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Rhubarb wine novice....help!

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sddingman

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Hi all, long time wine consumer, first time wine maker.

I was always curious about homemade rhubarb wine and I found a great book on 1 gal wine batches. I am trained as a chemist, and did some home beer brewing a while back, so I thought, this is easy.

Followed the recipe (3.5 qts chopped rhubarb, 3 lbs sugar, 1/2 lb white raisins, yeast) and after mixing in the primary and saw fermentation by that evening.

Due to personal timing issues, I let the primary fermentation go 14 days, but it smelled good so I racked to the secondary, but I only got out a little over 3/4 gal of liquid back. Did a sugar water make up and let it set for a few days. No further activity was occurring so I racked again to separate sedimentation and let age, but I checked my wine with a hydrometer...only 10% :(. OH NO...it was supposed to be north of 15% (trying to make organic wine with no sulfites)

I was not sure what to do so I added more yeast (the wine tasted sweet yet weak). Maybe my yeast packet was bad? Should I move it back to the primary or can it ferment in the secondary (w airlock of course).

HELP.....any advice welcome.

Sean
 

Yooper

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Welcome to the obsession! First, let's get some more details on the OG and the current SG, to see where you started. Often if you start with a very high OG (higher than about 1.110, or so), the yeast will stall out due to alcohol poisoning. So we should trouble shoot starting from there.
 

Kent88

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What was the original gravity? What is the current gravity reading? What kind of yeast did you use?

Leaving it to ferment in secondary is fine.

If you'd really like to know where it can finish out and and you don't mind losing a little wine (this probably wont work for 1 gallon, but for future reference), you can do a forced ferment test. Pull some wine out (more than enough to fill your hydrometer test jar) into a different vessel (clean it like you would your primary/secondary fermenter), throw some sanitized foil over it, and swirl it up every couple of hours to get some oxygen in there, get the yeast in suspension, get the carbon dioxide out, etc. Basically you'd be doing almost everything wrong when it comes to making good tasting wine, but you'd be making a better environment for the yeast. Do that for a while (maybe a weekend?) and test the gravity to see how low it goes. That gives you an idea where the rest of your wine should finish at.
 

bernardsmith

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Hi sddingman - and welcome. Can only ball park your starting gravity but 3 lbs of sugar added to water to make 1 US gallon will raise the gravity of the water to about 1.120 (I am excluding whatever sugar may be in the rhubarb) and a SG of 1.120 suggests a potential ABV of about 16%. That would be tough for just about any yeast to swallow - much like you trying to eat - what? I dunno 3 lbs of steak at a sitting. You might be able to chew through that over seven meals but at one sitting? But then I am a vegetarian and couldn't stomach that over 20 years. But then you are asking the yeast to produce sterols without providing them with any nutrients or organic nitrogen and the like. You added raisins but raisins are dried wizened grapes and to ferment grapes vintners might expect to add bushels of the fruit rather than a half pound.
Yeast are very karmic. You stress them and they stress you.
You say that you wanted to make a wine at 15% ABV..but why? When was the last time you drank a good bottle of commercially made wine that had more than about 12% alcohol by volume? There is a reason for that and that is that wine is all about balance and balance in wine is all about ensuring that the heat from the ethanol does not overwhelm the flavors from the fruit or the fruit's acidity or the tannins, the perceived sweetness and mouthfeel (viscosity). Can rhubarb support 15% ABV wine? I dunno, but I wouldn't bet a batch of rhubarb that it can.

That said, if you know WHAT you are doing and WHY you are doing what you are doing then I am sure that you can make a wine that is balanced at 15% ABV. If you are not yet that skilled at making wine then trying to make a wine at 15% is like trying to climb a mountain in the Alps if you have never climbed anything more challenging than climbing into bed..
 
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sddingman

sddingman

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Thank you everyone for the support.

So I did not start with an initial gravity reading of the must. My hydrometer is calibrated to read %alcohol and sp. gr., I never used to take initial readings of ale wort and my hydrometer never failed in those projects, and my ales were wonderful.

I did by a high alcohol tolerant champagne yeasts (so I thought, that's what it claimed on the package). Max content was supposed to be 18%.

The reason I am trying >12% is i am experimenting with organic wine (no sulfites etc) as I do enjoy a more organic fruit wine myself. 15%+ makes a wine that kills most yeast naturally w/o sulfite. The rasins are supposed to be nutrient to start the process, or so I am lead to believe, and the sugar/rhubarb extract is the main power.

I did add some additional yeast to the 2ndary, I see some bubbles after a few hours and will give it 24 hrs to start fermenting again. I am thinking I had a bad yeast packet. But I will take into consideration the other suggestions, and I am open to others.

And feel free to call me Sean!
 
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sddingman

sddingman

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What was the original gravity? What is the current gravity reading? What kind of yeast did you use?

Leaving it to ferment in secondary is fine.

If you'd really like to know where it can finish out and and you don't mind losing a little wine (this probably wont work for 1 gallon, but for future reference), you can do a forced ferment test. Pull some wine out (more than enough to fill your hydrometer test jar) into a different vessel (clean it like you would your primary/secondary fermenter), throw some sanitized foil over it, and swirl it up every couple of hours to get some oxygen in there, get the yeast in suspension, get the carbon dioxide out, etc. Basically you'd be doing almost everything wrong when it comes to making good tasting wine, but you'd be making a better environment for the yeast. Do that for a while (maybe a weekend?) and test the gravity to see how low it goes. That gives you an idea where the rest of your wine should finish at.
Cheers Kent, thank you that will be my method of last resort!
 

Kent88

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Raisins aren't really the best option for yeast nutrient. There are several powdered yeast nutrients available. I don't really do the whole "organic" thing, so I don't know if they conform to those rules, but I would assume they do.
 
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sddingman

sddingman

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OK...Further diagnostic information and status today: Additional yeast did NOT start a sustained fermentation... and I think I know why.

So I have been finding that a 3 lb sugar/1gal water gravity should be in the neighborhood of 1.135! My SG reading today (being super careful) was 1.020 That should come out to (115/7.362) = 15.6% Even if I am off by 10 points either way then I should be in the ball park (not sure how the % alcohol reading works on the hydrometer yet I guess, so I'll ignore that reading for now).

Best of all, I did a taste test and while its a bit young (stingy) it had a very rich rhubarb flavor. I now have it sealed in a gal aging vessle with a sturdy topper and its in the basement now (for a few months) to clarify. It a gorgeous color too (pic attached).

I think I am ok after all (newbie panic), so maybe I was a bit overconfident in the beginning. I'll endeavor to take an initial SG reading each batch (I may try peach wine next....)

Best!
Sean
 

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