Why Rack Wine Into A Secondary Fermenter?

Why Rack WineI’m making a batch of wine from one of your wine making kits. I have the wine brewing in a plastic fermenter and it should be reaching a specific gravity of 1.010 tomorrow according to my wine hydrometer. It’s still bubbling actively after 7 days. According to the directions that came with the wine kit I should be racking the wine into a secondary fermenter at this point. Why rack wine into a secondary for the rest of the fermentation? Can’t I just leave it fermenting for another 12 days in the same container….don’t understand why the transfer is necessary at this point.

Tony F.
Dear Tony,

This is a question we get from time to time, and you’re right, it doesn’t seem to make sense, particularly when you are dealing with concentrated homemade wine kits. Why rack wine to a secondary fermenter when is seems to be fermenting perfectly fine?

When you make wine from fresh fruits, the juice is fermented with the skins and pulp for the first few days so that the juice can extract body, flavor and color. This is a process call maceration. Siphoning the wine after a few days seems logical in that situation. You need to get the skins and pulp out of the way; racking the juice to a clean fermenter seems like a good way to do it.Shop Auto Siphon

But there’s another reason why we rack wine into a secondary fermenter besides just getting skins and pulp out of the way, and it’s why you need to rack the wine now, even though it’s from concentrate with no skins or pulp involved. It’s called sediment or lees.

Whether or not there’s skin or pulp, a heavy layer of sediment will develop in the bottom of your wine fermenter. It’s primarily made up of yeast cells that were produced during the fermentation. Having excessive amounts of this sediment in contact with the wine over extended periods of time can cause off-flavors to become noticeable in the resulting wine.

Most of the off-flavors stem from the fact that some of the active yeast cells will try to consume the dead yeast cells that lie at the bottom as the sugar starts to run out. This is a process known as autolysis. So for a clean tasting wine you need to get the wine off the bulk of this sediment. And, this is why you need to rack a wine into a secondary fermenter.Shop Carboys

Just as the wine instructions that came with your wine kit imply, it’s usually around the 7th day that almost all of the fermentation has completed, and the activity begins to slow down. This makes it an opportune time to get the bulk of the sediment out of the way. There will be more sediment to follow as the wine clears up, but not nearly as much as the fermentation will have at this point in the process.

Happy Winemaking,
Ed Kraus
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.

The Power of Blending Homemade Wines

Person Blending WinesI have been following your blog for some time and find it very helpful. I have a question about blending wines. I am an amateur winemaker starting with grapes and moving on to fruit wines. I recently made about 3 gallons of semi-dry red raspberry wine from frozen raspberries that came out very nice but intensely full of flavor. My wife describes it as “almost wanting to pick the seeds out of your teeth”. Although it has a very nice finished wine I am thinking of blending a portion with other wines. I have a young peach that I will experiment with in a small batch but not sure about peaches and raspberry. What I am wondering is if you have any suggestions in blending this with a commercial wine such as a Riesling or a chardonnay.

Name: Ray S.
State: Connecticut
Hello Ray,

Blending homemade wines is a very subjective endeavor, but one that can improve a wine that is out of balance in some way. In a nutshell, you need to find a wine that is on the opposite end of the scale of the fault you are trying to fix, and then figure out how much of that wine you need to add to fix your wine’s fault. This is what blending wine at home is all about. It’s a technique for making 1 + 1 = 3.

In the case of your raspberry wine, it sounds like the flavor is too intense in some way. This usually means that the wine is too acidic. That would be my guess, but don’t let me tell you what is at issue. Think it through.

Citric acid is the primary acid in raspberries and would make the wine too sharp or tart tasting, particularly if the fruit used to make the wine happened to be too tart, or if too much raspberry was used.

If the wine is too puckering or has a dry bitterness or astringency as opposed to sharp or tart flavor, this is usually from too much tannin in the wine. This can happen when the fruit is over processed or left in the fermentation too long. The tannin is in the fibers of the fruit. When the fruit is over macerated – like when using a blender – too much tannin releases causing the wine to be puckering or bitter.

When blending homemade wines it’s up to you to make the determination of what really is the fault, and then after doing so, choosing a wine to blend that has the opposite characteristics.

Shop FermenterFrom what you have said, I would venture a guess that you should blend your wine with something along the lines of an apple or pear wine. These wines do not have a lot of flavor and are not all that tart or astringent. This is because the primary acid in these wines is malic as opposed to citric. This is a fruit acid that is not nearly as sharp on the tongue. These wine’s also tend to have lower levels of tannin than most. The resulting effect would be that the intensity of the raspberry flavor would be knocked down and and tartness or puckering taste would be marginally neutralized, as well. But having said this you could try any wine that has a light flavor profile.

Regardless of the wine you choose to try, when blending homemade wines the one thing I strongly urge you to do is to do test blends first. Don’t pour a whole bottle of wine into your 3 gallons of raspberry and see what you think, but rather, take a measured sample of the raspberry wine and added to it a measured sample of the wine you have chosen to blend. You can even go so far as to have a series of different blending ratios and have someone else do a blind tasting to determine which on is best.

The point here is to be methodical and not whimsical when blending homemade wine. By doing so you increase you chances considerably of ending up with a wine that you can’t wait to drink instead of a wine that you can just tolerate.

Happy Winemaking,
Ed Kraus
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.

The Benefits Of Wine Kits vs Fresh Grapes

Wine Kits vs Fresh GrapesWhat is the going opinion of making wine with fresh grapes and crushing them, as opposed to using a wine kit? Is one better than the other by default, or would you say either method can produce excellent or horrible results?

Phil B. – TN

Hello Phil,

Thanks for bringing up this great question about wine kits vs fresh grapes. It’s a question we get from time to time, so I’ll be more than happy to answer it here…

Whether you are making wine from grapes or making wine from kits the quality of the wine starts with the quality of the grapes. There is an adage in the wine making industry that says:

“You can never make a wine that is
better than the grapes used to make it.”

What this means is that you’ll never make great wine out of poor wine grapes. The quality of the wine always starts with the quality of the grapes.

When making wine from fresh grapes the individual winemaker usually has a limited selection of grapes to choose from. Quality can suffer when dealing in the take-it-or-leave-it type of market that often arises for the home winemaker.

The quality of grapes that you will find in wine kits varies from good to outstanding. It is not in the interest of these kit producers to spend their time preparing and packaging poor wine grapes. It doesn’t make economic sense, so great care is taken to locate and acquire grapes that are above average quality.

This is one of the major advantages to using a wine kit vs fresh grapes. You are able to rely on the wine kit producer’s expertise in selecting quality grapes. So on the whole you’ll be starting with a better quality grape when using a wine kit than when obtaining grapes on your own. Of coarse, there are always exceptions. Living near a grape growing mecca such as Napa can turn this point on its head, but for most home winemakers, this is a consideration that should be given some weight.

We offer an array of different brands of wine kits. As you go up the ladder in price, the finer your selection of grape. How much you spend depends on the level of taste. Some people are completely happy with the On The House wine kits and could not tell a difference even if they did choose a more expensive kit. For others, the On The House simply would not do. How far up the ladder one goes is very much a personal choice.

Shop FermenterUnfortunately, quality grapes do not guarantee a stellar wine, it’s just the first requirement necessary to get there. Between the grapes and the wine bottle is a whole host of other factors such as: acidity, alcohol, sweetness, etc.

Making wine from a wine kit alleviates you from these variables. This is because all these factors have already been taken care of for you by the wine kit producers. They balance the acidity, sugar content and many other features such as clarification and oak treatment to match the typical character of the wine you are making. By eliminating as many variables as possible they are helping to insure that you will make a remarkable wine every time. This is a very valuable benefit of using wine kits vs fresh grapes – especially for the beginner.

Now having said this, I understand completely that we are talking about a hobby, and for some, part of the hobby is the passion that goes into the picking, the crushing, the pressing, and so forth. I get that. And if this is you, I completely support your efforts to make wine from the dirt to the wine bottle. I’m just trying to bring total objectivity to the consideration of using wine kits vs fresh grapes.

Shop Wine Making KitsSo while both wine kits and fresh grapes holds their own rewards, by starting with a wine you are virtually eliminating any chance of producing a bad wine. Add to that the incredible selection that is now available to the home winemaker and it starts to become apparent that a wine kit is the way to go for the beginner.

I hope this covers all your questions and curiosities about wine kits vs fresh grapes. Please realize that regardless of which path you decide to take, we will be more than happy to help you in any way you need.

Best Wishes,
Ed Kraus
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.

Why Your Homemade Wine Smells Like Acetone

Winemakers Wine Smells LIke AcetoneI have a 2017 Chamborcin that has a smell like acetone is their a way to remove this taste. Will oak aging help? If I let it oxygenate for several hours it is palatable. What can I do? I feel I have done every step correctly and my Vidal Blanc taste great a very light dry. Why does this wine smell like acetone?

Charlie C. — GA
Hello Charlie,

When you say your wine smells like acetone, two things instantly come to mind:

  • It could be from fermenting the wine at too warm of a temperature. If a fermentation becomes too hot the yeast become stressed causing all types of funny chemical-like aromas. This is the reason we recommend that a wine fermentation never go over 75°F. and to take some sort of action to cool the fermentation if it does.
  • It could be that your wine is turning to vinegar. This typically happens when your wine has been contaminated with acetobacter (vinegar bacteria). The acetobacter could have come from anywhere. It could have been on the grapes, your equipment… If you’re making wine in a root cellar it could be floating around in the air and on the walls. The tell-tale sign of a vinegar fermentation going on in your wine is the smell of finger nail polish remover (ethyl acetate), which as a smell very similar to acetone.

Either situation is not a good one to be in, but it would be helpful to know the specific reason why your wine smells like acetone before moving forward:

  • If you noticed the acetone smell in your wine during the fermentation, then most likely it is from a hot fermentation. The odor will become noticeable along with all the other smells of a fermentation. Then as time goes on, and the wine is racked a couple of times, sulfited, etc. you will notice the chemical smell start to become less noticeable.Shop Potassium Metabisulfite
  • If you did not notice it during the fermentation, but noticed the acetone smell later on and getting worse with time, then it is most like that your wine has caught the vinegar bug. Even if you did smell it during the fermentation, but it has gotten worse since then, I would lean towards acetobacter as being the cause – the overriding factor is: it’s getting worse, not better.

What To Do Now

  • If you feel that that your wine smells like acetone because it was fermented too hot, then I would do nothing other than go through your normal winemaking procedures. The strategy is to hope that the smell is volatile enough to dissipate on its own accord. If it becomes time to bottle the wine and the aroma of acetone is still noticeable, about the only thing you can do is rack the wine in a splashing manner and then sulfite. The type of sulfite you use does not matter. It can be Campden tablets, potassium metabisulfite or sodium metabisulfite. Use the dosage that is recommend on the contain it came in. The splashing will encourage the acetone smell to dissipate. The sulfites will help to drive out the odor as well as any oxygen that may have saturated into the wine during the process. Excessive oxygen in the wine can lead to oxidation.
  • If it seems as though your wine smells like acetone because of acetobacter, then there is something you can do now to stop it from getting any worse: that is to sulfite the wine. Any of the sulfites mentioned above will easily destroy the vinegar bacteria that is growing in your wine and producing this odor. This will stop things from getting any worse, however it will not reverse the damage that has already been done. To rid the wine of the smell that is already there, you will have to do as recommended before. That is to splash the wine and treat with sulfites. Unfortunately, in many cases of acetobacter contamination, this is not enough and the wine is lost.Shop Thermometers

What To Do With Future Batches
There are things you can do to make sure your future batches of wine do not smell like acetone:

  • Keep the fermentation temperatures from rising too high: Do the best you can to keep your fermentation around 70° to 75°F. Fermentations create their own heat, so it might be advisable for you to get a liquid thermometer of some type to track the fermentation temperature.
  • Use sulfites at the appropriate times: The wine should be treated with sulfites 24 hours before the yeast is added, then again before aging, then once more before bottling.
  • Keep air exposure to a minimum: Not only does air promote oxidation, it also promotes of growth of an acetobacter. Getting a few cells of vinegar bacteria in your wine is not a problem. It’s when those few cells are given the opportunity to reproduce and grow into a full-blown colony. That’s’ when your wine can start to smell like acetone. This is what excess air exposure does.
  • Make sure your wine making area is sanitary: If you are making wine in a basement or cellar, you may need to sanitize your entire wine making area. This can be done with spray bottle filled with a mixture of 1/4 cup of Clorox bleach to 1 gallon of water. Do not spray your equipment with this mixture, but rather counter-tops, exposed floor joists, etc.

Charlie, I hope this information helps you out. Having a wine smell like acetone is a good reason for concern. Hopefully, everything will work at fine and you will finish with a wine that will be well beyond your expectations.

Best Wishes,
Ed Kraus
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.

What’s The Skins Got To Do With It?

Grape Juice Going Into Wine GlassI  hope you can answer my question about wine to press the grapes. Why is it important to ferment the must with the grape skins prior to pressing? Your article says that white wine grapes can be pressed right away, whereas, red wine grapes is fermented prior to pressing. Please explain because I want to lean how to make white wine later this year.

Thank you,
Hello Gabriel,

This is a great question, and an area of wine making that causes some confusion for many beginning winemakers. When to press the grapes and when to have the grape pulp in the fermentation are fundamentals that need to be understood.

One thing that needs to be pointed out is that if you are making wine from concentrated juices or wine ingredient kits, the skins have nothing to do with your wine making at all. The juice producers have taken care of everything for you when it comes to handling the grape skin or pulp. So just relax.

If you take the darkest or reddest grapes you can find and run them through a grape crusher. Then press the grapes with a press. You will not have a red juice. What you will have is a pink or blush juice. If you ferment that juice you will have a pink or blush wine, not a red wine. There is nothing in the fermentation process that will make it turn more red than it was at pressing.

The color in a red wine comes from the grape skin not the juice. This is the reason that the skins are left in the must during the fermentation: so that the color can be extracted from the pulp into the juice. There are also body and aroma elements that are extracted as well making the wine more structured and complex.Buy Wine Kits

With white wines it now starts to become clear why the grapes are pressed right away. Contact with the skin has very little value when making a white wine. You are no necessarily looking for color.

Some wineries do live the pulp and skins in with the juice for a very short period of time to add depth and structure to the wine, but it is usually a matter of hours not days. For example, this might be done with a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc grape where significant body is expected.

I hope this answers your question sufficiently and gives you a better idea of when to press the grapes and when to leave the pulp in with the fermentation when making your wine.

Happy Wine Making,
Customer Service at E. C. Kraus
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.

Adding More Color To Wine

Results when adding more color to wine.How can I give my red wine more color? I’m new at wine making.
Jerre M. — TN
Hello Jerre,

Adding more color to your wine is something that is easy to do when you are making it. The color pigmentation mostly comes from the skin of the grape. To add more color you leave the skins in the fermentation longer. This can be done for up to 7 days for maximum color.

Time plays a dramatic role in the color of the wine. If the skins are not in the fermentation at all, you will get a pink or blush-colored wine. This small amount of color is from what is released into the juice while crushing the grapes. Leave the skins in the fermentation for three days, you might get a ruby-colored wine. Seven days, you could end up with a wine that has an inky-dark color.

Results will very as to the hue of the wine (red brick to purple), but this should give you some idea as to the role time and grape skins play in adding more color to a wine.

So far we have been talking about grapes, but the same can be applied to many fruits: blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, even strawberries, and others. All will contribute more color to the wine when left in the fermentation longer.

There is a tradeoff. Along with the color comes more tannin. This is the stuff that adds body and structure to the wine. For most wine drinkers this is considered to be a good thing. The wine will be bigger, bolder, more aromatic and typically more layered in its flavor profile.

Shop Wine KitsThe tradeoff comes in the amount of aging the wine will need before it starts to taste pleasant. In short, the more time the skin is in the fermentation, the more time the wine will need to age before its harshness starts to subside. Exactly how much time is something that will vary from one wine to the next, but suffice it to say that it may be several years for the darkest of wines while maybe only three to six months for a blush wine.

If you are referring to adding more color to a wine that has already been made, there’s not much you can do. You can try making another batch of the same wine, only with more color, and then blending the two before bottling. The second wine could even be made with next year’s grapes. Just let your first wine bulk age for a while.

If you ultimately like your wines sweet, you can experiment with adding Welch’s grape concentrate to sweeten the wine. This will also add more color to the wine. It will also add more fruit acid to the wine. You will need to be careful not to make the wine too acidic. It would not be a bad idea to use an acid test kit to keep track of how much acid is being added to the wine by the Welch’s grape concentrate. You will also need to add potassium sorbate to the wine, just like any other time you would sweeten the wine. This is to keep the wine from starting a renewed fermentation with the new sugars from the concentrate.

As you can start to see, adding more color to a wine is not all that cut and dry. There are other considerations that need to made as well. Do you really want to make a big wine that might not be drinkable until next year? Do you really want to make your wine sweet by adding Welch’s grape concentrate for color? There are always tradeoffs.

The only thing I can really say is color does not make the wine. It is only visual cue as to what to expect. There are excellent wines of all colors: light and dark.

Best Wishes,
Ed Kraus

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.

Starting And Final Specific Gravity Readings For Wine

Taking Final Specific Gravity ReadingI am in the process of making my first batch of Scuppernong Wine. The SG [specific gravity] at the beginning was 1.116… The process has been going on for about 8 weeks now. The SG now is 1.030… I still see activity. What should the final specific gravity reading be when the wine is complete?

Name: Charles P.
State: South Carolina
Hello Charles,

To answer your question, you should expect a final specific gravity for wine somewhere between .992 and .996 on your hydrometer.

Your starting specific gravity reading was a little high, so your wine yeast has a lot of work to do. Normally you would want a starting specific gravity between 1.070 and 1.100 for wine. Yours was 1.116. This may be more than the wine yeast can handle.

There are two reasons for this:

  1. Shop HydrometersSugar acts as a preservative. If the concentrate of sugar becomes too high, it can actually interfere with the wine yeast from even starting. Your fermentation started, so obviously this is not an issue for this fermentation.
  1. Wine yeast has a limited tolerance to alcohol. As the alcohol level rises in the wine must, the wine yeast finds it harder and harder to ferment, sometimes to the point of not being able to ferment at all. This would be known as a stuck fermentation.

Your starting potential alcohol level was between 15% and 16%. A majority of wine yeast will have a hard time fermenting to this level of alcohol.

My guess is that your fermentation will become very slow as it ferments the last few percentage points of sugar. If this is the case, just be patient and give it plenty of time to do its thing. As long as you can see some slight progress, you are okay.

However, depending on the wine yeast you used, the fermentation may not be able to finish at all – a stuck fermentation. If this is the case, you may be forced into a situation to where you need to dilute the wine must with water to cut its alcohol level. This will help the yeast to start up again and finish the fermentation.

Since the starting specific gravity for your wine was so high, I would recommend that you also take a look at the Top 10 Reasons For Fermentation Failure. By doing this you may discover other things that can be done to help the fermentation along and get the final specific gravity for your wine where it needs to be.

Happy Winemaking,
Ed Kraus

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.

Is Wine Yeast And Baking Yeast The Same?

Wine Yeast Not Baking YeastI need you to help me settle a bet with a friend who also makes wine.  He says that wine yeast is no different than what you can get in the store to make bread with.  His quote “yeast is yeast”.  I say that it is different, although I can’t explain how.  Please help settle this and let us know who has to pay up, plus if there is a difference between wine yeast and baking yeast can you explain it to me.

Hello Jamie,

I’m going to be brutally honest, here. I hope this doesn’t break-up a good friendship.

To say that yeast is yeast is like saying a dog is a dog. Over the centuries dogs have been bred for various, specific tasks: hunting, herding, personal protection, attacking, protecting herds, companionship, etc. The same can be said for yeast. They have been bred over the decades to perform specific tasks: rising bread, making alcohol, bio-degrading oils, pharmaceutical production, etc.

So to bring this analogy full circle, when you’re making wine with a baking yeast, you’re hunting grizzlies with a chihuahua. Sorry friend, but wine yeast and baking yeast are not the same. In fact, they are very different. I would never recommend making wine with bread or baking yeast.Shop Yeast Nutrient

Wine yeast in particular is bred to obtain higher alcohol levels than baking yeast. On average, bread yeast will get you 9 or 10%. Anything higher than that is possible, but the baking yeast will have to struggle considerably.

Wine yeast are bred to thrive very well with the set of nutrients fruits naturally provide. Baking yeast, on the other hand, prefers the balance of nutrients found in grains or bread doughs.

Wine yeast clears more quickly from the wine than baking yeast. Wine yeast is bred to clump together as the fermentation activity slows – a process known as flocculation. The clumping allows the wine yeast to drop out and settle to the bottom more quickly. Baking yeast does not clump or flocculate. Instead, it slowly settles to the bottle as a fine haze. This process can take weeks instead of days.

Wine yeast foams less than baking yeast. This is because wine yeast are bred to produce less surface tension in the liquid than baking yeast.

Wine yeast is also more tolerant to sulfites than baking yeast. The wine yeast has actually been acclimated to coexist with some residual sulfites such as Campden tablets in the wine. This means that wine yeast can ferment just fine with some sulfites in the wine must. Baking yeast is not as fortunate. Even small amounts of sulfites can stop a wine fermentation dead in its tracks.

Another issue is that bread yeast is only packaged under food-grade conditions. This is certainly suitable for baking. The yeast is only being utilized for a few hours, not days, so the perpetuation of any contaminating organisms do not have enough time to do any damage.

On the other hand, with wine yeast we are talking days if not weeks that the yeast is in play. This is plenty of time for stray organisms riding on the yeast to potentially breed into a full-fledged infestation spoiling the wine. For this reason, wine yeast is package under sterile conditions. This is far more stringent than food-grade packaging.Shop Wine Yeast

To sum all this up, you can certainly make wine with a baking yeast, but you will be sacrificing flavor and potentially alcohol. You are also increasing the likelihood of having a stuck fermentation. This is because of issues with nutrients and the use of sodium metabisulfite.

So, as I think you can see, wine yeast and baking yeast are not the same. In fact, there are many differences between the two. That combined with the fact that wine yeast is not all that expensive to buy, why wouldn’t you use it in your winemaking?

Happy Wine Making
Ed Kraus
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.

There’s A Sulfur Smell In My Wine!

Wine With A Sulfur SmellI’m making a Sauvignon Blanc from a 6 gallon bucket of refrigerated fresh juice that was inoculated with a wine yeast by the producer. Instructions on bucket: bring must to 76 degrees stir 2x daily, recover with bucket lid and rack to secondary fermenter at 1.020. My starting SG 1.090 and I racked last night after two weeks to secondary at 1.020 and noticed the must smells like a hard boiled egg. Any suggestions, or will this smell work its way out during future rackings?

Name: Michael N.
State: Pennsylvania
Hello Michael,

So sorry you are having such an issue with this batch.

The hard-boiled egg smell you are referring to is obviously a sulfur odor. This sulfur smell in your homemade wine comes from hydrogen sulfide.

Hydrogen sulfide is a compound that is naturally produced during a wine fermentation. All wine fermentations will produce some hydrogen sulfide, however there are some scenarios that can cause more of it to be produced than others. Apparently, your wine falls into one or more of these situations:

  • It could be that your wine is fermenting with a wild yeast strain. Some wild yeast are not that good at fermenting a wine must. They have to work harder causing an over-production of hydrogen sulfide. However, if the wine must was sulfited before your received it, this situation is not very likely. Wild yeast are very sensitive to sulfites. They would have easily been destroyed by it.
  • A nutrient deficient wine must can cause a sulfur smell in a fermenting wine. Whether the yeast is wild or domesticated, it will have to work harder to get the job done when they are malnourished, again, causing excessive hydrogen sulfide production. Your wine must does not fit this scenario very well. If you are using 100% grape juice, there is a significant amount of nutrients available. Only on a rare occasion will a grape juice fermentation produce an abundance of sulfur odor because of a lack of nutrients.Shop Yeast Nutrients
  • Having a fermentation that is too warm can cause a sulfur smell in fermenting wine. If the fermentation was over 80°F., this can put the wine yeast under additional strain and increase the likelihood of too much hydrogen sulfide being produced.
  • Having too little yeast trying to do too much work can cause a sulfur smell in a fermenting wine. If for some reason the wine yeast added did not have enough viable cells (old yeast), or if some of the wine yeast was destroyed during storage or shipping of the wine must, this can cause an over-production of hydrogen sulfide.
  • Using a domesticated wine yeast that naturally has a higher likelihood of producing hydrogen sulfide could be why you have a sulfur smell in your fermenting wine. Not all wine yeast are the same. Each one has it’s own unique set of qualities. Some wine yeast have a higher propensity towards producing higher levels of hydrogen sulfide. These wine yeast are more sensitive to the above situations.

Finally, it could be any combination of the above. Quite often things are not so cut-and-dry in wine making. It could be an orchestration of two or three of the above situations coming together to put your wine in the mess it is currently in.

The good news is that almost all of the time this particular fault in a wine is correctable. Quite often, time is all that is needed. Doing a racking after the fermentation can significantly help to release the sulfur odor. So does adding sulfites such as: Campden tablets, potassium metabisulfite and sodium metabisulfite. Any of these will help to drive the hydrogen sulfide out of the wine.

Shop Potassium BisulfiteMichael, my suggestion to you is to do nothing right now. In fact there is nothing that you can do at this stage that would help the situation. Continue on as you normally would with any wine. When you get the wine to a point that it is ready to bottle, that is when an evaluation needs to be done. Simply smell and make a determination: is there still a sulfur smell in the wine? If so, there are additional steps that can be taken.

Removing Sulfur Smell In Wine

Most of the time the sulfur smell of hydrogen sulfide will go away with normal rackings of the wine. The addition of Campden tablets or potassium metabisulfite as normally prescribed in a wine recipe will help to drive out the sulfur smell, as well. So, it is very likely that the sulfur-y smell will go away in due time.

But, there are times when racking the wine is not enough. In these situations, removing the sulfur smell from the wine may require you to treat the wine in a splashing manner. Let the wine run down the side-wall of the fermenter as it comes out of the siphon hose when racking. Or, you can try pouring the wine from one open fermenter to the next. In many instances I’ve seen this work successfully.

Be sure to treat the wine with potassium metabisulfite after doing this to drive the oxygen out of the wine, reducing the risk of oxidation, in your wine and, as mentioned before, it will help to drive out some of the hydrogen sulfide.

In almost all cases, removing the sulfur smell from the wine will be accomplished with the above treatments, but there are some rare instances when the above treatments just are not enough. In these more drastic situations you will want to treat the wine with copper. Yes, I said copper! When the wine comes into contact with copper, a reaction will occur that causes the hydrogen sulfide to release more freely, removing the sulfur smell from the wine.

Shop Wine KitsThe easiest way I have found to do this is to purchase copper brillo pads. Place a brillo pad in a funnel and pour the wine through it. You will notice that the brillo pad will start to corrode very quickly. This is from the reaction we are seeking. If the brillo pad starts to look spent, then feel free to put another one in its place. Again, you will want to treat the wine with potassium metabisulfite after performing the treatment to drive out oxygen that was introduced into the wine.

Michael, I am confident that removing the sulfur smell from your wine will be no problem at all for you. Be patient. Do your rackings and potassium metabisulfite additions as you normally would. When it comes time to bottle the wine, if still have a sulfur smell in the wine, then you can consider treating the wine with splashing, and so forth, but I would not do anything before then.

Happy Winemaking,
Ed Kraus
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.

How Do I Make More Alcohol In The Wine?

I make wine at home, I do want the wine with more alcohol. But I don’t know how to get this done.

Name: Ketherina D.
State: NY

When it comes to controlling the alcohol level of your wines — regardless of how high or how low — it’s all about the sugar.

Alcohol is made when wine yeast ferments the sugars that are in the wine must. The sugars are converted into both alcohol and carbon dioxide or CO2 gas. (That’s the stuff that makes your soda pop fizzy.) The more sugar the wine yeast has available, the more alcohol it can potentially make.

This concept is all pretty simple up to this point — more sugar, more alcohol — but there are some limits. Wine yeast can only ferment so much alcohol before is slows down and stops completely. Once the alcohol level gets so high, it starts to act as a preservative, inhibiting the fermentation.

Some wine yeast can generally ferment to higher levels of alcohol than others, and vice versa. They are more tolerant of the alcohol, but just as important is the environment that the yeast is thrown into. Things like: temperature, nutrients, oxygen availability, or lack of, all act as variables to the equation of how much alcohol you can end up with with that yeast. It would be safe to say that these variables tend to be more important than the strain of wine yeast you are using.

The reason I’m telling you this is that it is important to understand that when you are trying to drive your alcohol up with more sugar, you can never accurately predict how far the yeast will be able to go. This is a result of all these variables. Usually, you can safely obtain 12% or maybe 13%, but anything beyond this is always in question.

This leads us to your question: how do I make more alcohol? The short answer is, very carefully.

Buy HydrometersYou can start off your fermentation with enough sugars to ferment your customary 12%. The amount of sugar needed for this can be easily determined by a hydrometer. (see: Hydrometer Scales And What They Mean) But the sugars need to get the alcohol level beyond this need to be feed in a little at a time. This is done towards the end of fermentation.

As you see the original sugars begin to run out, you add a little more sugar. As you see that deplete you add more sugar, again. You keep doing it over and over until the fermentation can go no more. Knowing how much sugar is left in the wine must is something that can be done with a hydrometer, so you will need to make sure you have a handle on its use.

I would suggest taking a look at the article, Making High Alcohol Wines. It goes over this process in greater detail. Another article that may be helpful is How Much Alcohol Do You Really Want. I goes into how alcohol effects the character of a wine. So does the blog post, Keeping Fruit Wines In Fruity Balance.

Happy Winemaking,
Ed Kraus
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.