Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Did you guys forget about this wine? Since it's been sitting on my dining room table, I couldn't forget about it. That also led to my house being nicknamed "The Winery." Clearly, I'm running this process a bit longer than the 30 days it claims on the package, but that only helps. I normally actually take 90-120 days from time I start a wine kit until the time I get it into the bottle. That changes the process a bit too, but I will detail that in a future series of posts.
The fermentation has now completed, and the wine is starting to clear up a bit, as you can see. But if we leave the clearing to happen naturally, it will take a long time. To speed things up, most wine kits come with some type of clearing agents. Clearing, or fining, is the step we are on now. There are three causes of cloudiness that this step will deal with; those are positively charged particles, negatively charged particles, and gas (specifically, dissolved carbon dioxide).
If you remember my very first post on winemaking, you will remember Kieselsol and Chitosan. These fining agents will bond with the positive (or negative) particles, and create heavier molecules that more easily fall to the bottom of the carboy, instead of continuing to float. Because Kieseolsol has a negative charge, and chitosan has a positive charge, they allow you to clear out both kinds of particles. That being said, make sure you pay attention to the directions in the kit. You will NOT be adding these to the wine at the same time, or they'll just bond to each other, and leave the cloudiness behind. Generally, you will add the Kieselsol first, which will take care of the positively charged particles (as the song says, opposites attract), and then after thirty minutes or so, you will add the Chitosan. There's nothing complicated about these items. Just add them in the proper order, stir well, and make sure you wait between them as directed.
Now let's talk about dissolved gas. As we discussed previously, yeast releases carbon dioxide as part of the fermentation process. Most of this just escapes from the top of the carboy as bubbles. It can be soothing to watch (and listen!) to the bubbles of carbon dioxide escaping from the airlock (if you've forgotten, this is the S-shaped plastic piece filled with water that allows carbon dioxide to escape, but keeps air out). Some of this carbon dioxide will stay dissolved in the wine though. This may sound a little strange, but you've seen this before when you opened a bottle of soda. After the cap is removed, you see some bubbles rising to the top of the soda, but not a lot. Shake that same bottle, and the release of bubbles will generally make a mess that someone is going to have to clean up. Those bubbles being released after the shaking are carbon dioxide that was dissolved in the soda. Shaking allowed the particles of gas to join together into large enough bubbles to escape from the hold of the soda.
You're obviously not going to pick up and shake a 6 gallon carboy of wine, as it weighs more than 50 pounds. Also, if you just shook the wine as it was right now, you would expose it to too much oxygen, which will damage the taste of the wine. These issues will actually be dealt with in reverse order. To start, you will be transferring this wine from the carboy it is currently in, which has sediment at the bottom from the fermentation. Obviously, you want to leave this behind, as no one wants a cloudy wine in their glass. Once the wine has been transferred to the new carboy, you will add potassium metabisulfite. This powder helps protect the wine from oxidation during storage, and during the degassing (removing of the dissolved carbon dioxide). This process, at least when you first start making wine, is accomplished very simply, by just stirring the snot out of the wine. This stirring process, like shaking up a bottle of soda, allows the dissolved carbon dioxide to gather into larger bubbles and escape. Be careful when you're doing this, as it can explode out the top of the carboy, just like the soda. This makes a big mess, but more importantly, wastes wine, which is a travesty! The simplest tool for degassing is just a big plastic spoon or paddle, but you can progressively get more complex, including power drill attachments or vacuum setups. Those are objects for another day though.
Your wine has now entered the final stages of clearing, and is almost ready to bottle. If you're trying this at home, please make sure you follow the directions from your kit. Every kit works a bit differently, and I have reorganized some of the steps you will take here to make it easier to read and group together like topics. Any questions, of course, are always welcome. We'll have wine in the bottle soon, then it's just a matter of seeing how patient you can be before you open the first bottle and pour!