Vacuum System for Home Winemaking

Vacuum System for Home Winemaking

A vacuum system for amateur home winemaking David W. Vehar There are a number of pre-built vacuum systems available for the home winemaker, and there is no reason to disparage any of these.  However, during my 40-year career as an engineer making equipment work in a laboratory, I have found it considerably more satisfying to design and build something myself than to purchase it.  Besides, after said 40-year career, I prefer to avoid heavy lifting.  So, a few years ago when my wife presented me with a home winemaking kit, I immediately started to think of ways to make the material handling easier. The first of these innovations was a hydraulic lift to hold my carboys, which allowed me to raise or lower them as needed. This actually worked pretty well, but still involved working at inconvenient heights. My next idea was to use a vacuum to pump the wine, allowing me to work at a convenient bench top height without having to lift carboys from floor level.  I also thought that with fewer components actually touching the wine, sanitizing and cleanup would be easier.  I immediately discovered a number of systems described for just that purpose.  This was obviously not a novel idea, but I persisted. So, nearly five years and 30 kits later, virtually every stage of my wine handling is now done with vacuum.  The following is a description of the various components that go into my system.  There is little unique about this setup.  This is what I have found works for me, and it continues to evolve with experience and the suggestions of others. Overview A generalized view of the vacuum system is shown in the accompanying diagram.  A pump creates a vacuum that draws wine from a fermenter or supply carboy into a sealed receiving vessel (carboy or wine bottle) by means of a racking cane and 3/8” ID Tygon® tubing.  All other tubing is 1/2″ OD x 3/8” ID, either Tygon® or HDPE (high density polyethylene) tubing.  These will not collapse under vacuum.  A trap placed between the receiving carboy and the pump prevents liquids from entering the pump.  Details of the individual components and how they are used are provided below. Vacuum Pump For reference, atmospheric pressure (1 atmosphere) = 14.7 psi = 29.9 inHg at sea level (24 inHg at 6000 ft where I live).  Attainable vacuum depends on the type of pump, but this is the maximum that any pump can produce. My pump is a GAST® LOA-P175 oil-less rocking piston pump capable of maximum vacuum of 26 inHg, or about 20 inHg at 6000 ft.  I found it new on eBay for about $120, salvaged from a beverage handling system.  This is adequate for vacuum degassing, and is more than adequate for transferring liquids (racking).  I equipped the pump with a vacuum valve and vacuum gauge purchased from my local Granger store. There are a number of inexpensive utility pumps available for applications such as servicing air conditioning systems. Most of these are oil-lubricated.  I chose an oil-less pump because I have never found an oil-lubricated pump that...

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Always Use Airlocks On Carboys

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...

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Why Synthetic Corks Are Worth Using

Why Synthetic Corks Are Worth Using

http://traffic.libsyn.com/winemakersacademy/wma031.mp3Podcast: Play in new window | DownloadSubscribe: iTunes | Android | RSSSince I started making my own wines I’ve been a bit of a purist when it comes to closures. Like most home winemakers I started out with the cheap agglomerated corks that came with my equipment kit. From there I moved on to the premium #9 corks and started looking at buying solid natural cork. I didn’t give much thought to synthetic corks because they were not natural. They weren’t the closures that wineries have been trusting for hundreds of years. They weren’t “authentic”. One day I volunteered to bottle at a local winery (more about that here). They were using Nomacorcs and were quite happy with them. As I continued to volunteer at this winery I got more and more interested in the closures, how long they last, and what the benefits of using them are. Then, when my last wine was ready to bottle, I went out and purchased some #9 Nomacorcs to try for myself. The were comparably priced to my beloved #9 natural corks so I took the plunge. My First Experience with Synthetic Corks Like natural corks synthetic corks come in a sealed bag and you don’t need to worry about soaking or sanitizing the closures. I picked up 30 closures for about $10 US. When it came time to bottle I pulled one out, inspected it, and proceeded to use my dual lever corker (affiliate link) to insert it into the bottle. One down. My first impression was that the cork was not as easy to insert as the natural cork because the plunger on the dual lever corker is not as big around as the Nomacorc. This cause the sides of the cork to get caught up in the corker itself and while the center of the cork was perfectly even with the top of the bottle the sides were sticking up. [insert pic here]. Now to be fair I’ve never had great luck getting even the #9 premium corks to sit quite right either. The difference was that the synthetic corks were still caught up in the corker after inserting the cork so you have to be careful how you pull the corker away from the bottle so you don’t cause it to fall over and potentially break open. I made some adjustments to the corker and proceeded to finish up the bottling process. After a while I got the feel of inserting the corks and the bottles started to look better. The Benefits of Synthetic Closures There are many benefits to using synthetic closures. First, they don’t ever dry out. This means that if you pick some up at the local winemaking shop it doesn’t matter if they’ve been on the shelf for six months or a year. They’re going to be in perfect condition to use. It also doesn’t matter if you keep a stash of synthetics around the house for a couple years. Natural corks, on the other hand, do dry out. I’ve purchased “new” bags of corks from wine making supply shops that were already past their prime and...

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Using Inert Gases in Winemaking – WMA029

Using Inert Gases in Winemaking – WMA029

http://traffic.libsyn.com/winemakersacademy/wma029.mp3Podcast: Play in new window | DownloadSubscribe: iTunes | Android | RSSJust recently I tested out Private Preserve while bottling a raisin wine. Private Preserve is an aerosol can filled with a mixture of inert gases. In this episode we’re going to explore what inert gases are, why it’s beneficial to use them, and I’ll share my own thoughts and experiences using these gases. What are inert gases? Inert gases are gases that do not normally react with anything. Unlike oxygen which oxidizes things like metal, wine, and food, inert gases do not interact with these at all. You can expose metal to an inert gas and it won’t rust so long as that is the only gas the metal is exposed to. This ties into why you would want to use inert gases when making or more accurately storing wine. Why Should I Use an Inert Gas to Protect Wine? The best use of inert gases in winemaking is to displace the oxygen in a container of finished wine. After a wine has finished fermenting it will be susceptible to the negative effects of oxidation. A wine that has been exposed to too much oxygen will taste flat, flabby, and past its prime. Inert gases are used in a process called sparging, which is a fancy term for displacing the oxygen in a container with inert gases. Generally you would have your wine in whatever container it is going to be aged in, be that a carboy or bottle, or whatever and then you spray an inert gas to remove the oxygen and quickly recap the container to trap the gasses. Now you can also sparge an empty container and then fill it with wine, same thing. The Easy Way to Try Inert Gas Private preserve is probably the easiest way to dip your toe in the use of inert gases. It comes in an aerosol can and runs about $20 US. The can contains a mixture of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and argon and according to the manufacturer are “all benign, non-flammable, tasteless, and medial quality”. The can does come with a short straw that you can use to direct the flow of gases. Originally it was developed for wine drinkers to top up their open bottles of wine to preserve it for the next day. I’d certainly go that far if I was drinking something expensive or really fancy but it also comes in handy for home wine makers looking to try inert gases. The alternative is to go out and buy a tank of inert gas but in addition you’ll need hoses and regulators to control the flow of and direct the gas into your container of choice. Generally these gases come in decent sized tanks that might take a home wine maker a long time to go through. I’ve priced small systems out and found that it would take $150 – $200 to get going with inert gases. This is pretty expensive in comparison to $20 for the aerosol can. Using Private Preserve When you pick up a can of Private Preserve the first thing you’ll notice...

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Kurt’s Fermentation Temperature Control System

Kurt’s Fermentation Temperature Control System

Recently a Winemaker’s Academy member shared this amazing system, that he developed, for controlling the temperature of a wine fermentation. In this post Kurt shares all of the equipment necessary to build this system. I (Matt Williams) have done some minor editing to convert it from an email to an article but by in large this entire article is in Kurt’s words. Please feel free to ask any questions that you may have in the comments below. Also if you decide to build this system for yourself please share your results in the comments. The original email included links to equipment available on ebay, however, given the frequency at which items turn over on that site maintaining those links proved to be too difficult. So you’ll have to do some hunting for these components but they should be easy enough to find given the amount of information Kurt has provided. And now for Kurt’s Temperature Control System: I have been using this system over a year now and have found it to be exceptionally effective in controlling the temperature. I tried a brew belt, but found it impossible to reliably control the temperature (probably because I was using it in an extremely cold winter [for us in England] in an unheated building, and then in a building that was unheated overnight in winter). Of course this only works if the ambient temperature is less than 25° C (77° F), which is not a problem for us in England almost every day of the year (or century). I remember reading in C.J.J. Berry’s book, First Steps in Winemaking, that the yeast likes a very stable temperature. With this system, there is still a small fluctuation in temperature, because the fermenter is not completely submersed, but it is typically very small, within a degree or so. (I have my tubs in a building that is not heated overnight, so there is often a very considerable drop in ambient temperature overnight in the winter, so I have given it a very good test.) Here is a description of the components and comments about the various equipment and prices. I have only included them to complete the list of potential equipment. Many of these items are not strictly necessary, but are nice to have. See the discussion for each item. Aquarium Fish Tank 2 Way Air Flow Distributor Splitter Control Lever Pump Valve These are simply more sophisticated versions of a cheaper plastic T valve. Often individual air-stones have different air resistance, so these allow you to easily adjust the air pressure for each stone, so that they produce an even amount of bubbles on each side of the tub. I only use these. PVC Tube Clear Flexible Plastic Hose Pipe – Fish, Pond, Car, Aquariums, Air Line I ordered a 10cm sample size (cut it to 2.5cm length) and found that it fitted perfectly around the thermometer to then fit in the airlock grommet with an airtight seal. Silverline Flat Bit 13mm 128573 Hand Tools Drill Power Holes Wood Drilling Brace Essential for drilling gromet holes in the lids of 23L fermentation buckets....

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My Airlock Needs Water?

My Airlock Needs Water?

Recently I’ve heard from more than one confused beginning winemaker asking if their wine was ruined because they never put water in their airlock. It’s not all that surprising as a beginner has a lot to figure out with all the steps, additives, and equipment. I’m sure there are wine making shops that forget to mention that the airlock needs water. For a seasoned wine maker it’s just how things work. An Academy member by the name of Robert recently wrote in with just this problem. He purchased everything he needed to make a kit wine but didn’t know that the airlock needed water in order to protect his wine. At the time he wrote in his wine had been fermenting for two weeks and was well past the vigorous fermentation stage. So let’s take a look at which airlocks require water, which don’t, and how they work in the first place. Which Airlocks Require Water? Some airlocks require water and others don’t. The most common styles do require water and those are the “S” shaped and three piece airlocks as shown here. The water forms a barrier between you and your wine. Because of the shape of the airlock the carbon dioxide being released by the yeast is forced to go through the airlock, through the water, and then exit the airlock. As the yeast produce carbon dioxide they cause pressure to build within the fermenter. When the pressure is great enough a bubble will go through the water barrier. This difference in pressure between the fermenter and the air outside the fermenter oxygen will not be able to flow through backwards through the airlock and interact with your wine. Waterless Airlocks There are several varieties of airlocks available, such as silicone stoppers, that do not require any water yet still allow carbon dioxide to safely exit the fermenter. The most common waterless airlocks are made of silicon and have many holes that run from the bottom of the stopper to the top. On the top of the airlock is a silicon flap that is pressed open by the escaping carbon dioxide. These waterless airlocks function much the same as the traditional styles. As the pressure builds in the fermenter the silicon compresses and the carbon dioxide goes out of the tiny openings in the stopper. Because there is already a gas leaving the airlock oxygen cannot get in. When fermentation slows down and is not releasing as much carbon dioxide the tiny holes will close up and keep oxygen from getting in. These are great because you don’t have to worry about the water being blown out the top or drying up over time. Water filled airlocks can flow backwards and dump the water in your wine if fermentation has ended and there is a temperature drop in the wine. What Can Robert Do Now? Here’s my advice to Robert. Regardless of how long your wine has been unprotected it’s best to get it under a properly filled airlock as soon as possible. Once your wine is protected we can discuss what to do next. Next, visually...

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