Common mistakes when making wine and how to fix them.
- Do Not Leave Head space– When making wine, it is imperative that any vessel being used is filled completely. Filling carboys, demijohns, or fixed capacity tanks to the highest level possible, minimizing any air space it very important to prevent oxidation. If using a barrel, the barrel will allow for some evaporation as the wine ages. It is critical to top of the barrel with additional wine as this will prevent the oxidation of the wine in the barrel. Barrels do promote a small amount of oxidation, referred to as micro-oxidation, which is helpful at creating a creamier mouthfeel and promoting the expression of fruit flavors and aromas. If a large head space develops due to evaporation, this can cause severe oxidation in the wine.
- Always Degas- Carbon dioxide gas is a byproduct of the yeast during alcoholic fermentation. Often times the bubbles of SO2 are so small, they get trapped by the weight of the wine. If the wine is not purposefully degassed, the bubbles may come out of solution in the bottle, resulting in a fizzy wine for the drinker. The degassing process is relatively simple. One may purchase a degassing tool that is attached to a cordless power drill and stirs the wine at a high speed, agitating it and releasing the trapped bubbles. The winemaker can also splash the wine while racking, agitating the wine and releasing the trapped bubbles of gas. As long as the wine has been stirred vigorously, the gas should dislodge and escape, ensuring that it will not be fizzy in the bottle.
- Sanitation A Must– This may be the most important step in all of winemaking. While cleaning and sanitizing may be a tedious and time-consuming process, it is critical to ensure a healthy, long lasting wine. There is an assortment of cleaning agents (Straight A, 1 Step, Easy Clean and P.B.W.) that are excellent at cleaning wine making equipment and removing stains. After the equipment has been washed and well rinsed, it must then be sanitized with potassium metabisulfite. A solution of 2 ounces of sulfite powder, dissolved into one gallon of water, will yield a strong sanitizing solution that will kill off any microbes that could spoil the wine. This will ensure the longevity of the wine in the aging vessel or bottle.
- Sulfites– Sulfites are a naturally occurring compound within wine. While sulfites do exist naturally, they are at a low level, not sufficient for helping to preserve the wine as an antioxidant. Additional potassium metabisulfite must be added to help prevent oxidation as well as prevent any advantageous microbes from growing in the wine. If the winemaker neglects to add sulfites to the wine, it will easily oxidize and could also be susceptible to bacterial contamination.
- Good Record Keeping– Often times with winemaking, “the devil is in the details”. The smallest change in yeast strain, nutrition, and grape acid and sugar content, can have dramatic effects on the resulting wine. The best winemakers, on the home or professional level, take meticulous notes on all of their activities and observations. By keeping track of each step of their process, they are able to reproduce their very best wines and also do research on what went wrong with their failures.