What to Do if Something Goes Wrong

What to Do if Something Goes Wrong

One day your wine is happily fermenting along, you’re ready to rack, and while you’ve got the airlock off you notice something is up with your wine. Maybe it’s an off flavor or aroma. Maybe you notice the airlock wasn’t seated properly. These things happen all the time. Knowing what to do, however, can prevent you from making bigger mistakes. This recently happened to me. My Story I was going to rack my mead off of the lees to avoid picking up any off flavors from the dead yeast. I removed the airlock, racked, and dripped a tiny sample into a wine glass for some testing. With my sample I tested the pH and titratable acidity. Then I took a sip. There was almost no trace of alcohol and it was still very sweet. I was making a dry mead and thought I was most of the way there because the airlock had slowed way down. This told me that the yeast was not very active. I assumed it meant it was nearly finished fermenting. However, I measured the specific gravity and it came in at 1.020. This is far from dry. Immediately I guessed what might have gone wrong and started “fixing” it. Only later did I find out that I didn’t need to “fix” it the way I did. This taught me some valuable lessons about making wine that I’d like to share with you. If Something Seems Wrong… 1. Stop what you’re doing. 2. Re-attach the airlock or carboy plug so you can safely walk away from the wine. 3. Seek help either from an experienced winemaker or a wine making resource. Here’s what you shouldn’t do: 1. Panic. Nothing beneficial will come of this. 2. Don’t assume you know what’s wrong and start “fixing” it unless it’s totally obvious. If you’ve never made wine before it won’t be obvious so follow the how to above. 3. Don’t pour it down the drain. This is only necessary in a few instances and you need to first figure out how to evaluate your situation. And here’s what I did. I panicked, guessed at what was wrong, started fixing it, and then asked for help. The very experienced mead maker I got help from told me that my mead was progressing as it should and it probably just needed some additional nutrients and a little stirring. I, however, thought it best to rack it, add another round of hydrated yeast, feed that yeast, and then shake it up. While what I did isn’t going to hurt it, it wasn’t entirely necessary. All it cost me was a little bit of mead that I couldn’t rack. Where to Get Help There are a ton of great places you can get help if you think something is going on with your wine. First of all you can always call your local winemaking supplier and see what they say. My preferred method is to go online. Winemakers, mead makers, and beer brewers are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Honestly. They’re always ready to jump in and help someone out providing useful and informative guidance. Terrific Online Resources Google Plus Google+ is free to join. All you...

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Advanced Wine Making Techniques

Advanced Wine Making Techniques

Complexity in wine separates the great wine from the rest. Creating a complex wine, however, requires the use of advanced wine making techniques. Here are three techniques you can start applying to your own wine making to take it to the next level. It doesn’t matter if you’re making wine from a kit, frozen must, or fresh fruit. Techniques for Making More Complex Wines There are several things you can do, even with a kit, to improve its complexity. Simply put, complexity is a function of nuances in flavor and aroma. Single variety wines, while flavorful and tasty, tend not to be very complex. Their flavor profile is simple. Let’s look at some methods to add complexity to our wines. Split Fermentation Yeast imparts flavors and character in your wine as it turns the sugars into alcohol. Different yeasts produce different flavors. Thus one way you can make a more complex wine is by fermenting half your wine with one yeast and the other half with another. You’ll have to do a bit of research to determine what yeasts work well with the grape varietal you’re working with. To do this you’ll need two fermenters, two carboys, and all the necessary airlocks. You can use the yeast your kit comes with for one half and pick up another strain for the other half. Mix Different Types of Oak Oak is considered to be the winemaker’s spice cabinet because of all the different flavors that it contributes. Another way to add complexity to your wine is to combine oak from different places. For instance instead of just using the oak that comes with your kit pick up some American and French oak cubes and combine them. American oak tends to be more bold while French oak is more subtle. Combining the two at varying ratios can offer a lot of complexity. Pier Benci, an Italian wine maker, offers his preferred ratio as 30% American oak and 70% French oak. Likely the American oak is used in less quantity so it doesn’t bury the French oak. Hungarian oak is another option. Also, if you’re using carboys instead of barrels you’re free to experiment with other types of wood altogether. Blending Different Varietals The blending of wine is a long standing European tradition. Taking various amounts of different varietals, sometimes up to five or six, to creating one wine adds a tremendous amount of complexity. Nuances from each varietal all acting together to create one masterful glass of wine. Blending is done with finished wines by experimentation. Take a base varietal such as Zinfandel. Then create a mixture of 75% Zin and 25% Merlot for example and see what happens. Try several different blends and ratios until you find one that really speaks to you. Test your blends by the glass before mixing all of your wine. Find the ratios you like and then bottle the blended wines. This is where wine makers start to earn their status as artists. Blending is done with only the best of each varietal. They do not try to use up a sub-par wine by blending it with...

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How Much Does it Cost to Make Wine from a Kit?

How Much Does it Cost to Make Wine from a Kit?

Wine kits are by far the least expensive way to get into wine making. It requires the least amount of equipment and makes the smallest amount of wine. Let’s take a look at what determines the cost to make wine for the first time. The Equipment I Purchased To get started I picked up the Vintner’s Reserve Shiraz wine kit. This included the grape juice concentrate and nearly all of the additives required to make the wine. However, wine kits do not include any equipment. With that in mind I picked up this wine making equipment kit from Midwest Supplies. This kit included the following: Primary Fermenter Glass Carboy (6.5 gallon) Hydrometer Corker Corks Bottle Brush Sanitizer Airlock Carboy plug While this got me most of the way as far as equipment was concerned I also purchased the following items: Carboy Brush Wine Thief Hydrometer Test Jar Self Adhesive Thermometer Titratable Acid Test Kit (optional) pH Test Strips (optional) With this equipment I was able to progress as far as completing fermentation. However I did find that I was missing a few key pieces of equipment for degassing the wine as well as having enough additives to age the wine longer than six months. Thus I also purchased a Wine Whip 28″ spoon additional potassium sorbate Star San sanitizer. I’ll get to the cost here in a minute. The point of laying out my equipment purchases in this way was to show you that these equipment kits don’t necessarily come with everything you need. Neither do the wine kit instructions spell out everything you’re likely to need. When I was making my initial purchase of the wine and equipment kit I believed I had nearly everything I needed. Even then I’d already picked up several things that weren’t in the equipment kit. As you saw above though, I wasn’t prepared for all of the wine making steps. One thing you may have noticed that’s missing from this list of equipment are the bottles. I used bottles I’d saved from wine I had consumed. Also, I got in touch with a local winery who offered to save me their empty tasting room bottles. I encourage you to collect bottles any way you can. They tend to be quite expensive to purchase due to the shipping costs. Local supply shops also pay that shipping before selling to you so there’s really no good deals on bottles. The only hitch with used bottles is removing the wine labels. So let’s get to it! Here’s the complete list of equipment I purchased and what I paid for it. The price per bottle is the sum of all equipment I purchased divided by the number of bottles yielded, 30. In all honesty I wound up with 29.5 bottles but I could have had 30 had I been more careful with the racking cane. Now that I own this equipment the cost per bottle of the next batch will come down significantly. This is because the cost of equipment can be spread out over the two batches instead of just the one. Much of this equipment will...

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First Impressions of My Shiraz and the Mistakes I Made

You’re really supposed to wait six months after bottling a red wine before you taste it…but I couldn’t resist! When I bottled my Shiraz I wound up with 29 full bottles and about a half bottle left over. Needless to say I couldn’t store the half bottle for any length of time without oxidizing it. So, the only thing left to do was drink it! I wanted to taste the wine as bottled for two reasons. First, I wanted to know what it tastes like in the beginning so that I have something to compare it to as it ages. Second, I wanted to see if I made any mistakes that I could learn from. Here’s what I found when I tasted my wine. It’s Definitely a Young Wine I had never tasted a wine quite this young before and wasn’t sure what to expect. However, after only a few sips it became evident that this was indeed a young wine. For starters the tannins are a bit gritty. They haven’t had time to string together and form longer molecules. Longer tannin molecules are much smoother than what I was experiencing. Additionally there was a distinct green taste to the wine. Almost as if I’d bitten into a grape stem. This will go away as the wine matures. Looking at it in the glass it has a color to it. Most young wines have a purple tint to them that eventually fades to red. The fact that mine is red really doesn’t tell me much being that it’s from a kit. I think the color would be more telling had I used fresh grapes. However, the fact that it’s not brown or orange tells me the wine is basically in good shape. My Mistakes Despite the lack of aging there were three mistakes that became self evident in my half bottle of wine. While it is very disappointing to find so many mistakes this is how a winemaker learns and grows. 1. I didn’t get all of the carbon dioxide out during degassing. After twenty minutes with the wine whip I thought I’d gotten all of the carbon dioxide out. However, upon tasting the final product I could clearly detect some bubbles on my tongue. Just to make sure I wasn’t mistaking high acidity for bubbles I gave a sample of wine a shake in my test jar and was greeted with a burst of carbon dioxide when I removed my hand. Proof that there is still gas suspended in there. Next time I need to be much more patient and diligent with the degassing tools. Also, had I kept the wine at the proper temperature during fermentation and clarification I wouldn’t have had so much trouble getting the carbon dioxide out. 2. There is sediment in my bottled wine. During bottling there were a couple times when I started to lose my siphon. In an act of desperation I plunged the racking cane to the bottom of the carboy so that it would stop taking in air. By doing this I wound up sucking up some of the lees. Because Shiraz is so dark...

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Bottling Your Kit Wine

The final step in the wine making process is to bottle your wine and insert a cork. You’re ready for this step once you wine has been stabilized and is clear. If your wine has not been properly clarified or degassed you shouldn’t move on to bottling.  Sediment and trapped carbon dioxide cannot leave the bottle and will remain suspended in the wine until you open it. So be completely sure you’re ready for this step. In this video you’ll see the steps involved to take wine from a carboy to the bottle including an extra step required for long term bottle aging. That’s it! This concludes the first series on kit winemaking! Please let me know your thoughts or questions in the comments. I’m here to...

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Degassing and Clarifying Your Wine

Degassing and Clarifying Your Wine

After a seemingly eternal fourteen days since racking it’s time to degas and add a clarifying agent to the kit wine. Degassing is a brut force method of removing suspended carbon dioxide. I purchased a Fermtech Wine Whip (affiliate link) to help with this process and it saved me big time. More on that later. Check out this video on degassing and adding a stabilizing agent to the wine. This is the final step before bottling. If this step isn’t done correctly your wine won’t clear and you won’t be able to move onto bottling! During fermentation and the fourteen days after racking my Shiraz was stored below the recommended temperature range. This prolongs fermentation but also requires much more time to degas. All in all I spent nearly twenty minutes with the degassing the wine with the Wine Whip (affiliate link). Twenty minutes may not sound like much but when you’re talking about stirring your wine with a power drill on full blast for twenty minutes it’s a pretty big deal. Without this tool degassing would have taken days. There are several different style tools for this job and you don’t have to get the Wine Whip specifically, but do yourself a favor and get a degassing tool. You won’t regret it. After adding the final additives to stop fermentation and degassing you shouldn’t see any action in your airlock. At this point it’s merely acting as a seal to protect your wine. Up next, bottling your...

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