Controlling Alcohol With A Wine Hydrometer

Close Up Of Wine Making HydrometerA wine hydrometer plays many different roles in home wine making. It can track a fermentation’s progress. It can tell you if your fermentation has completed and not just stuck…  but one of its more interesting uses is controlling your wine’s alcohol level.

By using the wine hydrometer to help you adjust your beginning reading – before fermentation – you can control how much alcohol your wine will have when the fermentation has completed.

One of the scales you will find on a wine hydrometer is the potential alcohol scale. This hydrometer scale is only useful before the fermentation starts. What it is telling you is how much potential for alcohol your juice currently possesses.

As you add more sugar to the wine must the reading on the potential alcohol scale will rise. What this means is as the sugar rises you have a potential for more alcohol. The reason it is potential is because it hasn’t happened yet, and the alcohol is dependent on the fermentation fermenting all the sugars in the wine must.

Shop Wine Making HydrometersAs an example, if you have a beginning reading on the potential alcohol scale of 11% this means that your wine will have 11% alcohol when the fermentation is finished – provided the fermentation was allow to run its full course. Basically, the wine making hydrometer is telling you how much alcohol that sugar can make.

As another example, if your wine hydrometer had a starting reading of 13% potential alcohol and after the fermentation the reading was 1%, that means your wine currently has 12% alcohol.

If you want the fermentation to potentially make more alcohol, just add more sugar to the wine must until the potential alcohol scale on the hydrometer reads the alcohol level you want the wine to end up with.

As a final note, we do not recommend shooting for alcohol levels higher than 14%. If more sugar is added than the wine yeast can handle you may end up with an extremely sweet wine or, worse yet, a stuck fermentation.

So, while the wine hydrometer has many functions, one of its most useful is it allows the home winemaker to control the level of alcohol their finished wine will have. If you are still unsure, we have more information about using a wine making hydrometer and it’s functions in the wine making process on our website.

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.

Add Some Honey To Your Wine!

Dripping HoneySomewhere on your website you suggest sweetening wine with honey rather than with cane sugar.  This raised my interest and I was curious if there was a “proper” way for doing this.  Since the honey is quite thick, should it be “thinned down” before adding?  Mixed with wine (or small amount of water) prior to adding to the batch?  Or even heated slightly to make it thinner?  Is there anything in honey that could cause some instability or cloudiness in the wine?  By this point in the process I will already have added potassium sorbate.  Can I bottle the wine immediately following the sweetening?

Thank you for your assistance.
Carl S.
—–
Hello Carl S.,

Thank you for your curiosity and your questions.

I think adding honey is an excellent way to back-sweeten a wine. It is a powerful weapon in the home winemakers’ arsenal and one that is too often ignored. Many times over the years I’ve used honey to make some remarkable wines. Two that come to mind: a raspberry wine that I sweetened with wild flower honey and a blush Zinfandel that I sweetened with raspberry honey. Both were very memorable wines.

There are a couple of basic guidelines that need to be followed when using honey to sweeten a wine, but all-in-all it is a very simple process.

  1. As is the case with sweetening any wine you need to add potassium sorbate as a wine stabilizer, otherwise the new sugars from the honey will start fermenting again. Not only with this delay bottling the wine, it will remove all the sweetness you’ve just added.
  2. You also need to make sure that the honey has been pasteurized. Adding honey to a wine that is still wild or raw is a no-no. These impurities will have an environment to grow in once added to the wine. The eventual result is a spoiled wine. If you are not sure if the honey is pasteurized. You will need to pasteurize it yourself. This can easily be done by mixing the honey with equal parts of water. Then slowly heat the mix to 145°F and hold at that temperature for 30 minutes.

Shop Wine Bottle CorkersAs far as incorporating the honey into the wine, there are no surprises. Honey blends very easily with wine, even at room temperature. If you wish, you can blend the honey in a gallon of the wine first, then blend that mix in with the entire batch of wine, but it’s not really necessary.

Using honey to sweeten a wine is one of my favorite wine making tricks and one you should explore if you are wanting to learn how to make the best wine you can. The herbal characters of the honey can add greater depth and complexity to a wine.

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.

Adding Yeast To Homemade Wine: Sprinkling vs. Rehydrating

Checking temperature before adding yeast to homemade wine.Maybe you can answer a question that I have. When adding wine yeast to a juice or kit, do you need to place it in hot water as the directions say on the yeast package, or can you just sprinkle it onto the must? I noticed that some wine recipes call for the wine yeast to be placed in hot water first, and other recipes call for the yeast to be sprinkled on the top of the must. What is the best thing to do?

Eric L. – OH
—–
Hello Eric,

You are correct! There is some conflicting information running round when it comes to adding yeast to homemade wine. Almost all wine ingredient kit directions and wine recipes will say to sprinkle the dried wine yeast directly on top of the juice, but if you look at the packet of wine yeast itself, it will have directions that instruct you to put the yeast in warm water first. So, what should you do? How should you pitch the wine yeast?

Putting the wine yeast in warm water before adding it to a juice is a process called rehydration. What rehydration does is take a dried wine yeast and bring it back to an active state.Shop Wine Yeast

If you pitch the dried yeast directly into the wine must it will rehydrate and eventually start fermenting, anyway. So why do the yeast producers recommend this extra step before adding the yeast to the wine juice?

 

Why Rehydrate The Wine Yeast?

When a yeast cell rehydrates, its cell wall is swelling and gaining back its elasticity – its ability to flex and and be soft. This is a process that is prone to leaving a few cells damaged. In fact, a percentage of them don’t make it. But, by using plain water at an optimal temperature you are reducing the number of yeast cells that are being damaged during the rehydration process.

 

Why Sprinkle The Wine Yeast?

The reason wine ingredient kit producers, wine recipes, and even the directions on our website do not mention rehydrating before pitching the wine yeast is that many home winemakers – particularly beginners – do not perform the rehydration process correctly. Some tend to gloss over this procedure, not knowing its importance. This can cause more problems than if they had just added the dried yeast directly into the must.

As an example, the typical rehydration directions for adding yeast to a homemade wine goes something like this:

“Dissolve the dried yeast in 2 ozs. of warm water (100° – 105° F.). Let stand for 15 min. without stirring. After 15 min. stir and add to must.”

These are great directions and should be the directions you use with the yeast that came in this packet, that is, if you follow the directions, exactly. But if you don’t follow the directions, exactly, then things can start to go wrong – very wrong!

It is important to understand that at 100° – 105° F. a small portion of the yeast cells are dying every minute, and as the temperature goes up an even larger number die every minute. What this means is that if a thermometer is not used to make sure that the water is at or below 105° F., or the yeast cells are allowed to stay in the water for longer than 15 minutes, too much, or potentially all of the yeast can be destroyed before making it to the juice or wine kit.

A second complication is that it can take overnight or even a couple of days, for some, to discover that their wine is not fermenting or fermenting very sluggishly – much more so than if they’d just sprinkled the yeast onto the wine must in the first place. And this is a time that the wine is most susceptible to contamination and spoilage – before any alcohol has been made to help protect it. It needs an active fermentation to start up in a timely manner.

Buy Wine Bottle CorkersFor this reason, wine kit producers elect to play it safe and advise that adding the yeast to your wine, that you sprinkle the dried yeast on top of the wine must. This is a much better option that having a first-time winemaker ruin their wine.

 

What Should You Do?

Regardless of what method you use for adding yeast to your homemade wine – sprinkle dried yeast on the must or rehydrate the yeast – some of the yeast cells will die before going into action. That’s just the way it is, but that’s okay. The number of yeast cells that are provided in each packet allow for this attrition. Just remember that if you do decide to rehydrate your wine yeast before pitching it, it is critical that you follow the directions closely with regards to temperature and time. If you’re not willing to go through the hassle, just sprinkle the yeast on the must.

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.

Controlling Your Wine’s Alcohol

Man Affraid of Alcohol in Wine.My name is Lee and I have been making wine from your recipes for awhile. I was wondering what I could do to lower the alcohol content. If I used half the sugar the recipe called for, would that do it? If you could help I would appreciate it.

Thank You,
Lee
____
Lee,

A very short answer to your question is, “yes”, however there is a lot more to controlling the alcohol content of your wine than meets the eye.

It sounds like you understand that when a wine ferments it is turning sugar into alcohol. Less sugar in the fermentation equals less alcohol in the wine, but adding half the sugar that a wine recipe calls for does not give you half the alcohol in the wine. This is because some of the sugar is coming from the fruit itself.

An easy way to get around this difficulty is to use this wine making tip as a general rule of thumb when attempting to control the alcohol content of a wine:

“For every pound of sugar that you add to a 5 gallon wine recipe,
you will increase the wine’s potential alcohol by 1%.”

In your case, the opposite holds true as well. This is not exact, but it is extremely close.

Shop Wine Hydrometer To Help Control The Alcohol Content Of Your Wine.The biggest problem with this generality is that it does not tell you where your potential alcohol level is at, currently – before you made any adjustments. If you are following someone’s wine recipe that calls for a specific amount of sugar, this can only get you in a potential alcohol range, not an exact target. This is because the amount of sugar coming from the fruit can vary.

Because of this, the best way to adjust the beginning sugar level in your wine’s must is to use a wine hydrometer. Most gravity hydrometers have a Potential Alcohol scale that will tell you how much alcohol the sugar in your wine can potentially make. Knowing this will allow you to control your finished wine’s alcohol level with more precision.

For more information about the hydrometer, the book First Steps In Winemaking has a great section on this subject. You also might want to take a look at the article, Getting To Know Your Hydrometer listed on our website’s Resources & Guides section.

 

Keeping Your Alcoholic Aspirations In Check…

While the above information and other wine making books will allow you to control the alcohol content of your wine to any alcohol level you desire, there are limitations that can not be ignored. I would be negligent if I did not bring them up at this point.

 

  1. You would always like the alcohol level of your wine to be at least 8%. Wines with less alcohol than this do not keep well. Wine needs the alcohol to keep contaminants in check. Over time, wines that have 5%-6%-7% alcohol Shop Hydrometer Jarstend to turn brown more easily and are more susceptible to spoilage.
  1. You do not want your wine’s potential alcohol to be more than 14%. Wine yeast, the stuff that gets the wine fermenting, has limits as to how much alcohol it can tolerate. Shooting for an alcohol level that is beyond your yeast’s ability to ferment can result in either a stuck fermentation and a wine that is too sweet for your liking.

 

Having said this, trying to control the alcohol content of your wine is not always necessary. Most times, just following a sound wine recipe is all you need. Most of them are designed to make a wine that is in balance and of an alcohol level that is appropriate to the wine’s traditional style.

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.

What Is The Proper pH Range Of Wine?

Checking pH of Wine for Proper RangeI just had two batches of wine tested for pH levels. One is a Cabernet made from plain juice and its pH is 3.78. The other wine is a Merlot, also made from plain juice and its pH is 4.01. After I drew the samples to be tested I racked both batches of wine and added a quarter tsp. of potassium metabisulfite, both are six gallon batches. Are these in the proper pH range to bottle in a couple more months? If not what do you suggest?

Name: Michael B.
State: PA
—–
Hello Michael,

When we talk about the pH range of wine we have to remember that what we are really talking about is the acidity of the wine. The higher the acidity, the more resistant it will be towards bacterial and mold contamination. Acidity also plays a big role in the flavor profile of the wine. If it didn’t we would just keep adding fruit acids to the wine until it would be completely protected. But the fact is if we did do this the wine would taste extremely sharp or tart.

With that being said, there is a general pH range of wine that we look for – a happy medium, if you will. It’s a range that makes the wine generally safe from spoilage and still great to drink. Depending on the style of wine, a pH range of 3.2 to 3.6 usually fits this bill. Some wines taste better at one end of the range and others at the opposite end, so tasting the wine is recommended as well as pH testing for a final tweaking. In general, white wines have a higher level acidity than red wines. Fruit wines usually have less acidity than either red or white wines.

At a pH of 3.78, your Cabernet is a little out of this range but not by much. I would consider it safe to bottle as-is. For this reason I would go by taste at the point on this particular wine. Remember, the pH scale works backwards, so the wine’s pH of 3.78 is low in acid even though it’s pH reading is a higher number than the 3.6 mentioned before. As you go up in acidity your pH will go down.

Actually taste a sample of the wine and see how it taste. If it taste fine, then do nothing. If it tastes too flat or lifeless, then you need to raise the acid level (lower the pH). This can easily be done with the addition of acid blend. It dissolves instantly into the wine.Shop Digital pH Meter

How much acid blend to add to any wine to get it into the proper pH range is another question. Since the pH scale is not an even scale, but rather a log or exponential scale, how much you need to add to get from point A to point B depends on what part of the scale you are on. For this reason I recommend taking a sample of the wine and adding measured amounts of acid blend to it until you get it into the proper pH range of wine. If you mess up the sample with too much acid blend, pour it back in with the rest of the batch and start all over. If you get it right, apply the same dosage rate of acid blend to the rest of the batch.

As for your Merlot, the pH of 4.01 is lower in acid than we would like to ward off spoilage. I recommend that you add some acid blend to the wine before bottling, regardless of taste. As before, start with a sample and shoot for a pH reading of 3.7 with your pH strips or digital pH meter. Once you get the entire batch in the proper pH range for the wine, then you can start tasting it and making final adjustments.

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.

My Fermentation Smells Like Burnt Matches

Burning Match With SmokeMy homemade wine has started producing a burnt match smell after about 1 week of fermentation. No sulfur has been used in sterilization etc, can you advise? chuck out?? cry???

Thanks Carrie
—–
Hello Carrie,

What you are more than likely smelling is hydrogen sulfide that is being produced by the yeast. It is also often compared to a rotten egg or burning rubber smell, as well as the burnt matches, as you have suggest. All wine making yeast produce this gas to some degree, but if you are experiencing an smell that is stronger than normal, it could be that one of the following is occurring:

 

  1. Wild yeast is doing the fermenting.
    Even if domesticated wine yeast was added, there is still a possibility of wild yeast fermenting along side it. This is something that can play out when making wine from fresh fruit. Wild forms of yeast will produce all kinds of off odors, including the burnt match odor your are describing.Shop Wine Yeast
  1. You are fermenting at too warm of temperature.
    Fermenting at higher temperatures will entice the wine making yeast to produce higher levels of hydrogen sulfide. This, in turn, can cause your fermentation to smell like burnt matches. Fermentation temperatures as low as 78°F. can even potentially produce excessive hydrogen sulfide.
  1. The yeast does not have enough nutrients available.
    You may want to consider adding yeast energizer, particularly if you have not done so already.

 

All three of the above reasons relate to putting the yeast under stress. Wild yeast hasn’t been bred to do such a big job, so it is stressed; too warm of a temperature will add stress to any living organism; and being short on nutrition would obviously be stressful, as well.

Usually the hydrogen sulfide will reduce to an acceptable level on its own by the time you are ready to bottle the wine. It will simply Shop Yeast Energizerrelease into the air and go away throughout the wine making process. However, if you get down to bottling the wine and the odor is still prevalent, there are still some things you can do to reduce it:

 

  • You can rack the wine several times in a splashing manner. This will give opportunity for the burnt match odor to leave the wine.
  • You can also pour the wine over sanitized copper. The reaction of the wine to the copper will help the gas to release more easily. Copper wool stuffed into a funnel works well for this process.

 

It is important to remember that if you do either of these treatments, that you also add sulfites such as Campden tablets or potassium metabisulfite. Either one of these should be added to the wine afterwards. This will help to driveBuy Potassium Metabisulfite out the oxygen that that was saturated into the wine during the process. Too much oxygen saturated in a wine will promote oxidation. Coincidentally, sulfites help do drive out the hydrogen sulfide, as well.

The real solution to making sure your fermentation does not smell like burnt matches is to keep the yeast happy. Use the right kind of yeast, keep it at a comfortable temperature, and make sure it has all the nutrition it needs.

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.

3 Reasons Why Your Starting Hydrometer Reading Is Wrong

His Starting Hydrometer Reading Is WrongTaking a starting hydrometer reading is one of the most important things you can do when making homemade wine. This is a reading that is taken with a wine hydrometer before the fermentation has started. It is usually taken at the same time the yeast is added to the wine must.

Having an accurate starting hydrometer reading will not only help you verify that you have an acceptable level of sugar in the wine must, it will allow you to determine the finished wine’s alcohol content. This can be done when the starting reading is compared to the finished reading.

The reading is taken on the Specific Gravity scale. This is a scale based on the weight of water. The weight of the wine is being compared to the weight of water. The more sugar in the wine must the heavier it will be. The more sugar in the wine, the more alcohol the yeast can make.

Keeping in mind its importance, here are the 3 reasons why your starting hydrometer reading is wrong. These are scenarios that I have run across more than once while helping beginning winemakers. In each of these 3 situations the hydrometer reading can be thrown off dramatically.

 

  1. Shop HydrometersToo Much Water Was Added: This mostly applies to individuals that are making wine from a wine ingredient kit. These kits typically include around 2 to 4 gallons of concentrate to make 6 gallons. The idea is for the winemaker to add water to make up the difference of the 6 gallons. But on rare occasions a beginning winemaker will add a total 6 gallons of water by mistake giving them an 8, 9, 10… gallon batch of wine. This in turn will give them a very low starting sugar reading on their hydrometer.
  1. Sugars Are Not Mixing Evenly: Before taking a starting hydrometer reading it is important to have the sugars completely dissolved and evenly dispersed throughout the wine must. This is regardless if it is from a concentrate or granulated cane sugar. Not doing so can cause your hydrometer sample to be non-representative of the entire batch. The result is an erroneous reading. For example, if the sugars are not completely dissolved and still hanging towards the bottom of the fermenter, the reading you get from a sample take from the top will be very different from the reading you get when taking a sample through a spigot at the bottom of the fermenter.
  1. Hydrometer Jar Not Being Used: One of the requirements for taking a starting hydrometer reading, is the hydrometer needs to be able to float. If the container being used to hold the sample isn’t tall enough, the hydrometer will sit on the bottom. Again, this will give you a wrong reading. This normally happens when the winemaker is trying to use the plastic tube the hydrometer came in to take the reading. This is something I strongly urge against for the simple fact it is not always tall enough to float the hydrometer. Instead, you should be using a hydrometer jar that is designed specifically for this purpose. It is more than tall enough and has a sturdy base so you can keep the wine sample steady and vertical while taking the reading.

 

These are by far the 3 most common reasons. If you think you have a starting hydrometer reading that is wrong, it is probably because of one of these three. There are other reasons as to why a hydrometer reading might not be completely accurate, such as not having your eye-level even with the surface of the wine, but these are the 3 “big ones”. Avoid doing them and you’ll be sure to have dependable readings.
—–
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 There Something To Add To Stop A Fermentation?

Mad Scientist With Something To Add To Stop A Wine FermentationHello,

At times my wine will appear to have stopped fermentation, and then after bottling it will start up again causing a big mess. Is there something I can add to the wine that will ensure that fermentation has stopped?

Albert W.
—–

Dear Albert,

It sounds like you are experiencing a stuck fermentation. There are several wine making books that cover this topic in fair detail. One that I might suggest is First Steps In Winemaking.

A stuck fermentation is when the yeast stop consuming the sugars before the sugars are all gone. There are several reasons why this could be happening: lack of nutrient, lack of oxygen, too cool of temperature… For more information about these reasons you can read the following article, Top 10 Reasons For Fermentation Failure.

A stuck fermentation can start up again if the conditions change. In your case, just the simple exposure to air that inadvertently happens during the bottling process could be enough to start the wine fermenting again.

Unfortunately, there are no wine making products that guarantee a complete stop of a fermentation or a re-fermentation. What has to happen, is the fermentation needs to fully complete before bottling. The big question is, “How do you know when the wine’s done fermenting”?

Shop HydrometersOne simple way is to take a reading with a wine hydrometer. The hydrometer is a simple glass instrument that can instantly tell you how much sugar, if any, is in your wine or must. Using the hydrometer is simple. You take a reading by observing how high or low the hydrometer floats in the wine. By taking a reading before bottling and confirming no sugars are present, you can bottle your wine knowing that it will not ferment later on in the wine bottles.

As a side note, once you have verified that the fermentation has completed and the wine has had plenty of time for the yeast to settle out, you can add sugar for sweetening, but you must also add potassium sorbate at the same time. Potassium sorbate can keep a fermentation in check, but only if all of the yeast as been settled and removed from the wine first, and the wine looks visibly clear.

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.

Get More Potential Alcohol From Sugar

Get More Potential AlcoholHow do I get more potential alcohol alcohol on my wine hydrometer. I want to get the level up to 10 or 11% when making a dry wine without adding sugar?

Name: Jay K.
State: Arkansas
—–
Hello Jay,

Thanks for the great questions about how to get more potential alcohol. This question covers some areas of confusion for many home winemakers. Let’s see if we can clear it up a little.

Let me start off by making something clear. The only way to raise the potential alcohol reading of a wine is to add more sugar to it. The potential alcohol scale on your wine hydrometer is directly related to the concentration of sugar within it. Add more sugar to the wine must, the potential alcohol reading goes up. The potential alcohol reading on your wine hydrometer comes from sugar, nothing else, so you add more sugar to get more potential alcohol.

The reason for this is very simple. When a wine is fermenting what’s happening? The wine yeast are consuming the sugars and converting them into both CO2 gas (carbon dioxide) and alcohol. Almost exactly half the sugar Shop Hydrometersturn into CO2 the other half turns in alcohol. The more sugar that is available to the wine yeast the more alcohol you will end up with. So if you put add 2 pounds of sugar and the wine yeast ferment it, you will have added 1 pound of alcohol to the wine.

The above is true until the wine yeast have reached their limits of alcohol tolerance. Wine yeast can only ferment so much alcohol. Once the fermentation reaches a high enough level of alcohol, the wine yeast will have difficulty fermenting any further. What this levels “is” depends on several factors: including the strain of wine yeast and the environmental conditions of the fermentation such as temperature, nutrients, etc.

The sugar we are talking about to get more potential alcohol does not have to be cane sugar. It doesn’t even have to be a granulated or powdered sugar. It could come in the form of grape concentrate, honey, apple juice… the list is endless. The sugars from all these things will also raise the potential alcohol level on your wine hydrometer when added to a wine must. Just remember potential alcohol comes from sugar.

So to sum up what you should do to get more potential alcohol:Shop Wine Yeast

  1. Pick out some form of sugar (nothing wrong with using cane sugar);
  2. Dissolve the sugar into the wine must until the potential alcohol scale on your wine hydrometer reads a  reasonable level. (11% to 13% will work fine);
  3. Let it ferment with an actual domesticated wine yeast.

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.

Giving Your Wines Amazingly Long Shelf-Life!

Homemade Wine AgingI am fairly new to home wine making and was wondering what process should I follow to insure that the wine that I make will not have a short shelf life?

Regards,
Dave Yoder
—–
Hello Mr. Yoder,

The very first thing that I think should be pointed out is that the shelf-life of homemade wine can easily be as long as the shelf-life of any commercially made wine. The home winemaker can perform the same procedures and use the same techniques that are used by a winery to extend the shelf life of their wines.

There are a couple of things you may be meaning by shelf-life when using it in the context of wine and wine making. The first is shelf-life in terms of spoilage. How do you make a wine that will go a long time without spoiling? The second is in terms of flavor. How do you make a wine that will taste good for a long period of time… without it’s character, flavor structure and other agreeable qualities breaking down and becoming decrepit? I’ll try to tackle both of these perspectives:


PREVENTING SPOILAGE:

If you want to extend the shelf-life of a homemade wine, the first thing you have to do is not allow the wine to spoil. Making a wine that doesn’t spoil is relatively simple. There are two basic parts to it:

First and foremost, you need to be sanitary.
By this I mean you need to wash and clean all your equipment, bottles, etc. Make them grim free with soap. This part is mostly common sense.

But beyond washing you need to sanitize all these items. Just because it looks clean doesn’t mean that it isn’t harboring traces of mold or bacteria. When you are talking about allowing a juice to ferment for days or weeks you need to be sure that the only thing growing is the wine yeast. To do this you must destroy all the other opportunities.

Soap does not sanitize. For this you need to use a sanitizing solution. We offer several sanitizers that you mix with water to make this solution. You can read more about them on our website.

The second half of preventing spoilage is to use sulfites.
Adding sulfites directly to your wine, 24 hours before the fermentation is critical to keeping spoilage from starting. It is only added in trace amounts but is very effective in keeping the wine fresh during the fermentation. It destroys wild mold and bacteria. Then it leaves the wine must by dissipating into the air as a gas.Shop Potassium Bisulfite

Sulfites should be added to the wine a second time, right before bottling. This is to keep the wine from spoiling while in the wine bottle. Doing this will go a long way in increasing the shelf-life of your homemade wine.

We offer sulfites in three different forms: Campden Tablets, sodium metabisulfite and potassium metabisulfite. Any of these three will work fine. You can find more information about adding sulfite to a wine on our website as well.


MAINTAINING FLAVOR:

Now that we know how to keep a wine from spoiling, we need to know how to make it age better over longer periods of time — without losing its flavor qualities… Its goodness. This is the second part if extending the shelf-life of a homemade wine.

It is important to realize that from a flavor standpoint all wines have a life-cycle. They start out a little harsh; a little rough around the edges; a little bit one dimensional. This is what’s meant when someone says the wine is young.

Then as time passes, they slowly matures into a smoother, more flavorful wine. Depending on the quality of the grape, some wines even become complex and layered with many different flavors that come and go on the tongue with each swallow… something with a bit of marveling character. These wines are now considered to be in their prime.

This maturation of a wine will usually happen relatively quickly in its lifetime. Typically in the 6 to 36 month range, depending on the type of wine. After the maturing the wine is usually at its best — flavor-wise. Then very slowly, year after year, sometimes decade after decade, the wine will begin to loose its positive qualities. It will become less flavorful, more flat and lifeless, more uneventful to drink.

This is the rise and fall of the life-cycle of the wine. How fast a wine lives its life or ages-out depends partially on some known factors. These factors control the shelf-life of the wine to some degree:

 

  • How Big The Wine Is: Big, heavy red wines that have low pH from tannins and high alcohol, will mature and age more slowly than wines that are light and delicate. So if you want a wine that will keep in the wine rack for years and maybe even decades, make it big. The downside to this is that these types of wines also take a bit longer to mature and become fully worth drinking. They will stay young for longer periods of time. Usually at least 24 months and more likely to be 36 months.Shop Wine Corks
  • How Much Air Is The Wine Allowed To Breath: Yes, wines breath, but not intentionally. In part, oxygen facilitates the aging of the wine. A slow infuse of air into the wine bottle is what is needed for optimal aging. It just so happens this is exactly what a natural wine cork does. It allows extremely small amounts of air to come in contact with the wine over very long periods of time. If the wine is allowed too much air in a given time period, then the wine will develop a temporary condition known as bottle sickness or bottle shock, and in extreme cases, may become oxidized. If too little air is allowed then the wine will age very, very slowly and in many cases taking it forever to achieve its full potential. This is why you see light, fruity wines being bottled under screw-cap… to stymie the quick aging and extend the shelf-life of the wine.
  • How Stable Is The Wine’s Storage Temperature: This factor is related to the wine’s breathing as well. If a wine is being stored in an area that has fluctuating temperatures on a daily bases or even on a seasonal bases: summer verses winter, then it will age quicker and have a shorter shelf-life than a wine that is stored at a constant temperature.This it due to the expansion and contraction of the wine in the bottle. As the wine becomes cooler it will contract just a little. Because it is a liquid it will contract more than the glass wine bottle it is in. This causes a vacuum in the bottle and minuscule amounts of air will slowly seep past the cork into the bottle. The opposite holds true as well. As the wine becomes a little warmer, it will expand causing a small amount of pressure to build up in the bottle. Air will slowly makes its way past the cork and out of the wine bottle.
  • How Dense Is The Wine Cork Being Used: This partially relates back to the stability of the wine’s storage temperature. The more dense the cork is, the less air it will allow to seep past when under a vacuum or pressure. However, if the storage temperature is constant, the density of the cork does not really matter since vacuum and pressure are not being built up in the wine bottle. You will find wine corks with different density on our web site.
  • How Cool Is The Wine’s Storage Temperature: This is mostly a commonsense factor. Wines that are stored at cooler temperatures will age more slowly than wines that are stored at warmer temperatures. So cooler temperatures will extend the shelf-life of the wine. I think this is something most of would instinctively know. Most wine experts agree that a good storage temperature for most wines is 55° F.

 

Just to recap: there are two parts to extending the shelf-life of a homemade wine. First, you want to be sanitary. Clean and sanitize your equipment. Add sulfites to the wine, particularly before bottling to discourage unwanted growth of mold and bacteria. Second, you want to control air contact and temperature while in the bottle. By understanding and controlling these principals you can control the shelf-life of your homemade wines.

—–
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.