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Old 11-18-2011, 04:50 AM   #1
beerhound28
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Default making quality wine in a conical fermenter?

Hello everyone
Does anybody know if you can make wine in a conical fermenter? I have one of those plastic mini brew 6.5 gallon conical fermenters and i want to give wine a shot..Would it be possible to ferment from start to finish without moving the wine? thanks

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Old 11-18-2011, 05:30 AM   #2
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Possible, yes, but not a good idea. Wine needs to be racked a minimum of twice before bottling. The first time to get it off the lees of primary fermentation. The second time to aid clearing and to help get the CO2 out before bottling. The latter takes some effort, in fact. Violent agitation during the second racking will help, but you may also need to vacuum degas.

Are you making wine from a six gallon kit? Most are 6 gallons. If so, 6.5 gallon capacity is 1/2 gallon low at the minimum. An 8 to 10 gallon primary would be best for six gallons. It should be covered, but it doesn't need to be airtight. Food safe 10 gallon trash can works well.

Primary fermentation requires daily stirring, especially if you need to punch down the cap that forms from seeds and stems and grape skins when making wine from the high-end kits or from scratch.

The conical would be ok for short term secondary before final racking to a glass carboy for bulk aging before bottling. Wine is sensitive to oxidation, moreso than beer is in my judgment. You want the final racking to go to a non-oxygen permeable vessel (e.g. a glass carboy with airlock) that leaves little exposure to oxygen. A six gallon wine kit should end up in a six gallon carboy. Add bottled wine as necessary to bring the volume to within 2 inches of the top.


I forgot to add, Yooper is more of an expert than I. If she chimes in, listen to her.

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Old 11-18-2011, 05:52 AM   #3
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thanks alot for the input..

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Old 11-18-2011, 03:16 PM   #4
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Hmmm...I always thought the benefits of a conical fermenter was its ability to not have to rack off the lees (by opening the valve on the bottom, the lees are removed), no worry about headspace (because it is a closed system) and no worries about oxygen infiltration (because of the closed system thing).

I have been tossing getting one for those reasons.

Is my knowledge incorrect???

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Old 11-18-2011, 10:04 PM   #5
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^That's what I thought too...

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Old 11-18-2011, 11:09 PM   #6
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DoctorCAD, you thought right, but the benefits you mention are for beer, not wine, which was what the OP asked about.

How are you going to punch down the cap if the wine is fermenting in a conical? Many wine kits come with bags of oak to simulate the conditions in a oak barrel. It is most often added during primary fermentation. This oak may be any grade from finely ground sawdust to chipped wood to 1/2 inch square or larger chunks, or occassionally staves, curls, or rods. You'll either dump it out of your conical too early, or clog up your drain valve.

If it's wine from scratch, you'll actually be fermenting the crushed grapes if it is a red wine. Red grapes are destemmed, crushed and fermented with the skin and pulp for several days and then subsequently pressed. You'll have to be able to get them out of your fermentation vessel to press them.

When you dump the lees after primary fermentation, you'll have to let in air at the top of the conical. During secondary, the oxygen in air will oxidize your wine and ruin it.

There are conicals and cylinders and vats with dump valves that are made for wine fermentation, but they aren't sealed. They have tops that are removable for primary fermentation, and floating lids for secondary.


One other thing. Conicals aren't entirely sealed systems. Usually they have a port at the top to add wort, and a hole for an airlock, and sometimes a relief valve of some kind. You have to open the valve or remove the airlock to let air in when you dump the yeast and trub. If you don't let air in, the water from your airlock will be sucked into your beer.

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Old 11-19-2011, 12:32 AM   #7
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But all of those things you mention happen daily with glass carboys and plastic pails.

Wine making is not an exercise in "hiding" from bugs and germs and the dreaded oxygen. The high alcohol keeps lots of that stuff from being a problem. and micro-oxygenation is actually a benefit to wine making.

Oh well, everyone has their opinions...

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Old 11-19-2011, 06:11 AM   #8
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I don't follow you, DoctorCAD. I ferment my beer in a Blichmann 14.5 gallon Ferminator. That's a conical fermentation vessel. It has a removable lid. I could use it for primary fermentation of wine, but I wouldn't. A gray or white 10 gallon Brute trash can with lid is much easier to use for wine. They are FDA-approved food safe containers, light weight, easy to clean and sanitize.

The wine lees are full of wood chunks and//or grape skins that I don't want to try to pass through my ball valve dump, so I don't gain any advantage by having a ball valve. You have to open the lid to remove the grape skins (or raisins). You rack off the lees, leaving the wood behind. So what does using a conical buy you? Nothing but more bother than a trash can.

Unlike beer, wine has to be racked a number of times. The flat out minimum to obtain reasonably sediment free and CO2 free beer is twice. Twice is not enough for anyone who wants clear wine with no residual CO2, which makes the wine taste like crap. Three or four rackings is better. It has to undergo secondary fermentation off the lees (with a few exceptions). It will not oxidize during primary fermentation. But it does need an air-tight air-locked vessel for secondary fermentation. Head space is OK at that stage as there is still CO2 being produced.

It will oxidize if it is left in the presence of oxygen during secondary fermentation if air is admitted after fermentation slows, and during bulk aging. During bulk aging (or the clearing stage), there is no CO2 to protect the wine from oxidation. You have to remove the CO2 when racking out of secondary into your bulk aging or clearing vessel. You can't have any headspace. A conical, unless it has a floating lid, is not a suitable vessel for bulk aging especially because you cannot eliminate all the air from it.

I don't get your point about "hiding" from bugs. WIne is less susceptible to infection than beer. That's one reason why it is normally not fermented in an air tight sealed primary.

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