You don’t have to have a commercial winery to create excellent wines. In fact, many home winemakers produce fantastic wines that are better than the wines you buy at your local wine shop. However, as we’ve seen many times before on this blog, making top notch wine isn’t something that magically happens. You need to take great care during the winemaking process, follow all instructions, and carefully guide the process through to the very end.
One of the more common faults plaguing home winemakers is wine oxidation. At certain times during the winemaking process, particularly after the primary fermentation, it is important to be careful about the exposure of the wine to the air. Excessive air exposure is a catalyst for wine oxidation.
One way to prevent too much oxygen exposure is to top up the wine to ensure very little space is available for oxygen to set up camp and cause wine oxidation. Topping up is one of the most important things you can do in the way of wine oxidation prevention.
In addition to topping up the wine, you should also be using air lock during the secondary fermentation. There are many different types of air locks, though the most common type uses water as a way to minimize oxygen exposure and maximize ease of set-up and use. The water in the air lock basically acts to allow carbon dioxide from the fermentation to escape out of the vessel while keeping oxygen from entering inside and oxidizing your wine.
Another stage where you can inadvertently cause problems with wine oxidation in your wine is during the racking/siphoning and bottling processes. Use can add fining agents to your wine to help minimize the effects oxidation, as well as use specific techniques such as positioning the exit end of the siphon hose down into the wine to reduce splashing. Minimizing splashing is another wine oxidation prevention technique.
Of course, if you exclude too much oxygen, you run into problems with reduction, which is a whole other topic on its own. If you smell hydrogen sulfide (H2S) or “rotten eggs”, you may have excluded too much oxygen and you should aerate your wine right away to get rid of the smell.
Just remember that for the wine oxidation process to take place you need air. The best way to manage your wine oxidation prevention efforts is to manage the air that comes into contact with the wine.
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.