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Old 11-13-2010, 11:30 PM   #1
seanomac
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Default When to rack my wine?

I am in the process of making wine for the first time. My in-laws are from Italy and have been making it for years. I decided to get in on the action this year.

I bought 3 cases of Barbera grapes. We crushed them and let everything sit for 1 week in a sterilized trash barrel. After a week, the grapes were run through the press 2x and put into carboys. I got about 9 gallons of juice from this. My in-laws don't add yeast or sulfites or anything. They just let it sit and ferment, so that's what I'm doing. The old timers don't even put an airlock on the carboy, they just cover the top with a rag and let it boil over. I have airlocks on mine.

Just wondering when I should rack for the first time. The juice has been sitting for about 6 weeks. Some of the guys say they leave theirs alone until February and others say they rack it sooner. I'm worried that I'll get off flavors if the wine sits on the lees too long. I've read that some people stir the lees and leave it there, some rack after 3 weeks, some longer. What have you guys done?

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Old 11-14-2010, 02:18 AM   #2
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I usually do my first racking after a month or so when the fermentation has pretty much stopped and I can see a yeast cake on the bottom of my carboy. After that I'll let it sit 3 months or so, depending on how much sediment I get until I rack again. I've never fermented with natural yeast however.

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Old 11-14-2010, 03:12 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by seanomac View Post
....I've read that some people stir the lees and leave it there.... What have you guys done?
I done a little research last night on this issue and it is rather complex. I will try to explain it in a way even the beginners can understand. Not all yeast cells are good swimmers. Depending on the strain, they can sink to the bottom, or float to the surface causing it to be foamy. When the colonies become clumped together they kill the ones in the middle because the sugar molecules can't make it to the middle. Stirring breaks up these clumps and enhances the fermentation rate by insuring proper sugar/yeast exposure. After active fermentation it usually becomes unnecessary to stir unless degassing or mixing in preservatives in which case it should be racked first as to not still up the top or bottom. I use a bucket type fermenter and stir during active fermentation but then stop a day before racking to carboy. Once in carboy, I vacuum degas it, campden it, then sulfate it stirring one last time. It never gets stirred again unless I have to back sweeten when it goes in the bottle. I hope everyone can see what I am saying because I just kinda crammed a lot of info in here.
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Old 11-14-2010, 08:34 PM   #4
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Thanks for the replies. Since this is my first attempt, I'm just going to follow the process that all the old Italians have been using for years. I'll plan to rack it in the next day or so and plan to try some around Christmas. They all say it is at it's best in February or March.

Next year I may try using a specific yeast to see if there is any noticeable difference. We had at least 6-7 people pressing grapes and everyone used different grapes or blends. It will be interesting to see how they all compare. Everyone is relying on wild yeast.

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Old 11-15-2010, 12:00 PM   #5
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Wine yeast will make for a "cleaner" taste, and the flavor will be more reproducible. It will also make for higher alcohol content.

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Old 11-15-2010, 12:56 PM   #6
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... Everyone is relying on wild yeast.
I thought before that it would be great if the Italian grapes still had the wild yeast on them from the original vineyard. But then I thought about all the traveling they did from the vineyard to the store and I figured it picked up other strains from everywhere along the whole trip.
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Old 11-15-2010, 01:23 PM   #7
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Wine yeast will make for a "cleaner" taste, and the flavor will be more reproducible. It will also make for higher alcohol content.
I would say that the reproducible part it true. There are countless varieties of wild yeast out there, some of which have been isolated and are now available for sale. You could end up with yeast that are very similar ones in a packet with out adding them. Or you could end up with ones that make something resembling paint thinner.
As far as alcohol content; wilds often can chew through a lot of sugar. Remember that you don't have a mono culture of yeast, like with sterilized grape juice and a yeast packet. So there are yeasts that will act in various ways. Some will eat fast and sink after 5% abv, others will slowly chew away every last molecule resembling sugar. Your results are impossible to predict, and you won't be able to reproduce them... but you can try: if you save the yeast cake you could add new grapes to it. (see sticky on beer yeast forum call: washing yeast, or something like that)
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Old 11-15-2010, 01:47 PM   #8
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All good points, Doc!

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