Originally Posted by Mencken
Hey, I have a quick question about bottling, and the fermentation process for wine. Does it keep fermenting for months? I was told that "you know when to bottle when the gravity is stable for two weeks, around the 6 months mark." I have little experience with wine, but I believe with mead and beer the fermentation happens quickly (approx 1-2 weeks) and then it's just flavor and clarity that determines when you bottle, not continuing fermentation.
So does wine really keep fermenting at a slow process like this?
Sometimes, but not usually. Usually the primary fermentation is about 5-7 days, then in secondary for a couple of weeks. After that, the wine will clear and start to "drop clear". I rack whenever I have lees more than 1/4 inch thick, in about 60 day intervals. The gravity is stable after about a month, but the lees will drop for a bit longer, depending on the makeup of the wine. Wines made from juice (especially if pectic enzyme is added) will clear within a couple of months, but wines made from fruit may drop lees for several months.
So, I guess it's just clarity that keeps you from bottling- since all the stuff that's suspended in the wine before it clears well drop into the bottle, giving you a very cloudy and "chunky" wine. Also, during the waiting period, the wine will "degas". If you bottle before the gas is out (via longer term aging), the corks may pop out and you may have a fizzy wine. Fizzy wine tastes of carbonic acid, so it's pretty unpleasant, even if the corks don't pop out.
Wine can't be rushed. If you bottle a cloudy, fizzy wine, you'll end up with some unpleasant consequences, unfortunately.