When To Move Your Wine To A Secondary Fermenter

Showing When To Move Wine To Secondary FermenterI have a couple of questions about using the hydrometer and when to move your wine to a secondary fermenter from primary fermentation and once the wine fermenting is done. As I take readings I am a little confused about when to move wine to secondary fermenter. How long? Is it a certain number of days or are we measuring for a specific reading on the wine hydrometer? On the secondary fermentation, I know you are looking for a reading a specific of 0.995. Is that true?

Terry
_____

Hello Terry,

These are great questions. I’m glad you brought this issue up. It seems like the more you read about when to move wine to a secondary fermenter, the more answers you will find. Everyone seems to have an opinion on how long the fermentation time should be in the primary fermenter and the secondary fermenter, so let’s see if I can solidify an answer to your question. What you are essentially asking is:

 

How do I know when it’s time to move my fermentation into a secondary fermenter, and how do I know when the wine’s done fermenting?

 

A short answer to your question is: you should be following the number of days that are called for in any wine making instructions that you have. Simple as that! If your wine making instructions say to move the fermentation into a secondary fermenter like a wine carboy, etc., then do that. This is your best course of action.Shop Wine Carboys

 

But what if I don’t have instructions to tell me when to move wine to secondary?

Typically, the fermentation will need to be transferred into the secondary fermenter around the 5th day of fermentation. But, not all fermentations are the same. Some ferment so hard and fast, that by the fifth day, the fermentation is completely done. On occasion, others will take much, much longer.

What you are basically doing is transferring the fermentation into secondary when it has slowed down enough so that it won’t foam up and out of the secondary fermenter. This is usually around day 5, or when the wine hydrometer reads 1.030 to 1.020 on the specific gravity scale. This is when to move wine to a secondary fermenter when everything runs normal.

However, there are times when the fermentation is still foaming too much to go into a secondary fermenter, such as a carboy. In these instances you should wait until the foaming lowers enough that it can safely go into the carboy without making a big foamy mess through the air-lock.

Conversely, there are also times when the fermentation is going so slow that it might be 2 or more weeks before the fermentation will reach 1.030 on the hydrometer. In these instances, you must figure out why the fermentation is going so slow. The article,Shop Auto Siphon Top 10 Reasons For Fermentation Failure, that is listed on our website should give you some insight into this.

If after a couple of days you’re attempts to re-invigorating the fermentation are unsuccessful, go ahead and put the fermentation in the secondary fermenter anyway, and let it finish out it’s long, slow journey to becoming wine.

 

To answer the second half of your question…

The only real way to know if a fermentation is complete is to take a reading with wine hydrometer. You are looking for a reading of .998 or less on the specific gravity scale. I’ve seen fermentations end as low as .988, but this is rare.

Most importantly remember, just because the fermentation has stopped bubbling does not necessarily mean the fermentation has completed. All you know for sure is it has stopped, so be sure to have a hydrometer reading to depend on for verification of a complete fermentation.

Shop Transfer PumpsWith all this said, knowing when to move wine into a secondary fermenter is not super-critical to the process. Wine will be made, regardless. The only thing you don’t want to do is to completely forget to move the wine into a secondary at all. You want to keep the wine off of excessive amounts of sediment for extended periods of time. That is the most important aspect of when to move wine to secondary fermentation.

Happy Wine Making,
Ed Kraus
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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.

74 thoughts on “When To Move Your Wine To A Secondary Fermenter

  1. Question: Is there a specific % (pre- potential alcohol to post- potential alcohol) that should be achieved before transferring to secondary fermenter…? for example. If pre-potential alcohol was 15% at time of adding yeast, what should % be before transferring to secondary…? is 12% enough, or should I wait until it has fermented by half, down to around 7%…? Thanks, Robert

    • My instructions calls to move my wine to a car boy after 14 days, can I move it 6 days later. An emergency came up and I’ll be gone on the 14th. day.

  2. Robert, your question is answered, indirectly, above. By converting the 1.020 to 1.030 specific gravity readings to potential alcohol readings, you get your answer. Rack between 2.3% and 3.5% potential alcohol. Please realize that this is a general rule-of-thumb and does not need to be followed exact, but gives you a good idea of what course to take.

  3. I DIDN’T RACK A RED GRAPE WINE MADE WITH SMASHED FRUIT, AFTER SEVERAL MONTHS IT DEVELOPED A WHITE POUDERED SUBSTANCE FLOATING IN THE SURFACE OF ABOUT 1/8 OF AN INCHES, THE WINE IS CLEAR AND COMPLETELY TRANSPARENT. NOW I AM ABOUT TO BOTTLE IT. IS THERE ANY DANGER TO DRINK IT IF THE TASTE IS GOOD ?

    • Peter, it sounds like bacteria or mold forming on the wine. The biggest question at this point is: how far along is this infection? Does the wine still taste fine? If not, there is not much you can do to reverse the effects. But, if the wine still taste okay, there is a lot you can do to save it. The first thing you need to do is to rack it away from the growth. The article posted below will tell what you need to do to save the wine.

      White Stuff On My Wine
      http://www.eckraus.com/blog/white-scum-on-top-of-homemade-wine

  4. I am currently making a zinfandel and I need some help. It is currently in the secondary fermentation. I think that I might’ve racked it too early because when I siphoned it out of primary, the S.G. was 1.010. I heard that you are supposed to wait until it is at .99? I waited 4 days and then siphoned it into another carboy because there was so much sediment. It has been 13 days since I last touched it. I just took another reading and the S.G. is still at 1.010. Is it ok to bottle? Or should I wait?

    • Allie, you didn’t hurt anything by racking it when you did. Actually, the first racking is typically around 1.020 – 1.030. You do not want to bottle it until the specific gravity reaches .998 or less or it could start to ferment again in the bottles. If the specific gravity reading has not changed in 13 days, it sounds like you have a stuck fermentation. To get the fermentation started again you need to find out why it stopped to begin with. The article posted below will discuss the most common causes of fermentation failure.

      Top Reasons For Fermentation Failure
      http://eckraus.com/wine-making-failure/

  5. I’m making blackberry and elderberry wine. After 4 days of fermentation my S.G. is still in the 1.070-1.080 range. Can I add a little more yeast at this point to speed up the process. My back porch is not the ideal place as day time temps run up into the eighties and higher. I think this may be why the yeast is working very slow. I’m going to move it to my garage as its a bit cooler out their. Your thoughts thank you.

    • Dave, the high temperature is why the wine is not fermenting properly. As long as the temperature is high adding more yeast will probably not help. Once you get the temperature stable and cooler, you can add more yeast. In addition, the high temperature can also promote bacteria growth. You need to move the wine inside where you can keep the temperature between 70-75 degrees. For more information about temperatures that are too high, please take a look at the article posted below.

      Fermentation Temperatures That Are Too Warm
      http://eckraus.com/wine-making-stuck-1

  6. I am making 1 gallon of Elderberry wine and have a pint of extra wine after transferring to a secondary. I put the extra in a canning jar. Is there any way I can save it to use for topping off when I rack? Thanks.

    • Frank, it is perfectly fine to save the extra wine for topping up as long as you seal it up after fermentation is complete. Many people do so.

  7. Ed, I am just starting a 5 gallon batch of autumn olive wine. I made my first one last year, tasting fantastic. However, after 5 months aging and then bottling, it got very hazy on me. The flavor is still awesome but the haze is so embarrassing. This batch I’ve doubled the pectin enzyme and added some bentonite in hopes of better results. Is there anything else I can do besides secondary aging longer and trying a clarifier?
    Tom F.

  8. Hello, thank you for providing this forum. I’m seeking advice. My must has been fermenting in primary for 12 days. Vigorous activity ceased 3 days ago (airlock bubble every 15-20 secs. now) SG is at 1.010. I’ve read that you should not rack to 2ndary if its at 1.010, but when at 1.020-1.030. Is it okay to rack my wine to secondary? I’m not sure why they said not to rack if at 1.010. Also, can my wine spoil waiting for fermentation to complete, assuming all proper steps were taken to avoid bad bacteria growth?
    Thank you.

    • Tiny, it is perfectly fine to go ahead and rack the wine to the secondary fermenter. We have seen wine that will complete fermentation in the primary stage. I do not know of a reason wyhy you should not rack to the secondary.

    • John, there is no set amount of times the airlock will release air during any part of the fermentation process. You just need to track the progress with a hydrometer.

  9. I bought a tropical bliss green apple wine. It took around 5 days for the wine to actually be below the recommended 1.010 so I racked it in the carbon for secondary fermentation. The instruction say to keep it in car boy for 10 to 12 days but I only see a few little bubbles going to the top after only 3 days. Can the secondary fermentation be completed after 5 days?

    • Scott, yes it is possible for the secondary fermentation to complete in as little as 5 days. I would take a hydrometer reading to verify if it is complete.

  10. Hello.
    Can you use a RV water pump for racking ? Or will ithe pump cause to much agitation and foaming?
    Thinking of a wine making station so that I do not have to move the carboy’s around to much.

  11. HI, I was watching a video that said I should add sugar for the secondary fermentation, I reckon my rose is at about 11.8% at the moment, do I really need to add more sugar?

  12. Hello, first time wine making. I’m making it fresh Concord grapes. Just siphoned my wine into two carboys for secondary ferment. I measured and kept the tubing 3-4inches from the bottom but my first carboy is very light pink and hazy looking vs my second carboy which is a pretty deep plum color. What made it two different colors? Air? Sediment? Was it not ready to rack? What can do to the first jug? And, when should I see activity in the airlock?

    • This difference in color is from the proteins settling out, such as tannin and yeast. In other words, sediment. At this point it is nothing to be concerned about, but you may want to cross-mix the two carboys the next time you siphon the wine. Just like it sounds, you fill the next two carboys with half of each of the current carboys. As for airlock activity, you may or may not be seeing any bubbling. This depends of if the fermentation has completed or not. Different fermentations can ferment at different rates. Some are done sooner that others. If your airlocks are not bubbling, the only way to know if they should be is to take hydrometer reading to see if there are still more sugars to be fermenting. If the airlock is already bubbling, then you have nothing to be concerned about.

  13. I have a wine that completed fermentation in the primary. The Lees was really loose so some moved to the secondary. That was just over a week ago. As of today, it looks like the wine has cleared again and there’s what looks like compact sediment at the bottom again.

    My question is, when should I rack it again? I plan on back sweetening, so if the wine is clear enough for me, can I sorbate it with the racking? I’d like to filter it to polish it too.. can this be done after the sweetening or should it be done before?

  14. Hi Ed,

    my wine stopped fermenting at the secondary. I have transferred the juice to a carboy when the hydrometer read 1.027. It`s been 14 days and the hydrometer still reads 1.025. The room temperature has been 70-73 all the time. Should I use yeast to restart fermentation? I found this yeast Actiflore BO213 for fermentation restarting. Please advise.

  15. Does the benefit of secondary fermentation imply that using a fermenter such as the fast ferment conical for the complete fermentation cycle is not ideal or is the fact that the sediment is mainly isolated to the ball make up for a secondary fermentation requirement?

    • Tom, that is how the fast ferment conical is supposed to work. The sediment drops down into the collection ball so that the wine is not sitting on sediment. This way there is no need to rack the wine.

  16. I’m making concord wine from graoes from my vines. Approx juice 3.5 gallons. Added 1.24 gallons well water (filtered) and sugared juice to 1.09.
    After primary ferment of 6 dsys I racked to secondary at 1.05. Fermenting is much slower, as expected. Keeping temp at steady 72°.
    Added pectin enzyme at this time.
    Taste is still sweet but alcohol level is climbing.
    How am I doing so far?
    I hope the alcohol level will increase.
    If so would a reading of .98 indicate time to re-rack a third time?

    .

    • Fred, it certainly sounds like the fermentation is progressing along. The fermentation is complete when the specific gravity reading reaches the .998 on the scale.

  17. Hi,

    I’m first timer in home brewing. Have started with 8 KG red grapes and added 1 KG of sugar in stages. While the primary went of well, have transferred the liquid to secondary fermentation which is in an wide mouth jar with airlock. In past 3 days no bubbles seen, is this something wrong. Note that have done the brewing without any hydrometer readings to begin with. How to know if the wine is still good.

    I’m from Mumbai, India.

    Regards,
    Rahul.

    • Rahul, more than likely the fermentation is complete or just slowed way down. However, the only way you will know for sure that it complete and did not become stuck before it completed is to take a hydrometer reading.

  18. Mr. Kraus, you Sir are a saint ! I’m not looking for this to post or to get a reply, but some of these questions….. My goodness !! Thanks for all you do to help us beginners. I’m at the 6 year mark with wine, 3 years with beer and about a year and half into distillation. I really like my barley wine, after distilling. The corn is great too ! My wife bought me a Mr Distiller Air Still and it was off to the races, lol. These Q+A sessions and your blogs and recipes have sure helped along the way. Thanks for all the time you put into the fascinating art of fermentation ! Best Wishes, Brad from Central MO. BTW in Mo distillation IS legal for personal consumption, we won’t talk about Uncle Sam. Thanks again !!

  19. I had a bit of trouble with my auto-siphon during racking to secondary. I had to keep pumping it near the end to maintain flow and there was a lot of bubbling in the tube from C02 I presume. I’m worried I may have aerated the wine. I’m hoping it didn’t too much and instead mostly degassed the wine. I will be using a regular cane next time. It had an SG of about 1 – 0.9 when it went in secondary. I also added some malolactic bacteria even though I’m working with a kit. Initially upon transfer the ferm lock was bubbling constantly. That trailed off and now in day 5 of secondary it burps about every 1 min 45 seconds. Since malolactic bacteria is recommended to leave to work up to 4 weeks, I was thinking of letting it go in secondary that long as long as there is some c02 activity. However, since I’m worried some air got in during the racking I am tempted to follow the kit instructions and rack again 7 days after secondary, since I will be adding sulphite during that rack and it may help with any acetic production from the air that got in? Should I skip degassing as the kit suggests on the 2nd racking since there was the auto-siphon issue that may have introduced air and degassing introduces more air? By the initial C02 production after racking to secondary I’m thinking it degassed quite a bit? I am also unsure if it’s ok to take the bung off during secondary / third racking to take SG and temp readings? Will that not introduce air? If so how often is that acceptable?

    • The bubble was all from CO2 gas. The air pocket you saw forming in the hose was all CO2 gas. I do not thing air got into the wine. The CO2 gas was preventing this. So to be honest, I don’t think you have a problem. If you want to add sulfites that’s fine, but realize that the sulfites will easily kill a malolactic fermentation.

  20. Hi I started my wine in October my reading was 1090 and I have racked it 4 time since. In February 2020 the reading was 1020. It is June 1 2020 iI racked again degass put potassium sorbarte and metabisulphate.then thekieselsol and chitosan. I took the reading it was 1020. Will my wine be still good

    • Joel, The fermentation is complete when the specific gravity reaches .998 or less. The reading of 1.020 means that the fermentation did not complete. Adding potassium sorbate to a fermentation that did not complete will not stop the fermentation from starting up again at some point. If that happens after the wine is bottled, the corks could pop or the bottles could explode from the pressure.

  21. My must consists of;5lbs hunny crisp apple,5 lbs strawberry,3lbs plum,2kg hunny and 3.5 lbs of sugar. I achieved a reading of 1.1.(added LALVIN EC-1118 wine yeast).
    After ten days I’ve reached 0.030. The yeast is still working.shoud I rack to secondary or fridge it to hard stop?

    • Bernard, yes, it is time to rack the wine to secondary fermenter once the specific gravity reaches 1.020-1.030. You also want to remove any fruit pulp after about 5-7 days. You want the fermentation to complete to avoid it starting back up once bottled.

  22. I added salicilic acid, to a ratio 1gr. per 10 liter wine, in order to stop fermentin.
    Same old info, says this substance is not good for health.
    Is this info true, or not. It doesn’t effect the quality of wine.

  23. Hi. I made a 5 gallon batch of fresh fig wine. I put chopped figs into water in fermenter and added sugar, yeast nutrient, pectic enzyme, acid blend, wine tannin. I then added 5 campden tables. I covered the bucket with a thin clean towel and waited 24 hrs. Then added yeast, waited 6 days and saw vigorous activity on day 3, 4, and 5. Day 6 I removed the figs. I added water to level up in primary and waited 30 days. I have not touched it since, other to check temperature. – which has been right at 70-72 degrees. The airlock has not bubbled at all since day 6 of adding yeast. I racked the wine to carboy just now. The specific gravity was 1.00. Why is it not making alcohol? The specific gravity was 1.09 at the beginning. Do I need to restart fermentation? Also, do I add water to top of carboy? It is missing about a gallon of liquid after we left the sediment. Thanks!

    • Becky, the hydrometer reading indicates that the yeast did its job and turned the sugar into alcohol. When the gravity reading reaches around .998 or less, the fermentation is complete. I am assuming that your starting gravity reading was 1.090. If this is correct, you would have approximately 12 percent alcohol.

      How Do I Know When A Wine Fermentation Is Done?
      https://blog.eckraus.com/when-is-fermentation-done-wine

  24. I am new to wine making. Mostly making fruit wines and some red wine kits, i.e. Mango, Peach, Banana, Apricot, Triple Berry, Cabernet, Cabernet Blend. I prefer a nicely oaked cabernet with full body but am enjoying the fruit wines. When making fruit wines I average 4-5 days of primary fermentation at 72 degrees F. I place the fruit in a bag and tie it so no fruit can escape. This floats in the primary and I stir twice daily, pressing the bag down into the must. I cover the primary with a straining bag and large rubber band to let the yeast do it’s thing. At 3 days I squeeze the fruit inside the bag to help release any juices/sugars. I transfer at < 1.020 SG. I lift out the fruit bag and gently squeeze residual juice back into primary. I average 3 days before secondary fermentation is complete and I rack off of the lees. My question is: Will secondary fermentation be impacted by racking into a fermentation bag placed inside the secondary (bucket) to filter out anything that has not settled to the bottom of the primary? Because I stir the primary twice a day there isn't enough time for things to settle out in the bottom prior to racking into the secondary. I thought that using the bag in the secondary when racking from the primary may reduce the amount of lees I am seeing after 2-3 days in secondary and reduce the time it takes for the wine to clear. I would remove the bag from the secondary prior to installing the air lock. Thanks in advance for any feedback you may have.

  25. Questions…
    Secondary fermentation 5 gal carboy, do I completely fill it or is it ok to have 4.5 gallons with airlock, until 0.99 fermentation completed?
    Do I rack at end of fermentation prior to adding potassium metabisulfite?
    During 2nd fermentation, room temp is 75°F, is that ok?

    • Ray, as long as there is fermentation activity, the wine is protected. However, once it slows down or stops, you do need to address the headspace. Because the secondary fermentation is usually much slower than the primary, I would match the fermenter to the batch size. Once the fermentation completes, you will rack the wine before adding sulfites. During fermentation you want the temperature of the juice between 70-75 degrees.

  26. I’ve been reading a lot about secondary fermentation and everything including tips in this article point to racking at around 1.030 but nothing mentions when to specifically press the wine and whether or not you should press then use the secondary carboy as the place to continue fermentation.

    I’ve got about 35 gals in a plastic drum of red blend which is on about day 4 of fermenting and was wondering whether I should transport/ to carboys for second fermentation or then just wait the next couple of days until it reads .998.

    Is it better to keep in the drum and then press?

    • John, You always want to remove the fruit and press the juice within about 5-7 days. At that time is typically when you transfer the wine to the secondary fermenter to finish the fermentation.

  27. Hey so I’m just making my first wine with a jug and a. Balloon with pin holes in it to breathe it’s day 8 and my wine is still bubbling ! When and how should I move it??

    • Jordan, the same rules apply as stated in this article. If you have fruit pulp it needs to be removed around around day5-7. This is typically the same time you will transfer the wine. You are looking for a specific gravity of around 1.020-1.030 when you transfer the wine.

  28. Sorry if this has been addressed elsewhere, but I’ve been taking in so much information about wine lately that I can’t keep it all straight! This is my first time making wine – just racked today from primary, and I’m wondering if the conditions matter at this time as far as how to store the carboys. I don’t know if this makes a difference, but the SG was at .992 today when I checked (started batch on 11/14) which was lower than I expected. It’s unclear to me as to whether or not the fermentation is done at this point. I topped up, but have not added anything (such as Campden or potassium sorbate). Am I on the right track, and should I also put my wine in a dark, cool place to clear?
    Thank you for providing such a helpful website; I’ve been frequenting ECKraus so much the past couple weeks!

    • Yes, you are on the right track. Fermentations can very as to how fast they go. In your case, the fermentation went along timely. The fermentation is done. The is indicated by the reading of your hydrometer. Anything less than .998 I consider finished. Typically after a fermentation is complete, you want to store the wine in a cooler place if you can. If you can’t it’s okay. Keep it out of direct sunlight and away from vibrations. The later will slow down the clearing of the wine. At this point all you need to do is nothing. Give the wine some time to clear up. In 2 or 3 weeks, you can rack the wine off the sediment into a clean container and let it clear some more.

  29. Hello thank for your advice
    I have read your article about adding sugar by steps instead of adding it all at ones
    First question what I need to know is should this sugar need to be added within 7 days of primarily fermentation?

    Second question if my recipe call for 1.75kg in 4.5 litre how do I divide it?

    Third question can I add granulated sugar direct or do I need to make syrup before adding?

    • You want to add sugar while there is still some active fermenting going on. The number of days don’t matter as much as the amount of fermentation activity.

      I’m not sure what you mean by Question number 2. If you divide 1.75Kg by 4.5 liters, that will tell you how many kg by liter of wine. In this case that would be .39Kg for each liter of wine.

      You will be much better off dissolving the sugar before adding to the wine.

  30. Co2 is condensed and stuck at the bottom neck of the carboy and it is not possible to clean without emptying it. will it effect he wine

  31. I am a relatively new devotee of wine making. I have been brewing beer and mead for 20 yrs but just really starting to get into wine. I have loved ordering from you and your store is my go to source. I love all your info and thank you.
    I do have one question. My wine making cohort and I are making a blood orange wine that looks amazing. It is in the secondary now but is really rough around the edges. The SG last check was .98 and it does not have much of an orange flavor. Would it be ok if we added a can of Blood Orange puree? I would assume we should treat it with sulfite first to kill off any yeast.
    Thanks again for your time and effort on answering these questions.

  32. I have read so many different answers to a question I would like to have answered! My wine is in a carboy with a airlock, it is on its secondary fermentation. I am keeping it in a wine cooler at 55 degrees! Is that a no no? I’ve seen SO many different answers I’m confused. My first attempt at wine making it’s only one gallon and I used my own red grapes from my eves noir vine. Please help!

  33. Newbie here. I started a batch of watermelon wine. Boiled and smashed it, put about 3.5 gallons in a 5 gallon bucket, added yeast and covered with a towel. After a few volcanic eruptions over a few days I read to add Camden tablets to slow it down. I did that and within a day there was no more foam so I ranked It all out into carboys and it’s doing nothing. I realize at this point I’ve made multiple rookie mistakes so in your opinion should I scrap this batch or is there still hope??

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