Making Wine for Self Sufficiency:

Part Two - Secondary Fermentation

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This page is a continuation from Making Wine for self Sufficiency - Part one. If you are looking for the first section of wine making click here

Making Wine - Secondary Fermentation

Specific gravity at 1.020 - ready for the secondary fermenter.

After about 5-7 days in the primary fermenter you will notice that the fermentation has slowed down a lot. When it does, it's time to remove the solids from the liquid and transfer the wine to a secondary fermentation vessel with an air lock. The best way to tell when it's time to transfer to the secondary is to check specific gravity. When you get a reading of about 1.020, it's time.

Separating Solids from the must

If you used a net bag, removing the solids is as simple as lifting the bag out, and squeezing the remaining liquid off of the solids.

transferring (siphoning) from primary fermenter

Siphon the remaining liquid out of the primary fermenter into a glass secondary fermenter.

Racking into secondary fermenter

Glass fermenters (called carboys) can commonly be found in sizes between 1 and 5 gallons.

Make sure that your wine fills the carboy all the way into the neck. Leave only a small gap for the air lock. You don't want prolonged exposure of your wine to open air or a lot of airspace in the carboy, because the wine will oxidize, causing the color to change and the taste to go bad.

If you don't have quite enough wine to fill the carboy, make a mixture of cooled "topping off" solution to fill it up (boil 1/4cup sugar in 1 cup of water). If you have some extra wine left over, put it in a glass jar with a loose fitting cap or lid and refrigerate it - you'll be using it later.

wine in a secondary fermenter

Put some sodium metabisulfite solution into your airlock and put the airlock into the top of the secondary. You will quickly see that the yeasts are still a bit active, as the air lock will begin to bubble at a steady rate. This will slow down over the next couple of weeks and eventually stop.
At this point in making wine, it will be very cloudy, with lots of fine solids floating in it. Only time will allow the wine to clear. You can taste it now, but it probably isn't going to taste very nice.

Making Wine - Racking

sediments are solids that have settled out of wine in a secondary fermenter

Racking is an essential part of making wine. It is the term winemakers use that refers to siphoning the wine off of sediments that settle out to the bottom of the carboy.

You will probably need to do this several times over a period of a couple of months, until there is no further signs of yeast activity and the wine has cleared to perfection.

Racking wine off of sediments

After about a week in the secondary fermenting vessel, you will want to rack your wine for the first time. Most wine making siphons have a cap on the end of the tube that goes into the wine. This cap allows you to get very close to the sediments without actually sucking up very much of it.

The first racking will almost always transfer some sediment. The goal here is to leave behind as much as you can, while transferring the wine to the new secondary fermenter.

If you don't have another secondary fermenter, you can rack back into your primary, clean sterilize your secondary, and siphon the wine back into it. Top off the transferred wine with either the left over wine that you refrigerated, or with a bit more of the sugar water topping solution.

You will need to rack again in about two more weeks, then again in about one more month. Depending upon the type of wine you are making, you may need to leave the wine for a couple of additional months, racking every month or so, until it has cleared completely.

Making Wine - Finishing Touches

When your wine is stable and clear it's time to bottle!

When the wine is stable and clear, it's time to bottle! Before you do that though, you need to add some finishing touches. Making wine at home usually ferments to complete dryness. This means that nearly all sugars have been fermented away. It also means that you will probably need to sweeten your wine before bottling it.

Sweetening a wine is something that is done to taste. I have found that that most new wine makers tend to over sweeten their first few batches. My advice is - add less sweetening than you think you need.

Sweeten your wine using a simple syrup solution that uses 2 cups of sugar and 1 cup of water. Bring it to a boil until all of the sugar has dissolved. After the syrup has cooled, stir a bit of it into the wine and taste. When you think it's right - it probably is. I usually start out adding about 1/8 cup sweetener per gallon.

Add stabilizer to the wine at this time. Stabilizer prevents any remaining yeasts from restarting fermentation and blowing the corks out of your bottles - never a good thing!

Do a final acid test of your wine and add acid blend if needed.

NOW you're ready to bottle your wine!

Making Wine - Bottling and Labeling

When all finishing touches have been completed, and your wine bottles have been sterilized, you're ready to bottle. for a standard sized wine bottle, a gallon of wine will fill 5 bottles.

soak corks in a zipper seal bag with air squeezed out

Soak corks in sodium metabisulphite solution to soften them up a bit and make it easier to insert the corks into the bottles. I use a zipper seal bag, so I can squeeze out all of the air, and allow the corks to soak for at least 30 minutes. Corks can be purchased by differing sizes. For most wine making a #8 cork is perfect.

filling wine bottles

Siphon the wine into the bottles using the same siphon that you used to rack your wine earlier in the process. Leave 1" to 1 1/2" head space at the top.

inserting a cork into a bottle of wine

When all bottles are full, use your cork inserter to cork your wine. The corker forces the corks through a narrow section that reduces the diameter of the cork which allows the cork to slide into the neck of the bottle easier.

Dry corks are very difficult to insert, so don't forget to soak your corks. Once inserted, the corks will expand back to fill the neck of the bottle, creating a seal.

Bottles can be purchased new at most wine makers supply stores, but are rather expensive. If you have a local winery close to you that offers tastings to visitors, pay them a visit (and do a little tasting). Commercial wineries legally cannot re-use wine bottles, and have to discard them when empty.

Many times those empty bottles are yours for the asking. I usually try to buy a bottle or two of wine when I get empties. Even then, it's usually lots cheaper than buying new ones. Soak old labels off in warm water, clean and sterilize them, and you'll have perfectly usable (and free) wine bottles.

The finished product -bottled, corked and labeled

Although it's not necessary for you to label your wine, it makes it a lot easier to identify what you have made. Especially after you have made more than one batch!

You will probably want to share your wine with friends and family, so labels just make it a better show. If you have a computer and printer, you can make some really professional looking labels.

I use adhesive backed sticker paper, and design my whole label, but you can also purchase pre-printed labels that you can simply print your text onto. Either way, I recommend some kind of labels to identify your wine.

Making Wine - Storage and Sampling

Wine is best stored on it's side, where the wine can keep the corks moist. Corks in upright bottles can dry out over time and shrink up, allowing oxygen to get inside the bottles, and ruin your wine. Store your wines in a dark cool area. A basement or cellar is the best place to store them.

Tasting - the whole point of making wine!! Many homemade wines can be enjoyed at the time of bottling, but many of them can also benefit from a short aging period. 2-6 months of aging will improve the flavor of an already good wine.

With a few wines, aging is an absolute must. Apple wine or hard cider will taste and smell absolutely horrible when first bottled, but given 4-6 months of aging, can be absolutely fantastic. I almost poured out my first batch of hard cider at bottling time because of the way it smelled, but I'm glad I didn't, because it aged out very nicely.

Winemaker's log sheet

When making wine, keep good detailed notes. If you make a batch that is REALLY good, you want to be able to recreate it again! Write down how much fruit and what kind and variety you used, how much water and chemicals additives you use.

Note dates that each thing happens. Note starting specific gravity readings and how much it changes after each addition, also note acid levels before and after additions.

It's better to over do it on notes than to under do it, and miss something critical.

You can buy pre-printed forms at most winemaking supply stores that help you to keep clear easy to understand notes.

Making your own homemade wine can be both rewarding and enjoyable. As a private wine maker, you can't legally sell your wine, but I have traded bottles of wine for other items - like home made sausages, home made beer, and even other homemade wines.

Making the transition from a private wine maker to a commercial winery (even a small scale one) is costly and time consuming. Stick to making just what you and your family can consume.

Most states have legislation that allows a private wine maker produce up to 50 gallons of wine a year. Making your own wine allows you one more avenue to becoming more self sufficient. Enjoy!

Return to Food-Skills-for-Self-sufficiency Home Page from
Making Wine Part 2

Related Topics:

Making Wine - Part 1

Growing Grapes

Growing Berries

Home Orchard

Wine & Beer Makers Supply