Fermenting Wine in Open Containers

- Aug 20, 2015

Fermenting Wine in Open Containers

There’s a lot of discussion around open fermentations. Beginners especially wonder why some recipes call for open fermentations and kit instructions call for an airlock to be placed on the fermenter as soon as you’ve pitched the yeast. The truth is, you can do it either way. When you’re first getting into winemaking I do not recommend fermenting your wine in an open container. There’s a bit more risk involved if you don’t have a good feel for when to put the lid on your wine. The Benefits of Open Fermentation Fermenting out in the open can be beneficial during the early stages of fermentation for a couple reasons. First, you get some oxygen exposure which helps the yeast build a strong population. Second, there’s nothing keeping the heat generated by fermentation from escaping. Lids can help trap heat and, depending on your ambient temperature outside the fermenter, your wine could get too hot with a lid in place. Most commercial wineries will ferment red wines in open containers to allow heat to escape and to have better access to the cap. When you ferment on the skins they will float to the top and for the cap. This cap protects the wine from outside elements but it must also be punched back down into the wine from time to time to help extract more flavor and aroma compounds from the skins. The Risks of Open Wine Fermentation As you might imagine you’re at a higher risk of picking up too much oxygen or spoilage micro-organisms when your wine is not protected by a lid and airlock. Open fermentations work because the carbon dioxide produced by the yeast during alcoholic fermentation acts as a blanket over the wine. As long as the air around the fermenter is still and there’s enough carbon dioxide being produced you can happily ferment without a lid. However, at some point carbon dioxide production will fall to a point where there’s no longer enough to protect your wine. With some experience you’ll be able to identify when this time is approaching and get your wine covered up before it’s too vulnerable. This is why I never recommend to first time winemakers that they ferment in an open container. Here’s a great introductory article from EC Kruas entitled Wine Fermentation 101 Something else to consider is air movement around the fermenter. Even an aggressive fermentation, with lots of carbon dioxide being produce, can be susceptible to oxygen and spoilage micro-organism exposure if you have an air vent or ceiling fan constantly blowing the carbon dioxide blanket off your wine. Then there’s also curious cats and dogs but we won’t get into that. Advice for Beginning Winemakers If you’re preparing for your first fermentation stick to using a sealed primary fermenter with an airlock. You’ll want to be sure you have a few inches of headroom in case the yeast foams up. As your wine ferments pay attention to the rate of carbon dioxide production by keeping an eye on your airlock. At first it will bubble quite slowly when the yeast is acclimating to their new environment. Then the pace will pick up as the yeast goes into the growth phase. For some time the rate will remain constant before it starts to slow down. Record your observations...

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First Time Winemaker – Part II

- Aug 13, 2015

First Time Winemaker – Part II

http://traffic.libsyn.com/winemakersacademy/wma037.mp3Podcast: Play in new window | DownloadSubscribe: iTunes | Android | RSSThis is the second part in our three part series going through the entire winemaking process on the air with first time winemaker, Chris. Start from the beginning here: First Time Winemaker – Part I. In this episode Chris and Matt discuss how the first steps in the kit winemaking process went. Then they discuss racking from the primary fermenter to the carboy. Throughout the interview Matt answers many great questions from Chris regarding racking, auto siphons, and bulk aging. Click play on the media player above to listen now! Resources & Products Mentioned Ultimate Guide to Kit Winemaking Auto Siphon (affiliate link) The Winemaker’s...

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Making Wine from Kits, Juice Pails, and Grapes

- Aug 7, 2015

Making Wine from Kits, Juice Pails, and Grapes

http://traffic.libsyn.com/winemakersacademy/wma036.mp3Podcast: Play in new window | DownloadSubscribe: iTunes | Android | RSSMaking Wine from Kits, Juice Pails, and Grapes Winemaker’s Academy member Craig joins us on this episode of the podcast to share his experience making wine from wine kits and then moving on to juice pails and grapes. He shares a lot of great insights and lessons learned. As you can imagine it is a bit different working with juice pails and fresh grapes as much more of the chemistry is left up to you, the winemaker. Craig explains what these differences are, what we need to be thinking about as well as testing for. Have a notebook ready! Resources & Products Mentioned The Winemaker’s Log (Check it out!!) Missouri Valley Wine Society Lallzyme EX MoreWine Guides Featured Community Discussions Sulfite Free Winemaking Photograph by:...

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First Time Winemaker – Part I

- Jul 17, 2015

First Time Winemaker – Part I

http://traffic.libsyn.com/winemakersacademy/wma035.mp3Podcast: Play in new window | DownloadSubscribe: iTunes | Android | RSSThis is the first in a three part interview series with Winemaker’s Academy member Chris, a first time winemaker. Together she and I walk through the first steps of the kit winemaking process. We discuss what needs to be done, what to watch out for, and answer Chris’s questions on what’s in strore for her. If you’re a beginner and have been wondering what’s invovled in making a kit wine for the first time this episode is for you. Much of what we cover is also available in the Ultimate Guide to Kit Winemaking. There are still some good lessons covered for more experienced winemakers. We cover topics that all winemakers can use a refresher on from time to time. Resources & Products Mentioned Ultimate Guide to Kit Winemaking Winexert French Cabernet Sauvignon Featured Community Discussion Can wine be bottled right after it has been filtered, or should you wait a day or...

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The Importance of Yeast Starters

- Jul 3, 2015

The Importance of Yeast Starters

Pitching yeast into a wine must can be very stressful for these micro-organisms upon which we rely for the production of alcohol. Exposing yeast to changes in temperature, sugar levels, as well as sulfite and nutrient levels causes them stress. If the stress is too much to bear they may go into shock or die off. Creating a yeast starter is the best way to reduce shock and ensure a healthy population is introduced to your wine. Our job as a winemaker is to make this transition as easy on the yeast as possible so that fermentation gets underway with a healthy and active yeast population. This article assumes you are pitching your own wine yeast and not relying upon wild yeast to make your wine. In the yeast life cycle, the first phase is concerned with growing the yeast population. Once they reach critical mass alcoholic fermentation gets underway and our must is made into wine. The stronger the initial population introduced to our must, the quicker this first phase will go. An active and healthy yeast population is also better able to keep unwanted spoilage micro-organisms at bay. When competing for the same resources (i.e. sugar) wine yeast are quite aggressive. Dry active yeast is the most common form available to winemakers. Just like baking yeast, it is a powder which contains little granules of live yeast. The outside of the granule is a crust of dead yeast cells and food which protects and feeds the living yeast cells inside this crust. Obviously they’re not thriving in those granules as they are provided with only enough food to sustain them in a dormant state. Tossing dry yeast into a wet environment full of sugar and nutrients and likely at a differenent temperature is an abrupt change in environment. It can take a day or two for the yeast to adjust before the growth phase really starts to take off if pitched this way. There are better ways to introduce a yeast to a must and we’ll talk about two of them here. The first method is to simply hydrate the yeast so they are out of their crust and available to start consuming sugar. The second method involves creating a yeast starter. It begins with hydration but takes things much further by growing the population in a starter before adding it to the must. These soft transitions that allow the yeast to acclimate without dying and hit the must fully active and ready to rule the fermentation of your must. Hydrating Wine Yeast As the name implies, hydrating is merely getting the yeast out of the crusty granule and loose in water. It involves heating water to a specific temperature and dissolving the yeast in it. This wakes them up and gets them ready to start eating. Once they are awake again and free to roam they will need food (sugar) within a very few minutes to survive. Ideally a hydrated yeast is moved to a must within 5-10 minutes and with a temperature differential between the yeast and the must of less than 10F (5C). The intense amount of sugar and nutrients is still going to be a shock but we’ve woken them up and reduced the temperature differential so they can get right to work...

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