Clearing a wine in preparation for bottling can be tricky. There are many different clarifiers on the market and each have their own strengths and weaknesses. An alternative to using clarifiers is to rack your wine strategically over time to help clear the wine. But how are you supposed to know when to rack your wine?

racking-for-clarityRecently I discovered a recommended racking schedule while reading From Vines to Wines by Jeff Cox and expanded upon it to give you a complete schedule from start to finish. This schedule assumes that you are not using a fining agent to clarify your wine.

  • 1st Racking: 5-7 days after pitching the yeast if making a fruit wine, otherwise once the specific gravity is between 1.030 and 1.010
  • 2nd Racking: 1 to 2 months after alcoholic fermentation is over
  • 3rd Racking: 2 to 3 months after second racking
  • 4th Racking: 3 months after third racking

Your wine can then sit in the carboy, barrel, or tank as long as you want after that fourth racking to let you wine mature. The longer it sits in a bulk container the more uniform your wine will be from one bottle to the next after it has been bottled.

The timing of your first racking can change depending upon whether you’re fermenting on the fruit or working with just the juice. Wines should not sit on the fruit any longer than 5-7 days. Any more than that and you risk picking up decaying fruit flavors. That being said, if you’re making a red wine you may opt to do an extended maceration in which case you’ll have to time your racking based on the flavor profile of the wine.

If you’re making wine from just the juice (without the skins or solid fruit) then the specific gravity will dictate when you rack. The idea is to get off of the sediment and reduce the air space above the wine once fermentation has slowed to the point where the carbon dioxide produced is no longer enough to protect your wine from oxidation. How long it takes your wine to reach the specific gravity range mentioned earlier depends on many factors not limited to amount of sugar, yeast strain, fermentation temperature, and the abundance of yeast nutrients.

After this first racking you’ll notice that you settle into a two to three month racking rhythm. This is done to prevent picking up off flavors from decaying yeast, which it turns out takes two to three months before decay sets in.

Presumably after the fourth racking, if you’ve followed the schedule, there will be little to no yeast settling out and so you’re free to let the wine sit as long as you like.

  • John Gallivan

    Matt, I have heard different opinions as to when to do the first racking. One opinion is that when moving the must from the primary fernenter, the process is not racking it is pouring it while preventing the gross lees from transferring to the carboy by straining it through a coarse strainer using a hose attached to the funnel so the carboy it fills from the bottom . This method preserves the yeast so it can continue the secondary ferment. I have also heard that you rack as you do at later racking and leave fine lees behind as much as possible. Which approach do you subscribe to?

    • Hi John, great question. The point of the first racking is two fold. First, as you said, to get off of the gross lees if you have fermented on the fruit. Even if you use traditional racking methods as opposed to the funnel method the yeast will still be there. As they are single cell micro-organisms you’d have to pass the wine through a sterile filter to remove the yeast.

      The second purpose is to reduce the airspace. During primary fermentation the wine can foam up and you need space to accommodate that.

      Getting off the fine lees is only a small concern in the beginning. Usually it takes two to three months before you’re at risk of off flavors due to yeast decaying which is why the second racking happens at 1-2 months.

      I do like your funnel method John. The last time I bottled I did something similar to fill the bottles and it was nice and quick.