Wine ph Adjustment

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John Ha

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Greetings! I'm new here and am hoping to get a little help from those with more experience than I have.

I've been making fruit wines (typically a 5 gallon batch with 10 lb of fruit - a mix of banana, apple, peach, pear and plum, with a jalapeño pepper) for a few years. Nothing complicated - just brewing in a plastic bucket with an air lock.

The taste is really great but it's always been very hard on the stomach - very acidic. I finally measured the ph of a batch the other day and it's about 2. What I've read suggests that the ph should be in the 3's.

I've read about the carbonates and bicarbonates, but don't have any experience with using them and don't know whether the taste of the wine would be adversely affected if I used enough additive to increase the ph all the way from 2 to 3-ish.

Is there a "best" way to increase the ph a point or so for the whole 5 gallon batch without having too much impact on the flavor?

Thanks!
 
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IslandLizard

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I used a ph test strip. I got them from Amazon.
pH test strips are not very accurate. Especially long range ones, like the ones you linked to. They're merely an indication of acidity/alkalinity, but not with the kind precision you'd want for testing acidity in beverages. Your tongue (and stomach) are much better judges as you already noticed. ;)

Look at the top row patches for pH 2 and 3, the only ones that have significance in that range, they look quite similar. The color of the wine itself may add enough tainting to wipe out any of the subtle color difference, while pH 2.0 is 10 times more acidic than pH 3.0. Similar for the difference between pH 3 and pH 4, although arguably a tad more conclusive, not much easier to determine.

I too wonder where all that acid is coming from. What yeast are you using?
 
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John Ha

John Ha

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pH test strips are not very accurate. Especially long range ones, like the ones you linked to. They're merely an indication of acidity/alkalinity, but not with the kind precision you'd want for testing acidity in beverages. Your tongue (and stomach) are much better judges as you already noticed. ;)

Look at the top row patches for pH 2 and 3, the only ones that have significance in that range, they look quite similar. The color of the wine itself may add enough tainting to wipe out any of the subtle color difference, while pH 2.0 is 10 times more acidic than pH 3.0. Similar for the difference between pH 3 and pH 4, although arguably a tad more conclusive, not much easier to determine.

I too wonder where all that acid is coming from. What yeast are you using?
I admit it was a bit of a challenge comparing those colors and, as you say, the top row patch was the only one that changed. But my stomach tells me that the wine is really acidic. If I drink more than a glass of it my stomach gets pretty unhappy and I'm into the tums. I guess that's good in a way but I'd really like to fix the issue.

I used Lalvin Bourgovin RC212 yeast for this batch.

Yesterday I did an experiment to see how much I had to dilute the wine to increase the ph. I started with a 1:1 (wine:water) and tested ph. It did change a small amount but didn't really get into the 3-ish range until the ratio was 1:3 (wine:water). There wasn't much taste left at that point so I don't think that's a viable option.
What range was the strip? Not sure whats so acidic. You can add chalk or potassium carbonate but the issue is you’ll have to cold stabilize it.
I think I'll have to order some potassium carbonate and try that on a sample. As luck would have it, the cold season is almost here and I have a detached, unheated garage I can use for a refrigerator to cold stabilize the treated wine.

I do sincerely appreciate your time and help. Thank you both!
 

hawkwing

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You might want to get some better testing strips for a more narrow range. I find it highly unlikely it’s inbthe 2 range unless it’s coming from somewhere besides the 2lbs of fruit per gallon. Unless one of them is terribly acidic. Could test the fruits and maybe switch which fruits you are using. Typically you want way more fruit for flavor. Sometimes in the 6-8 lbs per gallon.

Also does it bother other peoples stomachs? You might want to get checked out by a doctor.
 
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John Ha

John Ha

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You might want to get some better testing strips for a more narrow range. I find it highly unlikely it’s inbthe 2 range unless it’s coming from somewhere besides the 2lbs of fruit per gallon. Unless one of them is terribly acidic. Could test the fruits and maybe switch which fruits you are using. Typically you want way more fruit for flavor. Sometimes in the 6-8 lbs per gallon.

Also does it bother other peoples stomachs? You might want to get checked out by a doctor.
I don't know about others' stomachs - I've given some to the neighbors but have not gotten feedback (they may be too polite to tell me it's awful). I know I'm not bothered by store-bought wine or by coffee and tea. So I'm pretty sure it's the wine that's the problem. I'll look into the narrow range ph papers too. Thanks!
 

troxerX

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@John Ha will recommend upgrading to a handheld pH unit as strips might be subjective and unreliable. I have an Apera pH60 as of recently. It’s fabricated with replaceable probe technology (no need to change whole unit if probes gets damaged). It is also built with a sealing o-ring around the probe to facilitate keeping the probe moist with a cup and soaking solution at all times (when not in use) (see second pic below). I paid around $70 in Amazon.
 

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Paul Swanson

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I've been making fruit wines for years, and though the pH is important, what's known as "titratable acidity" is actually more important. The tang you get in your mouth is the result of the total amount of acids in the juice, not so much the pH. Depending on the fruit, these acids are usually a mix of malic, tartaric and citric, each of which have a different taste profile. The way to measure titratable acidity is titrating a known amount of your juice (I use 15 ml) with 0.2 N sodium hydroxide (available in most fermentation shops). The pH will start somewhere between 2-3, as you already know, and then as you add the sodium hydroxide will go up. The end point is pH 7.0 (neutral). I use a portable pH meter like the one shown by a previous viewer.

Depending on the style of wine you're aiming for, the titratable acidity should be between 4.0-7.0 gm/liter (lower for reds/higher for whites or roses. My guess is the plums, especially if they are underripe, are the culprit for the high acidity. If the titratable acidity is way high, the best solution is calcium carbonate as one viewer already pointed out.

One technique I use (but more work!) for fruit wines is to ferment them separately. High acid fruits (red currants, apples, plums) can then be blended (after fermentation and stabilizing) with lower acid fruits (blueberries, bananas, strawberries, peaches) to get the acidity in range. Good luck.
 

IslandLizard

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If the titratable acidity is way high, the best solution is calcium carbonate as one viewer already pointed out.
Calcium Carbonate is also known as Chalk. It's very neutral, just somewhat difficult to dissolve.
Mind, this is not the chalk used on blackboards, which is actually gypsum, Calcium Sulfate.

I'd stay away from using Sodium or Potassium hydroxides or salts in larger amounts (neither above 20-30 ppm, IIRC) as the Na+ and K+ ions can leave a tasteable, weird salty presence, that's impossible to overcome once you've added too much.

Calcium hydroxide (slaked lime) or Calcium based salts generally are much more neutral.
 

Paul Swanson

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You're right. Since I'm both a brewer and a winemaker, I've learned that pH is more important for brewing and titratable acidity more important for winemaking. The amylase enzymes that convert starch into fermentable sugars for brewing really like a pH close to 5.2. That's why it's important to adjust pH carefully once you've got your mash started. What pH you'll start at depends on a host of variables; your water composition, the type of grains in your mash, and any salts you add (eg. gypsum) to bring the pH down. Again, I recommend the handheld pH meter. For wine, you're stuck with the acid and sugar the fruit gives. The advantage of using chalk to lower acidity is that it precipitates the three acids as insoluble calcium salts and they get racked off with the dead yeast. As the previous reader noted, do not use potassium or sodium hydroxide to try and lower acidity! - the resulting wine will be just as acidic tasting because you've not removed the acids, and will now be sour and salty! The chalk that they sell now for winemaking is highly purified, so doesn't leave a chalky taste. Good luck
 
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John Ha

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I confess I never got that deeply into the science/chemistry of beer brewing. I cheated. I always bought the hopped malt extract in the cans, dumped it in a bucket with water, sugar, and yeast, let it ferment, and drank it. My only real beer "failure" was the first ever batch I made. I found all the ingredients in a local grocery store except for the yeast. I didn't know better so I ended up using baking yeast. The beer tasted horrible but holy cow, did it have alcohol content. It'd give one heck of a buzz from only one glass.

Anyway, it appears that I'll have to learn a lot more stuff to get good wine results. That's not a bad thing, but being older it's going to take some effort and time (and probably a lot of repetition).

I've got the meter and potassium carbonate on the way. Those should be here early next week. Then the fun begins as I accidentally discover how to induce the spontaneous combustion of a 5 gallon batch of wine. :)

Again, thank you all for your patience and help! It's much appreciated.
 
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John Ha

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Got my meter and measured the pH of the wine - it's 2.93. I think it's supposed to be around 3.5, right?

I'm not sure how to determine how much potassium carbonate is needed for a 1 gallon batch to make this adjustment. Can anyone help with that please?
 

Raptor99

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I'm still not sure how your pH got below 3.0. Most fruits have a higher pH with that, and you only used 2 lbs. per gallon. Please share your complete recipe. Did you add acid blend or lemon juice?

Adding Potassium Carbonate to a 1 gal. batch, I would start with no more than 1/8 tsp. Stir it well and wait several days before tasting/testing. It's very easy to overshoot when adjusting pH.
 
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John Ha

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I'm still not sure how your pH got below 3.0. Most fruits have a higher pH with that, and you only used 2 lbs. per gallon. Please share your complete recipe. Did you add acid blend or lemon juice?

Adding Potassium Carbonate to a 1 gal. batch, I would start with no more than 1/8 tsp. Stir it well and wait several days before tasting/testing. It's very easy to overshoot when adjusting pH.
Thanks! That recipe was 3 large pears (didn't weigh them), 2lb plums (these are little plums that grow on the tree in my yard), 2 large bananas (didn't weigh them), 2 peaches (didn't weigh them), and 1 jalapeño pepper. I removed and discarded all of the pits/cores as I cut the fruit into chunks before adding it to the water. I used 10 lb of granulated sugar (grocery store generic brand) and added about 2.5 tsp of pectic enzyme. The only other ingredients were tap water to make a 5 gallon batch of wine and the Lalvin Bourgovin RC212 yeast. It took about a month to ferment from the initial SG of 1.09 to the final 0.989.

And actually, the next batch I did, which had similar ingredients (5 lb 11 oz plums, 2 bananas, 3 pears, 2 peaches, 1 large jalapeno), turned out kind of acidic too - the pH measures 3.19. I wonder if maybe the water is causing some of it. I can definitely try distilled water instead of tap water in one of my next batches. We do have sort of hard water here. I dunno.
 
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Jacob_Marley

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The low pH is curious.

Next time, do a serious bout of sanitation with your equipment to reduce the possibility of having an acetobacter infection which is introducing acetic acid into your wine ... make sure to sanitize air-locks as well.

When acetobacter produces acetic acid it 'should' be an obvious vinegar-like wine fault to the taste and nose ... however, depending on the other elements of aroma and flavor, maybe you can tell and maybe not.

Acetobacter bacteria can be found on slightly rotten fruit and can also be passed along in inadequately sanitized equipment, and is fairly long lived on surfaces.
Keep fruit flies away from your fruit and the must. Fruit flies carry acetobacter in their stomachs as well.

Limit oxygen by keeping headspace in your containers (etc) to a minimum (acetobacter are an aerobic bacteria).
If you punch-down the cap (as you should be), this introduces more oxygen as well ... and while the bacteria is generally retarded during fermentation in your primary fermenter due to the protection from CO2 ... that does not mean it stops, and once that protection is interrupted it can continue. Acetobacter is difficult to control once it gets going.

Sulfite your must/wine with potassium metabisulfite.

Reducing pH has it's own set of problems ... such as microbial spoilage and a reduction in the effectiveness of your sulfites.
I would not generally recommend manually increasing pH after fermentation.

If you want to modify an existing batch, I'd suggest blending it with another wine.

and FWIW ... I would suspect your use of jalapenos might be a large part of the problem.
Capsaicin worsens the discomfort of acid reflux on your irritated esophagus and any issues of gastritis or over production of stomach acid you might have.
 
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John Ha

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@Jacob_Marley Thanks! Lots of good information there.

To my tongue and nose there's no vinegar but I am far from being a connoisseur. To me the wine actually tastes and smells yummy good.

As far as the jalapeño, I only used one (it was about 3 inches long and an inch in diameter at the largest point) in a 5 gallon batch. There's a peppery after taste but no heat. I even removed the center (the really hot part) of the one I used for the batch that came out with the 2.93 pH, but used the entire pepper (less seeds) for the batch that has the 3.19 pH.

Maybe it is, as you suggest, a cleanliness issue. I thought I'd sterilized everything pretty well but ...
 
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John Ha

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Yesterday I added 1/4 teaspoon of potassium carbonate to the gallon of wine (starting pH 2.93) and stirred it in. The pH after adding and stirring was 3.4. I sealed the jug and put it in the freezer to cold stabilize it. I plan to leave it in there for at least 4 days. After that I'll pull it out, stir in a crushed campden tablet (I didn't do this before I bottled the first time but read that it's a good thing to do) and bottle it. I'm very curious to see if the taste is any different. Thanks to all who have helped me learn.
 

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