Do you have bubbles in your kit wine?

January 30, 2008 at 8:00 am (Kit Wine, Thoughts, Winemaking, Winemaking Tips) (, , , )

When you have a blog here at WordPress, you can see what searches bring people to your site. Almost every day I get somebody to here who is wondering what to do about bubbles in their wine.

My very first batch of kit wine had the same problem. Let’s assume the wine tastes fine, it hasn’t turned bad, it’s just sort of carbonated. There are a couple of ways this can happen:

Patience – or a lack of it. That very first batch seems to take forever, doesn’t it? I know, I remember that feeling. One problem is trying to force the wine to finish quickly. It won’t. You can raise the temperature to make it ferment quicker, but that’s actually a bad idea. Be patient. If it says to give it 10 days to finish, 15 days isn’t going to hurt the wine, but it might help it. On the other hand, only waiting 8 or 9 days could be the cause of the problem. It needs to finish fermenting.

Residual Sugar – Another possibility is that there was unfermented sugar in the wine when you bottled it. Then over time the yeast slowly digested the remaining sugar. This is why you don’t want to rush the process. If you don’t see any bubbles in the wine, it should be done. Check the specific gravity, if it isn’t around 1.000 or lower, you probably still have sugar in there. You might want to add a package of yeast and see if it can restart the fermentation. I’ve never had this problem, but fermentation can stop if you have too much sugar or it got too cold. If there is too much sugar, the yeast will ferment until they get drunk and die. Most wine yeasts can handle up to around 15%, some will go as high as 17%. After that, they just can’t convert any further. If it’s too cold, the yeast may inactivate. My most recent wines were fermented at around 60 degrees C without any problems.

Stir – You know how it says to add the chemicals and then stir for two minutes? Did you only stir vigorously for one minute? Maybe you stirred half-heartedly. Then you had to add the fining agent and stir vigorously once again. I know, your arm hurts, poor baby. Take a break, come back and stir a little more. I stir in one direction, then once it gets going, reverse. Repeat until you stirred for at least the required time.

Rack – When I make homemade wine, I will rack the wine at least once before bottling, even if it is just to a bottling bucket. I believe the racking process releases a lot of the trapped gas. The kits don’t tell you to do this, and I think most starter equipment kits don’t come with a bottling bucket. It’s funny, I’ve never had a problem with gas in my homemade stuff, only kit wine. I’m not sure why. I’m thinking maybe the bentonite traps some of the gas in the pores of the clay. Maybe the multiple rackings releases the gas.

Sweetened? – Is it possible you sweetened the wine with sugar and didn’t add Potassium Sorbate before bottling. You need a half a teaspoon for every gallon of wine, 1 tablespoon for a 6-gallon batch. If you added sugar thinking the yeast has been left at the bottom of the fermenter, think again.

So you have bubbles in your wine and it’s bottled. Open the wine bottle and decant it to something else, let it sit for a few minutes and pour glasses from the decanter. It will help remove most of the bubbles, but it won’t make it perfect.

Drink it and enjoy it, it’s still delicious wine.

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What are Campden Tablets?

January 27, 2008 at 5:44 pm (Thoughts, Winemaking, Winemaking Tips) (, , , , )

Let me start by saying … “Who came up with this?” Okay, I get the idea, it’s the stuff we use to kill wild yeast, but it comes in pill form?!? I find that kind of bizarre and creepy.  This is one totally toxic pill.

Look, Campden tablets are Potassium Metabisulfite, or at least they are supposed to be. Sometimes they are Sodium and not Potassium. Here’s what I recommend. Buy a small jar of Potassium Metabisulfite in powder form. It’s inexpensive ($3) and you can make however much you want at whatever concentration you want.

It’s very hard to control the dosage with a pill, so I make a 2.5% solution by adding 28 grams (approximately 4 teaspons) of powder to one liter of water. I typically make half liter batches, you want the solution to be fresh.  I bought a small jewelers scale on eBay, but you can get them all over the place now for like $12. It’s so much easier to deal with chemicals if you can weigh them accurately.

I have a table that tells me how much of the 2.5% solution to add to get the desired level of sulfites. When I am making my own wine, I will typically add 50 ppm of sulfites to the must.  That means I need 17 ml of 2.5% sulfite solution per gallon, or 100 ml to a 6-gallon batch.  Scale accordingly or email me if you have questions.

I also use the solution in the airlocks.  I once had a problem with mold in the airlock, but that won’t happen if you use the sulfite solution.  Even if the liquid draws back into the wine, it won’t hurt anything.

More on this topic another time.

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Sweetening Homemade Wine

January 22, 2008 at 10:31 pm (Wine Recipes, Winemaking, Winemaking Tips) (, , , , )

Let’s start with the basics.  When your wine is properly fermented, there is no residual sugar.  In other words, all of the sugar, whether it’s from the fruit or the stuff you added, it’s all gone.  Every bit of it has been turned into alcohol, carbon dioxide, and some other stuff we won’t discuss.

So your juice is now wine.  It has been sitting in a carboy for a couple of months and it is beautifully clear.  Time to bottle.  Only you want a wine that is sweet, not dry.  I believe it is a common misconception that you somehow stop fermentation with some sugar left over.  Nope.

Here’s the secret.  We add more sugar.  Yep, that’s it.  You absolutely must also add something to stop the yeast from getting reactivated.  The common chemical for that is Potassium Sorbate.  A 6-gallon batch of wine needs only one tablespoon to inhibit the yeast from partying again once the sugar is added.

So how do you decide how much sugar to add?  It’s basically trial and error.  What you do is make a syrup of 2 cups of sugar to 1 cup of water, heat it until it’s clear, then let it cool a bit (this gives you 500 ml of solution).

Now draw off a 50 ml portion of your wine and start adding sugar solution by the drop.  I do this rather crudely, but basically I’ll add 5 drops and try it, then another 5 and try it again.  You end up with less and less liquid, so once you think you got it right, you might want to try again.  When the taste is where you like it, calculate how much sugar solution you need.  The formula for this is:  (# drops) x (45) = the number of ml of solution for a 6 gallon batch of wine.

I rack the wine to a bottling bucket (a 7 gallon plastic bucket with a stopcock) and mix in the Sorbate and the calculated sugar.  Stir the sugar in well, then bottle.  Give the wine a couple of weeks to recover from bottle shock and give it a try.

Now that you know this, if you are drinking some wine and you think it would be better if it was a bit sweeter, add a little table sugar.  That’s all the winery is doing.  Cheers.

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A Private Wine Tasting Party at My House

January 19, 2008 at 12:10 pm (Thoughts, Winemaking) (, , , , )

At one point, my cellar consisted of cases of nine different wines that I had made. A few were my own fruit concoctions; cranberry, blueberry, and blackberry. Most were from kits; Gewurztraminer, Leibfraumilch, Bergamais, Bergeron Rouge, Pinot Noir, and Merlot.

My wife and I would invite over some friends and I would open a bottle of each variety. Then, starting from the driest (cranberry) and working our way to the sweetest (blueberry), everyone would just taste everything. You have to do this dry to sweet.  If you go the other way, the dry wines won’t taste right.  Cranberry is very tart and interesting, but if you taste it after a sweet blueberry wine, it will taste awful.

We would take our time, have some crackers to clean the palette and some other snacks along the way.  Each taste would be enough to get a feel for the wine but not so much that you drink too much at this point.  Once everyone tried each wine on the list, everyone would grab their favorite bottle.  I find it interesting that no two people ever wanted the same bottle.

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Quick Tip – Adding Yeast

January 17, 2008 at 5:11 pm (Kit Wine, Quick Tips, Wine Recipes, Winemaking, Winemaking Tips) (, , , )

When it’s time to add yeast to the must (juice soon to be wine), vigorously stir up the juice. You want to dissolve some oxygen into the juice, the yeast is going to need this. Now open the yeast package and sprinkle the buggers on the top, but don’t stir. Leave it on the top for at least 12 hours. After 12 hours, you should have a nice foamy active community on top of your wine.  If you do, it’s time to give it a good stir. You will have a very active fermentation going on in no time.  I often check on the fermentation by just putting my ear to the fermenter.  When the yeast is really working, you can hear the CO2 bubbles constantly popping.

I’ve tried all the other methods of activating the yeast; this one seems to be best. I’ve made starters with the must, I’ve made starters with sugar water, and I’ve just poured and stirred. Adding the beasties and just letting them sit is the way to go. When I first started making wine kits, I believe they had you pour and stir. Now they do the sit on top method. Science rules.

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Piesporter Kit Log

January 14, 2008 at 10:29 pm (Kit Wine, Winemaking, Winemaking Log) (, , , , )

1/6/08 – Today I racked the blueberry wine, so I cleaned the fermenter and immediately started the Piesporter kit. The kit has about 7 liters of juice concentrate. It also has a big bag of elderflowers. This is the first time I’ve made this kit.

1/14/08 – Tonight I siphoned the wine into a 6-gallon carboy. The specific gravity was 1.010 as recommended by the instructions. It now has to sit for at least 10 days before moving on the next step.

1/27/08 – It’s sort of 10 days. Today I added the Potassium Sorbate and Potassium Metabisulfite, the F-Pack, and the Isinglass and stirred and stirred. It seems weird to mix up wine that has already cleared, but that’s the way they do it and Winexpert has made a lot more wine than me. I know from experience (and I’ll do a separate entry) if you don’t wait long enough or stir it up enough, you will get bubbles in your wine. I had bubbles in my very first batch. It says I can bottle in 14 days, but I’m in no rush. As long as there is an airlock on top with liquid in it, the wine can sit for a very long time. I’ll probably bottle in three weeks, just to give it a little extra time to clear.

2/17/08 – I bottled the Piesporter this morning. In the past, I have often gone from the carboy directly to the bottle. Today I used a bottling bucket because I wanted to add additional Potassium Metabisulfite to the wine. The directions suggest adding 1.5 grams in 125 ml of water to the wine before bottling. The only way to do that is to either rack to another carboy or to a bottling bucket. I calculated the 1.5 grams to be about 25 ppm, so I used my 2.5% solution Potassium Metabisulfite and added 50 ml. I did this because I’ve had some of the white go bad after only a couple of years in the bottle. You wouldn’t expect a commercial white to go bad after 2 or 3 years in the bottle, so I finally broke down and added sulfites at bottling.

I don’t have a label for it yet. Unfortunately, the kits don’t come with labels any more. It was nice when they did, you just wiped the back of the label across a wet sponge and applied it to the bottle. They also came off easily in hot water. I’ll probaby go for a simple laser printed design applied with a glue stick. Another idea I’ve had lately is to make a full color page and get copies made. It’s got to be cheaper than using my inkjet printer.

I’ve never had the Piesporter before, so I’ll post a taste comment here in a month or two.

3/30/08 Tasting Notes – (I’m writing this a month later, so taste details have been forgotten, however …) I took a bottle over to the winery.  Even though it has only been in the bottle for a month, this has already become a very nice wine.  The elderflowers come on a little bit strong at first, but quickly mellows.  The wine has a nice body that is really enjoyable.  The three of us polished off that bottle in no time.  Piesporter is one of the least expensive kits available, but it has definitely lived up to all the hype.

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My First Batch of Limoncello

January 14, 2008 at 5:47 pm (Other Drinks) (, , , , )

1/13/08 – Today I began my first batch of limoncello. I didn’t have a jar big enough to make a full batch, so I split it into two one-quart mason jars. Each jar has a bottle of Leeds Vodka ($4.99 for 750 ml) and the peels of 7 or 8 nice fragrant lemons.

The potato peeler was definitely the way to go. It took no more than 10 minutes to peel 15 lemons.

What do you do with 15 naked lemons?

Naked Lemons

1/14/08 – The liquid already has a really cool lemon yellow color. Three months is going to be a long time to wait for this stuff.

1/19/08 – The skins are just starting to turn white. I give it a shake every day or so. The color is almost electric. It’s pretty obvious already that a single batch just isn’t going to cut it.

1/20/08 – We made lemon marmalade with some of the naked lemons and my wife made a couple of batches of lemon squares.

2/16/08 – I shake the jars every couple of days.  They are a great color and the rinds are starting to turn rather white.   How has this been only a month?  I want to try some NOW!

7/4/09 – Yeah, big time gap, but here’s what you’ve been waiting for.  After pouring off the liquid and sweetening it (I have no idea how much sugar I used, apparently I forgot to write it down), I set it aside for a while.  Last week my friend Mike came over and I took it out of the freezer for him to try.  Two thumbs up.  We were over his house last night, I brought him a bottle (340ml vinegar bottles from the 89 cent store).  We had some before dinner, and the gang almost polished off the whole bottle after dinner.  A lot more thumbs up.

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Limoncello … soon

January 11, 2008 at 1:56 pm (Other Drinks, Wine Recipes, Winemaking) (, , , )

Lemons were 4 for $1, but they were ugly. Since the liqueur is made from the zest, I want the really good looking lemons. I’ll have to keep shopping.

I stopped today at a produce market. The lemons were 5 for $2, they were pretty, but they had no smell. More shopping.

Nikolai Vodka was around $7 for 1.5 liters of 80 proof in the PA state store. I’m going to check on NJ this weekend. They had two brands of Limoncello from Italy. Both brands were $20 for about .75 liter and they stated they were 36% alcohol (72 proof).

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Quick Tip – Making Your Bottle Appealing

January 9, 2008 at 2:58 pm (Quick Tips, Winemaking, Winemaking Tips) (, , , , )

When I first started making wine, I showed up at a party with a very plain unlabeled bottle. I was excited by my creation, but only my good friends were willing to try it.

Even free wine needs a good marketing image. So before I took my wine anywhere else, I made labels by taking pictures with my digital camera and putting text over the top. The result was an impressive color label, much nicer than most commercial wines. I also purchased heat shrink capsules for covering up the cork. When I showed up with the same wine in colorfully decorated bottles, everybody wanted to try it.

I’ve outgrown the image problem. All my friends have enjoyed many bottles of my wine by now, so I cut back to printing my labels on my laser printer. They are cheaper than full color, but still appealing.

I use a glue stick to attach my labels. I typically draw the glue all around the border and make an X in the middle. Glue sticks do a fine job holding the label on and the labels can be easily removed by soaking the bottle in hot water.

Peach Wine Label
Click on this thumbnail to see a larger version.
Unfortunately, this batch of wine never made it to the bottle.
But damn, what a beautiful label.

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Quick Tip – Iodophor

January 8, 2008 at 8:48 am (Quick Tips, Thoughts, Winemaking, Winemaking Tips) (, , , )

Buy this stuff. It’s not expensive, it lasts forever, and it does a great job.

Iodophor is a sanitizer that is used to kill off wild bacteria. After you clean your stuff (fermenter, siphon, hose, carboy, …) you put some of this stuff in there and let it sit for like 2 minutes. Buggies are gone. Don’t rinse, just pour it out. Now go right to work, if you rinse, you introduce bacteria again.

I keep a spray bottle of the stuff handy when I’m making wine. You mix about 7 drops into 16 oz. of water. I like to make it a little stronger, seven drops just doesn’t seem like very much. Now spray everything before use. If I’m going to stir some stuff, I spray the big spoon thoroughly, then use it. Same with the hydrometer, rubber stopper, etc.

Buy a small 2 oz container first. If you ever use it up, buy the quart, refill the little one, put the quart away. I once dropped a quart container, the cap shattered and I had the mess of a lifetime. The stuff is iodine based, it stains everything. Be warned. But it also does a great job sanitizing.

Iodophor

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