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.
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+ is free to join. All you need is a gmail account. Once you’ve gotten in you can then join any community of your choice. There are several wine making / brewing communities that I recommend and that I actively participate in.
The first is Home Made Wine Making. It’s a budding group of passionate winemakers, many of whom have a ton of experience and love helping out. This is where I’m most active.
There’s another group called Homebrewing. While this is largely a beer brewing community there are many winemakers in there as well. Some of the folks in there will ferment anything and everything and are willing to help on a variety of topics.
While I’m less active in the forums these are also great communities with active and helpful people.
The two most active forums I’ve found are:
WinemakingTalk.com (also has a free iPhone app)
They’re free to join and have a lot of very active members.
So the next time you suspect something going on with your wine remember to stop what you’re doing, attach the airlock, and go for help. It may sound silly or like I’m treating this like a real emergency but that’s because when you’re in the middle of a wine crisis it feels like an emergency.
No one wants to watch six gallons of wine go down the drain because they did something wrong or tried to “fix” it and ruined it. Most wines and meads are pretty forgiving. There’s usually something you can do to turn things around depending on the problem.