If all has been going well, the wine has been bubbling away quietly for six days now, filling the room with the fabulous scent of yeast turning grapes into alcohol. It is now time to begin step two, racking the wine into a carboy and off of the oak chips, and allowing it to go through a secondary fermentation process.
The first step is to ensure the new wine is now at a specific gravity of 1.010 or lower. If your wine is not at this level yet, leave it be for another few days. Depending on the season and subsequently if the temperature in the storage location is cooler, this can take longer. Drop the hydrometer into the wine thief and suck up a sample. Don’t forget to clean and sterilize it again, before you do this. Remember, clean, clean, clean as the hydrometer has been sitting in a cabinet for a week now growing what ever you left on it, and there is a $100 investment in grapes here.
If after more than ten days the wine is stuck in the 1.030 – 1.100 range, then there may be what is called a stalled fermentation. Bummer. This can be caused by everything from temperatures out of range, bad yeast or (hopefully not) bacteria introduction that has killed the yeast. There are many discussion boards and areas to find solutions to this problem – Wine Maker Magazine has several helpful suggestions that we will not go into here in its site. It also has lots of good supplemental material on common issues and getting started in general.
Don’t forget to take this opportunity to drop a few CC’s of the wine from the wine thief into a wine glass and look closely at it as well as taste it. Getting used to what wine tastes like in all forms of the fermentation process will help you define your palate. The wine is murky, and cloudy but has a great aroma and at this point tastes interesting. If you tasted the plain grapes a week ago, you can definitely tell Mother Nature assisted by her good friend, Dr. Science have been a busy pair. It is much less sweet and beginning to resemble wine. One of the byproducts of the fermentation process is carbon dioxide (CO2) production. The wine will likely have a carbonated mouth feel to it.
Clean a carboy and transfer the wine from the primary fermentation bucket into the carboy. One of the items received in most winemaking kits is an auto siphon. This is a bicycle pump like devise with a plastic tube attached to the end. Place the bucket on a counter or above the carboy and the carboy on the floor. One quick pump and its off to the races. Gravity and the suction created by the siphon pump will do the rest. This is called racking.
As the process moves along, placing a book or other sturdy object under the side of the primary fermentation bucket can be helpful to get the majority of the wine out with a minimum amount of the sludge. Remember the purpose of racking is to separate off the oak and most of the sludge that has settled to the bottom during fermentation in the last week. Don’t stir the wine with the siphon. Stick it into one spot, in the corner then leave it there.
The attached slideshow has some reference photos. As you get close to the end, be prepared to lift the end of the siphon above the surface of what is left, as to not overfill the carboy. The measurements of liquid used in the initial fermentation process were not exact and the carboy will be smaller than the fermentation bucket. This column is about hints, as well as pitfalls to avoid and this is a mess you want to avoid if possible.
Once again check the temperature of the wine, and ensure it is in the sweet spot of 65-75 degrees. The brew store, or a pet store and provide these great aquarium temperature stickers that can be affixed to the outside of your carboy so you can monitor the temperature easily. One trick that can be utilized if brewing during the dead of winter is to set the carboy on a old heating pad plugged in on low.
Finally top off the bad boy with an air lock and place it back into storage for another 10 days or so. Once fermentation has reached 0.996 or less and stabilizes, remains the same measurement over two consecutive days, the clarification process begins. That will be covered in part three. This is a good time to enjoy a glass of wine, and ponder the possibilities for what to call it, and how to design the label!