One of the long, ongoing discussions in the world of home wine making is, “should I be bulk aging or bottling aging my wines?” While bottle aging wine has its merits, there are some good reasons to consider bulk aging. Here’s some food for thought when considering bulk aging vs bottling aging your wine.
What Is Bulk Aging Wine?
Bulk aging refers to storing the wine in something similar to a glass water bottle. Home wine makers refer to them as carboys. It’s important to have a container with a neck of some sort so that the head-space, or air gap, can be mitigated as the bottle becomes full. Aging wine is a bucket-style fermenter is not recommended. The carboy is usually sealed airtight with either a rubber stopper or cork stopper while the wine is aging.
Many home wine makers elect bulk age over bottling aging their newly made wines for months or even longer before moving the wine into bottles. The reasoning behind this could be anything from, “that’s how the wineries do it” to “I was waiting to get more empty wine bottles.”
Why Do Professional Wineries Bulk Age Their Wines?
In reality, the commercial wineries bulk age, or maturate, in bulk because it is a safer and more controllable than aging in wine bottles. It’s safer because air, light and heat can all be kept in check more evenly – these are the elements that can come together to produce oxidation in a wine. It’s more controlled because the maturation process is slowed down when oxygen contact is reduced. Wine in bottles have more air contact per gallon then wine in bulk.
Why Slower Is Better
It’s common knowledge in the wine industry that slower aging produces a better tasting wine, one that is more in balance. Oxygen is what drives the rate of some maturation processes, but not all of these processes respond equally to oxygen. As a result, a wine can become out of balance, as some aging process outpace others when aged too fast.
In addition, some aging activities in a wine are triggered in sequence – sort of a domino effect. One cannot happen until the other one occurs. These falling dominoes are set off by the oxygen, but again, if too much oxygen is given, some of the maturation processes fall behind in the chain, again, putting the wine’s qualities out of whack.
For these reasons many wineries age in bulk before bottling. “How long?”, depends on the wine at hand and how the flavor and bouquet of the wine are developing. These elements are monitored to determine when it is time to bottle the wine. It could be weeks; it could be a year.
Bulk Aging Homemade Wines In Carboys
The home winemaker can use either glass or food-grade plastic carboys to do the aging. While you can use an actual cork stopper to seal up the carboy, I prefer using a rubber stopper. I also recommend using baling wire or similar to hold the stopper in place, otherwise changes in temperature or barometric pressure can cause the stopper to pop loose.
The wine should also be treated with a dose of potasssium metabisulfite before sealing it up to be aged. This is to eliminate any chance of spoilage and to help keep the wine’s color stable.
When bulk aging a wine in a carboy, be sure to monitor the flavor of the wine as time goes on, just don’t monitor it too much. About once ever 2 or 3 month you can take 1 or 2 ounces out to see how things are progressing. A wine thief will help you in this regard to get the wine from the carboys or any other glass jugs with a narrow neck.
After Bulk Aging The Wine
Once it’s time to bottle, you can bottle the wine directly from the carboys just like you normal would have without aging the wine.
Once the wine has been bottled there is a typical period of bottle shock that the wine will most likely experience. This is a temporary condition of the wine that results in a flat, lifeless character. Let the wine sit to condition for about a month and the wine should come back to its former self.
Whether or not you bulk age your wine in a carboy or individually in wine bottles, your wines will age none the less. So don’t feel that bulk aging vs bottle aging is a make-or-break decision. Just remember that air exposure to the wine is a premier factor.
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.
i was wondering the same thing thanks
Jim, adding a Campden tablet every other time you sample does not sound unreasonable. What I like to do is to just drop a small pinch or dash of potassium metabisulfite right before I seal the carboy back up. This will cause SO2 or sulfite gas to permeate the head space. This is sufficient, assuming the wine is up into the neck of the carboy. You do not need to continue racking your wine. If the wine is clear and not creating new deposits at the bottom, then there is not reason to rack the wine. Even if there is just a light dusting of tannin or yeast, you are better off leaving the wine undisturbed than racking it.
As a first time wine maker I’m not certain when the aging begins. Last week i racked my peach wine from the plastic bucket to a glass carboy with airlock. It is clearing up nicely and i plan to rack it again in about 4-6 weeks to get rid of the sediment. Does the aging start then. And if i rack it again does the aging start over. Or does the aging start when i remove the airlock and use a rubber stopper in the glass carboy. Maybe i need to get a book on wine making for idiots but i cant find one. Any advice on when to age and for how long.
Marilyn, the aging of the wine begins once the fermentation completes. The fermentation is complete when the specific gravity reading on your hydrometer reaches .998 or less. If you rack the wine the process does not begin again. Most fruit wines need to age 3-12 months but some may take longer. Every so often pull a bottle out and see how it is doing. Is it becoming more mellow? Is it developing any complexities or layers of flavors? If yes, then great, let it age longer. But when no improvement can be detected between samplings, then simply put, it’s time to start drinking.
I usually back sweeten my blackberry wine after fermentation and several months of aging..
should I continue bulk aging after sweetening,
or should/could I bottle after back sweetening?
Jerry, yes you can bottle the wine right after back-sweetening and age the wine in the bottles.
instead of corking, why not use an airlock? what would be the difference?
Vin Vee, you can use an airlock while bulk aging. However if you do, you need to keep close track of it to make sure that the airlock does not go dry and remains filled with water to act as a barrier. If the airlock goes dry, contaminants can reach the wine and cause spoilage. For this reason, we recommend using the stopper or cork.
Great article.I age my wines after bottling.I think I’ll try BULK next tme.
At 10 months I pull a gallon of Blueberry wine out to bottle it. I left it on the counter in the kitchen where it is cool for three days and noticed mold had form on top.The gallon jug is a glass bottle with a neck. I siphon it into a wine bottle, it is watery and mold did not come back and it taste ok. Can the wine be drank?.
Ann, if the mold was only on the surface of the wine and not all throughout the wine, you can treat the gallon of wine with 1.5 campden tablets to prevent further formation. The article posted below will discuss this in more detail.
White Scum On Top Of My Wine.
Thanks this is a lot of good information .
Thank you for ALL of your topics!! I am a first time mead maker and have just bottled my first batch. Drank a few and bottled a few for further aging. Surprisingly it came out great thanks to you and all the topics covered and questions answered!! Am so happy for all of your expertise that you so willingly share!!
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Can I expect step by step process of home brewing wine from fruits and store bought juices. Iam from India.. Just i started home made wine for fun and for my own consumption. I don’t know wether its right or not in my country. I am about sixty age. Thank you.
Search on the internet for “homemade wine Welches grape juice” and there is a least two very good videos that cover exactly what you’re trying to do.
I’ve found by putting vodka in the airlock it doesn’t evaporate out even after 5 months of bulk aging.
Good article thanks. I am interested in aging some of my wine for three years in 6 gallon glass carboys. I know that I need to check the wine every 3 months or so, and I remember reading that I should add one campden tablet every other time that I check the wine. Is that necessary? Also do I need to keep racking my wine during the three year process even after it has been clear? Any advice that you can give would be appreciated. Thanks,
I back sweeten my wine. So if I want to bulk age should I sweeten when I start the bulk aging or should I wait till time to bottle??
I found the answer in about her one of your post.
I disagree to tie the cork with baling wire ,i lost two 15 gal of wine .The pressure cracked the glass ,as i remember my father put a cork on the barrel and used to find it on the other side of room .So he never pressed it hard.This is 75 yrs ago.