I have always made my wine in a humongous stone crock. What is an airlock thing that is mentioned? My wine is really good, and I’ve never gotten sick from it. Nobody else has either. So would that airlock thing make my wine better??? By the way, I make Elderberry and Choke Cherry wine.
I’m glad you brought this up. Many people misunderstand the role airlocks play in home winemaking. Now is just as good as time as any to clear things up.
An airlock is basically a water trap that you attach to the neck of a jug with the aid of a rubber stopper. It cannot be attached to an open vessel such as the stone crock you are using. It needs a neck of some kind. You put the rubber stopper in the opening and then insert the airlock into a hole that is in the rubber stopper.
You fill the airlock halfway with water. As the gas comes off the fermentation, it bubbles through the water within the airlock and then out of the container. At the same time this water keeps outside contaminants and bugs from getting into the wine. This helps keep the wine free from spoilage.
The first thing I would like to point out about an airlock is that it has nothing to do with the quality of the wine you make. It will not make a good wine great or an average wine good. It does nothing of the kind.
What an airlock does is reduce your chances of having a wine spoil. It keeps your wine protected from infection during and after the fermentation. It does so by creating this barrier between the fermentation and airborne molds and bacteria. Allowing these little nasties to get into your wine and then giving them a chance to grow is the essence of spoilage.
If the wine is fermenting and foaming like it normally should, all these foreign intruders do not really have a chance to take over a wine. There is CO2 gas coming off the fermentation, keeping fallout from landing directly into your wine must.
So just getting to the wine is a big challenge for these little spoilers. But beyond this, if they are able to get into the wine, having an opportunity to grow is very slim for them. All the yeast activity from the fermentation keeps them in their place and even destroys them in most cases.
What all this means for you, Lois, is that using your stone crock for fermenting your wine is fine up to this point. The wine is fermenting strong and spoilage is close to impossible during this time.
It is when the fermentation begins to slow down that you could have some issues with spoilage. Fermentations do not typically stop all at once. They usually taper off over the course of a few days. As the fermentation becomes less and less active, the window of opportunity becomes larger and larger for contaminants to get to the wine and spoil it. It is in this context that the airlock becomes valuable and in my view a necessity.
Happy Wine Making
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.