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After 10 years I think I've learned a thing or two

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Geronimo

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It’s been 10 years since I started making wine kits, and no regrets so far!

My advice to others is simple; once you have some experience with your process and sanitation you’re ready to move up. Buy some really good wine kits, bottle them with really good corks, and let them age 3+ years. Some things I’ve experienced are a little bit to the contrary of what I’ve read on forums like this one and materials supplied by manufacturers, so I thought I’d share my experiences.

It all starts with the primary. About 4 ½ years ago I was in a bad accident and the subsequent recovery took a loooong time. I had 2 kits in primary for at least 8 weeks, and I was sure they were both ruined. However, much to my amazement, they were both AWESOME! So I carefully reproduced this experience and concluded that a long primary of 5-6 weeks with minimal disruption produced the best wines. Through more experimentation I’ve also concluded that adding 5g of diammonium phosphate (sometimes called DAP, yeast nutrient or yeast energizer) at the start yields the best, most consistent results. Also, I put any oak and/or grapes/raisins in a tied muslin cloth bag, agitate it after 2 days, again after 4 days, and remove it completely after 10-14 days.

Then I move the wine to bulk conditioning which is a 6 gallon glass carboy, top it off to eliminate almost all the headspace, and let it sit on my basement floor for 6-9 months. During that time it will get cold conditioned (in Minnesota) to 50F or even a bit lower, which will cause the potassium bitartrate to precipitate (that sandy gunk sometimes called wine diamonds) which balances the acidity naturally and the wine naturally clarifies. I adjust the tannins and oak at the start of bulk conditioning. This is an art like seasoning steak on the grill, so I can’t reasonably write about it. I never use bentonite or that clarifier goop. I find these old school methods are better.

Finally, the bottling. After some issue with natural corks, I switched to Zorks. They are spendy, but they are easy to use and extremely consistent. Now that the Zork prices are so high I switched to Nomacorcs. I found that using synthetics is a big deal if you plan to keep anything beyond 2 years. Natural corks can’t realistically be as consistent as synthetics, and you can’t buy the quality of corks that premium wineries can get. They get the best ones because they buy millions of them every year. I read somewhere that 30 billion bottles of wine are sold every year, and 7 billion are closed with synthetic closures now. Consistency is everything! I have some bottles around 7 years old closed with Zorks that are doing great. Also you can give bottles to people they can store them upright without a penalty. In fact, I’m finding that upright storage seems to make the aging process better, but I’ll need to do more controlled data collection on that subject. My theory (guess) is that with the bottle upright, a layer of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide forms on top of the wine which acts as a barrier to oxygen coming in contact with the wine, slowing the oxidation.

All this writing has made me thirsty :)
 

garymc

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Looks like you've become a kit expert. I've never done a kit. I did do one bucket of juice, though. It's 2 years in the carboy now and a disappointment. Other than that, I make wine from grapes and berries I grow. A week or more in the primary might be ok with elderberries, but not blackberries or muscadines. So you can read all kinds of contrary stuff on forums.
 

rustbucket

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Jim,

Thanks for taking the time to put together your post. Passing on the insights from your wine making experiences is of great benefit to the rest of us on this wine making forum. I like the extended primary fermentation time period observation you mentioned. Some of the pluses of bâtonnage and sur lies, like the improvement of buttery mouth feel and aromas, could probably be derived from the lengthy primary fermentation stage you use.
 

Smok1

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I tend to move mine out of the primary once fermentation is done or even a little before to a carboy for a second fermentation. But my father who has been making wine alot longer than me swears on leaving the wine in the primary for upwards of a month and up to 2 months, he says it makes the wine taste smoother, he has no evidence to back up this theory besides us exchanging wine bottles from time to time but i will say his wine tastes great to me, to each his own he tells me, theres no wrong way as long as the sanitation practices and basic wine making meathods are followed.
 

wineforfun

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@Geronimo
Few questions.
When you leave your initial must in the primary for 5-6 weeks, do you leave the lid loose or lock it down with airlock after a couple of weeks?
I have found that on average, within 2 weeks, my must has run dry, so with those calculations, you would be leaving the must on that sediment for an additional 3-4 weeks. Any idea why you think that makes for a better wine in the end?
Finally, you say after racking to secondary you let it sit for 6-9 months in your basement. Do you rack off the sediment during that time? and do you add kmeta before, during or after that time?
 

Geronimo

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@Geronimo
Few questions.
When you leave your initial must in the primary for 5-6 weeks, do you leave the lid loose or lock it down with airlock after a couple of weeks?
I have found that on average, within 2 weeks, my must has run dry, so with those calculations, you would be leaving the must on that sediment for an additional 3-4 weeks. Any idea why you think that makes for a better wine in the end?
Finally, you say after racking to secondary you let it sit for 6-9 months in your basement. Do you rack off the sediment during that time? and do you add kmeta before, during or after that time?
I lock the lid immediately. I know a lot of people think that leaving it loose helps with the aerobic phase. All it really does is help with keeping the fermentation cooler. If you ferment a small amount (6 gallons is a very small amount) then there are lots of options to keep it cool that also keep the threat of contamination to a minimum.

I'm not sure where the notion that "sediment" is going to produce off flavors after a few days or 2 weeks, but it just isn't true. Instead, any undesirable byproducts of the yeast like diacetyl or acetaldehyde are cleaned up by the yeast. It takes some time, and during that time, a lot of natural clearing occurs.

Lastly, there is very little sediment in my bulk conditioning carboys. Instead I find that I've preserved the volatile aromas and a lot of color which bonds to the tannins. These things were being lost by rushing the process.
 

Geronimo

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Looks like you've become a kit expert. I've never done a kit. I did do one bucket of juice, though. It's 2 years in the carboy now and a disappointment. Other than that, I make wine from grapes and berries I grow. A week or more in the primary might be ok with elderberries, but not blackberries or muscadines. So you can read all kinds of contrary stuff on forums.
I wanted to make sure I was clearly talking about kit wines. Making wines from whole fruit is in a different realm.
 

wineforfun

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@Geronimo
Thanks for the responses Jim.
 

bkisel

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Jim, you've got double my experience with kit wines and way more patience then I have. No way am I going to wait 3+ years for any of my batches to age. Setting aside a bottle or two for a year or so has been tough enough. The most I'll do is 4 months bulk age and 4 months bottle age and that's for an 8 week kit.
 

Geronimo

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The tough part I had was making 20-25 kits a year for 3 years so I built up the cellar. It's easy to be patient when you have so many bottles down there.
 

garymc

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I wanted to make sure I was clearly talking about kit wines. Making wines from whole fruit is in a different realm.
Actually, you did make it clear and, having read my post again, I should have stopped after the first sentence. Sometimes I need to hobble my fingers.
 
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