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Old 02-18-2013, 06:31 PM   #1
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Default A Practical Question from a Beer Dude

I've been reading all these renegade "wine" recipes like SkeeterPee and have noticed that wine makers seem to do a lot more gravity readings than beer guys (and gals). How is it after taking all those readings that you are not out of wine/must before you are done? Or is there something magical about wine that allows you to return the tested liquid to the fermenter? And how do you avoid an infection opening the fermenter that often?

I know this has got to be a stupid question but I searched for the obvious keywords and came up either with nothing or too much to parse.

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Old 02-18-2013, 06:45 PM   #2
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Kinda hard to infect actively fermenting beverage, particularly wine. I've only successfully infected 1 batch of beer and 0 of wine in 3+ years of doing this, despite some epic screw ups from time to time. As far as volume goes, it's a pretty small amount of must you're taking in a thief, you'd probably need to do hundreds of readings to start to noticeably lose volume. Plus often you top off wine when you set it to bulk age so it doesn't oxidize.

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Old 02-18-2013, 07:26 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by damdaman View Post
Kinda hard to infect actively fermenting beverage, particularly wine. I've only successfully infected 1 batch of beer and 0 of wine in 3+ years of doing this, despite some epic screw ups from time to time. As far as volume goes, it's a pretty small amount of must you're taking in a thief, you'd probably need to do hundreds of readings to start to noticeably lose volume. Plus often you top off wine when you set it to bulk age so it doesn't oxidize.
I hate to be literal .. but I must (get it, wine joke, "must"? I crack me up!)

If the hydrometer vial used up let's say 3 ounces to float the hydrometer, that's 10 times to lose a quart or so. Or, do you pour it back in?

In a few more years than three I either caused due to process, or witnessed a lot more than one infection. It's not hard to do. Maybe you live a charmed life?

I just spent a while reading a wine forum where they talk about topping off ... and I get that part I guess sine they bulk age for so much longer. I suppose my question only relates to primary/secondary.
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Old 02-18-2013, 07:27 PM   #4
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Wine also has a much higher tolerance to infections due to its higher alcohol percentage than beer. We like to keep wine above 12%, but most beers barely hit half of that.

Alcohol and sugar are very good at keeping themselves sterile.

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Old 02-18-2013, 08:11 PM   #5
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Well you typically lose more than a quart just by racking, I would say. And I don't think I've ever tested the SG more than 5 or 6 times during a ferment. I don't pour it back.

As for infections, I don't know about anyone's procedure but mine, but if you take basic precautions (clean and sanitize your equipment, use sulfites when appropriate, wash your hands) and create a favorable environment for the yeast, I just don't think it's likely you'll get many infections. Once the yeast have taken over the must and are fermenting strongly, they'll out-compete any stray microbes that enter during thiefing.

But reading some of the stuff on the internet you'd think that a beer/wine will get an infection just because you looked at it wrong. I find this to be the exact opposite, they're very forgiving of mistakes as long as you take the basic precautions. Just my experience.

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Old 02-18-2013, 08:18 PM   #6
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I think I've checked the SG twice for most of my wines- once at the beginning, and once when it's racked. Since most wines will go dry, testing more often that isn't needed.

If you sanitize the wine thief and hydrometer, the sample can go back in if losing a couple of ounces of wine is unacceptable but I don't do that.

Normally, racking losses account for far more than any hydrometer testing would anyway.

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Old 02-18-2013, 08:31 PM   #7
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Thank you, that's what I needed.

WRT infections in beer: I have often made batches which were more susceptible. A low-gravity wort will harbor bacteria that will not take off till the active ferment is over. Been there, did that. It used to happen more in the days of questionable liquid yeast for sure but it's still possible. Another thing that got me a couple times before I started using cheap vodka in my airlocks is prying out the cork. Sometimes in the secondary there's little pressure to counteract it, you maybe filled it a little far, and slurp, infection.

I agree that it's not hard to avoid them, but then again it's easy to get them if that makes sense. You skip something, get lazy, and presto - malt vinegar (or worse).

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Old 02-18-2013, 11:59 PM   #8
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Wine isn't as sensitive to infection as beer, acidity, high alcohol, aggressive yeasts.

I take a sample with the thief then pour it back in.

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Old 02-19-2013, 12:18 AM   #9
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Quote:
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Wine isn't as sensitive to infection as beer, acidity, high alcohol, aggressive yeasts.

I take a sample with the thief then pour it back in.
Plus sulfites, adding those alone decreases infection rates A LOT. Beer doesn't get the extra precautions wine does.

(Does that mean Wine is wearing the 'safety helmet' of the brewing industry??) =-O
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Old 02-19-2013, 12:36 PM   #10
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I use clean/sanitized methods, take perhaps three readings, at start, when I suspect I am close to 2/3 sugar break, and to confirm ferment is dry. There may be one additional at the 1/3 break so I can add nutrient. But I do not have to be on the dot to add the nutrient or transfer to carboy and apply airlock. If I am stepfeeding sugar I know that one cup of granulated will increase SG of one gallon by 0.020 so I do not use hydrometer to confirm unless I was already doing a check anyway. I always have topping up liquid for each batch I make, just how I roll. And if absolutely necessary there is no reason you cannot return that 'clean' sample back. A wine thief that you can float your hydrometer in is perfect. Have never lost a wine yet due to my method(s), and have produced almost 300 gallons since I started just a few years ago.

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