My Fruit Wine is Done Fermenting.....Now What?1!
A couple of weeks ago, we talked about how to process all of that wonderful fresh fruit that you grew or acquired so that you could ferment it. So, you buckled down, made some delicious must (what you call fruit/wine juice before you let the yeast at it) and pitched your sulfites and yeast.
So…..now what? The processing part of making any fruit wine is such a huge undertaking that during fermentation, we’re all just kind of recovering from the shock of how much actual labor went into it. But now, a couple weeks have past, your gravity is .993, so what next?
Let’s talk about what went on during fermentation, and how to proceed from here, including oak aging, back-sweetening, clarifying, and bottling techniques to get your newly made libations ready to drink!
My favorite analogy for fermentation is that it’s like a Frat Party. Imagine a few hundred billion college kids are placed into the middle of a perfect house, in summer, stocked with enough booze, pizza, and beer pong for a two week rager. For the first week or so, things are wild! All the booze, pizza and party games they can handle. They drink all the booze and eat all of the pizza (this is the sugar in your must), party hard, and absolutely TRASH the place! By this time, everyone is tired, hung over, and real world responsibility starts to loom. Clean up time. They spend the last week returning this perfect house to pristine, cleaning up messes and righting furniture.
A typical fermentation is very similar. First, your yeast create enough cells to eat the sugar in your must, and go to work. They work so hard, in fact, that you can see the foam on top of the fermentor! This can last three to five days. From here, even though fermentation is technically done, it’s important not to transfer yet. They will spend the rest of the fermentation time cleaning up after themselves, absorbing some of the more noxious compounds created during the initial fermentation. This time is especially important, and can be extended as long as thirty days, depending on yeast strain and your schedule. After that amount of time, it becomes more likely that the yeast will suffer from autolysis, which basically means that the cells burst, letting all of the noxious compounds back into your finished product.
Once fermentation and a total of at least 14 days have past, it’s time to move on. Transferring your newly minted wine is called ‘Racking’, which really just means moving it somewhere else. In the case of wine, there are lots of cool chemical things happening as it matures, so there are huge benefits to what I like to call ‘Bulk Aging’, but is better known as ‘Secondary Fermentation’, which I’ve always found to be a bit of a misnomer, as no more actual fermentation is really happening.
Always sanitize everything that will touch your wine before use! This step is very important, and keeps any microbes you don’t want in your wine out. We like to use Star San because it’s no rinse and super easy, but if you’re willing to let everything air dry before use, Iodophor is very effective as well.
Choosing the right vessel for this part of the process is very important. At this point, and from this point on in your fermentation project, oxidation of the finished product is a very real danger. Although there isn’t any sugar left, there are other bacterium that can ruin your wine, like acetobacter, which is what converts ethanol to acetic acid, the driving flavor in vinegar. Oxidation can also ruin the overall flavor profile, degrading aromas, making it taste bland or flat, and contributing to an overall lackluster palate. The key to preventing this is making sure that there is little to no room for any oxygen. Choose a fermentor that you can fill almost to the brim with your wine, and purge the excess space with CO2. Even if you don’t have the right sized fermentation vessel, use a standard CO2 Kit like you would use for beer, or one of the super convenient Handheld CO2 Chargers to purge out excess oxygen and create a blanket of carbon dioxide to ensure your wine stays safe!
When you rack your wine, you want to minimize splashing or any kind of aeration as much as possible. One of the easiest ways to do this is with an Auto Siphon.
Attach enough sanitized transfer tubing to the end of your sanitized Auto Siphon to get from the top of your current fermentor to the bottom of your sanitized bulk aging vessel (secondary fermentor). Keep the bottom of the Auto Siphon off of the Lees, another fun wine word that just means all of the yeast on the bottom, to minimize how much gets transferred over. I like to try to not be greedy and leave about an inch or so of wine behind on the lees so when I transfer, my product is as clear as possible. It doesn’t always work that way, but that’s the idea!
One trick I’ve found to be very effective in getting as much finished product as possible is crash chilling, or putting my fermentor in the fridge at 36° to 40° F overnight, or as long as it takes to get the whole volume down to that temperature, with a small block of wood or something similar under one side. As the wine cools and the yeast fall out of suspension due to the colder temperatures, they all fall towards the low side, making it easier to transfer as much finished product as possible.
Start your siphon with a simple pump on the Auto Siphon, and allow your wine to move to the next phase. Cover with a Breathable Silicone Stopper, or a normal stopper with an S Type Airlock. These are perfect for bulk aging, as they don’t lose liquid as easily as the 3-Piece Airlocks.
Now that your wine is off of the lees, in an airtight vessel that allows for off-gassing, and safe, it’s time to have some fun!
YES!! Oak seems to have a way of making everything better. This is a tried and true lesson learned over centuries of fermentation. Oak can take a mediocre product and propel it towards greatness, and take a great product and make it absolutely incredible.
When choosing oak, think about what your fruit wine already tastes like. Adding a Medium Toasted Oak Spiral to a pear cider, for example, can add light earth and vanilla notes that bring out the best of the pears, or adding a Lightly Toasted Oak Spiral to a plum wine can add a hint of woody freshness that compliments the plums wonderfully. Check out the different types of oak and toast levels you can add to your wine in our Oak Products section to see what will work the best for what you’re making!
So you’re telling me that after I rigorously sanitized everything that touched my wine, I’m supposed to throw in a dirty piece of wood?! Well, not exactly. To prepare your oak for aging, we recommend flash steaming it, basically pasteurizing the oak so that it is clean and funk-free. The easiest way is to heat a small amount of water in a small pan with a colander. Let it get to a boil, then soak your oak for 2 minutes, max, just enough time to let the oak get to pasteurization temperatures without stripping too much of the flavor.
Before you add oak, allow your wine to sit in it’s carboy for at least two weeks. Depending upon your levels of patience, you can let it sit up to six months or more before adding oak, and that part is up to you. As long as no oxygen gets into the fermentor, you can decide how long to let it sit at your leisure.
The kind of oak you add will determine how long you let your fruit wine age on oak. Oak Chips, for example, have a HUGE amount of surface area, and will impart more overt oak flavors much faster that Oak Cubes, which will impart flavors faster than Oak Spirals. The key is to give it some time to sit, then start tasting. This is why I like to do the oak aging at the end of the bulk aging process. It’s much easier to transfer your wine into bottles than try to fish out your chosen oak method without oxidizing.
When tasting, use a thief, and have your Handheld CO2 Charger handy, this way you can pull a sample, then purge the fermentor of oxygen. If you’re careful, you can taste for weeks without worrying about oxidizing and throwing all of your hard work away!
Clarification is a multi part process. Simple things like racking off of the lees play a huge part, as well as adding Pectic Enzyme during fermentation. By this point in your wine journey, your wine is most likely crystal clear. Between proper transferring, enzymes and time, even the most stubborn fruits are likely clear up by now.
If you still have hazy wine, don’t lose hope! You can still add pectic enzyme during the bulk aging stage, and there are some other amazing products that can still clear things up! My two favorites are Sparkolloid and Super-Kleer KC. If you’re in a hurry, Super-Kleer KC is a two part process that only takes a couple of days, and involves no more work than adding some kieselsol and chitosan. Sparkolloid is a bit more involved, as you must dissolve it in boiling water and add it to the wine. It can also take a few weeks, but it is extremely effective!
Back-sweetening your wine is the best way to get the taste and sweetness right where you want it. Although I personally love a deliciously dry libation, some wines are just better with a little sweetness, and it’s not a hard process.
The key is making sure that all of the yeast is gone, and that nothing else can get in. Dose your wine with Potassium Metabisulfite to kill any remaining yeast, and add Potassium Sorbate to ensure nothing else can get in and eat that tasty sugar.
I like to add Potassium Metabisulfite first and allow it it’s full 24 hours to work, then add my chosen sugar and Potassium Sorbate directly before bottling. The goal here is to ensure full potency of the Potassium Sorbate so that there are no issues once everything is bottled, and you do this by letting the potassium metabisulfite kill everything off first. If there are any yeast in solution, you will make a fun carbonated wine, which will shoot corks like mortars if you’re not careful! For back-sweetening carbonated wines, check out our process in our post Using Fresh Fruit in Beer.
When back-sweetening, the kind of sugar is everything. Want more peach flavor in that peach-agave wine? Add fresh, pasteurized peach juice or Peach Wine Base! Want a complex, honey characteristic? Add honey!
For most sugars, all you have to do is boil some water and mix them into solution. This method is perfect for honey and agave as well, although try to keep the honey below 110° F so you don’t break down the aromatic characteristics. Boil the water, then add the honey once it cools. For fresh juices, simply pasteurize at 150° F for 15 minutes.
Once you have all of your chosen sugar in solution, add it a little at a time and taste until it’s where you want it. Once you’ve reached your ideal sugar level, add in your Potassium Sorbate and bottle it up!
When bottling still (not carbonated) fruit wines, the sky’s the limit! There are so many awesome Wine Bottles, Beer Bottles, FlipTop Bottles, most of which come in brown, blue or clear and range from 187 mL Champagne Bottles to 2 L Flip Top Bottles. Decide how you want your finished wine to look, grab your bottles, corks and closures, and have some fun!
First and foremost, sanitize, sanitize, sanitize! Anything that touches the finished product needs to be sanitized to make sure it can last it’s stay i the bottle without exploding, becoming infected, or just becoming vinegar. We like to make 5 gallons of Star San, then allow the bottles to soak a few at a time for at least two minutes to ensure that they are sanitized. We don’t even rinse, just pour what’s in the bottle back in the bucket and fill with wine!
To fill, using a spring loaded bottle filler in conjunction with your Auto Siphon is one of the easiest ways! Simply depress the bottle filler in the first bottle, then start a siphon with the Auto Siphon. The bottle filler will keep the siphon in between bottles, and it will be easy to fill everything without spilling!
Make sure you fill each bottle to the top, as the displacement when you pull the bottle filler will leave the perfect amount of head space.
Once everything is in bottles, you have the option to save it, drink it, or share it, and you should do all three! That is at least half of the fun of this!
Thank you, as always, for reading our articles, and we hope they help you in your fermentation journey! Please add any comments below, or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to continue the discussion!!