At what SG do I tranfer off the Primary Fermenter?

Winemaking Talk - Winemaking Forum

Help Support Winemaking Talk - Winemaking Forum:

This site may earn a commission from merchant affiliate links, including eBay, Amazon, and others.


Arctic Contributor
Oct 26, 2008
Reaction score
This question has been asked by me and a bunch of other new wine makers, and it has been answered by an equal number of you all., with many different opininons. Someone recently said, 1.020, someone said, 1.110, someone said the "instructions" said wait till it falls below, 1.00

Is there a general concesus as to the "why" ?

If it is going to continue to ferment in the secondary, than why are there so many varied opinions on when to move it under an airlock. Does it have to do with what is being brewed? Or is all of it a matter of opinion? I just transfered 10 gallons of hillbilly wine at 1.010. I have all the confidence in the world it will be fine.

So in conclusion...why so many different opinions on the reading.

Waiting to be educated.
Last edited:
My opinion on this is that if you move it too late then you will be rcking off many yeast cells that are needed to keep the fermentation strong enough to finish the job unless you stir it all up. I will either rack at 1.020 when most everything useful is still in suspension or just let it finish fermenting in the primary.
AND, you want it to be fermenting when in the secondary to insure a good CO2 environment to protect it from oxidation.
Thats what I always thought too SAC. Even though I am still a newbie that makes sense to me. Then why have I heard others talking about an SG of .990. I have heard that not just in here but other places.
Are there any circumstances where you WOULD want it to come down pretty low before transfering it?

Not to detrimental if you have it topped up properly, remember that you bulk age in carboys without this blanket of gas.
The SG really depends on the kit brand if it is a kit. 1.020 is what I normally use as a basis. Some kits such as the Spagnol's I believe have you ferment to dry in the primary.

The theory behind it is when active fermentation is going on you want O2 for the yeast. This is why you leave the lid on the bucket loose or not even use it and cover the top with cloth or cheese cloth. I just stick an airlock with water in the port and set the lid on the bucket without snapping it down.

One advantage I found to leaving the lid loose as well is to relieve some of the heat from fermentation. Heat will cause the yeast to work harder and die off faster sometimes before terminal gravity is reached. Also off flavors can be produced from the excessive heat. I keep my fermenter area around 65 degrees F. I can have fermentation temp close to 80F at times.

Last but not least as mentioned before. CO2 production will decrease as fermentation slows. This blankets the surface and provides an oxygen barrier. It is all about the surface area exposed to oxygen when it comes to oxidation. You transfer to a carboy up into the neck. Very minimal surface area there.

So to give you a Cliff Notes version, you can actually transfer any time after violent fermentation is over in reality. Normally, like I said I go at 1.020 to 1.010. If you are adding oak to the primary you may want to go longer if you reach that gravity quicker to get the oak extract profile you desire. That is one major reason I quit oaking in the primary.
As a primarily fruit wine producer.. I move from primary to secondary at about 6 days..

so I guess I'm one of the people that follows the recipe. I own a hydrometer.. and rarely use it...

I go by smell.. it smells right or it doesn't

don't ask me to qualify that.


So, if it smells right you transfer to a secondary vessel. If it stinks do you throw it out? :p

Personally I wait till the sg is below 1.005 to transfer from pail to carboy. WHY? Because transferring before that point has resulted in wine coming up the neck, into the air-lock, and spritzing out the tiny holes in the top of the airlock. IE, it results in a nice spray pattern around the carboy.

BTW, the Vineco kits, given a decent temp, are generally down under 1.000 in 7 days. Spagnols not so consistently. I don't have enough experience with the other kit brands to comment.

I will not comment on kit's as I do not do them.
There will be instruction with them.

But on fruit wines or wines made from juice there is a totally
different regime.

With juice wines you tansfer when the wine stops foaming.
Juices are only made in a primary to give the yeast chance to
get some oxygen and to prevent the foam coming out of the airlock.
So when vigorous fermentation subsides then you transfer. Wether it be after a day or after 2 weeks........

For fruit wines (including grapes) there is an other regime.
We already had a discussion about this in another thread.
And the only one who was aiming in the right direction was Allie.

A hydrometer is a tool and not something that makes rules you have to live by.

When fermenting pulp all kinds of things will leach out of the pulp. This is caused by soaking the pulp in the added water, pectic enzyme and the forming alcohol.
The longer you wait with transferring the more of these will get into the wine.
Tannins will dissolve easier in alcohol so the longer the pulp is in the must, the more tannins will get in the wine. It can even get to a point where there are so many tannins in the wine that it might have to age for many years to mellow out.

I give you an example.
Elderberies contain a lot of tannin and fermenting them on the pulp for more as 4 days will get you a wine that has to age.
When you ferment on the pulp for 1 day the color will leach out and so will flavor. But the tannins will stay most in the skin and so you get a wine far more earlier drinkable.

Another example.
Many winemaking books I own tell you to transfer to secondary when the cap breaks down.
What does that mean. Well when the cap breaks down there is no CO2 in the wine anymore to push the solids up in the must. So saying things differently: transfer when the wine stopped fermenting.
Again this depends on the fruit. If you live by this rule and make wine with elderberries this way, be sure to let it age for at least 6 years.

I am now making a mead with cherries which has pulp fermented for 2 weeks. It has just been transferred to secondary.
No recipe or hydrometer told me to do so. I am the winemaker, I decide. And I thought it was ready now.

It is not the hydrometer that tells when to transfer to secondary. It is taste. smell, gut feeling and experience.

Some grape wines are pulp fermented for more as 3 weeks as the producer wants loads of tannins in it and loads of flavor etc etc etc.

And this is what is winemaking about. YOU make the wine and to a certain extend RULES DO NOT MAKE WINE.

Allie is right. I work the same way. The only time when I use my hydrometer (when not doing experiments for my web-log) is when I measure initial SG. After that no hydrometer is needed anymore. Taste and feelings decide when to do what.


I am brand new at this wine making and my first batch is a cranberry / concord grape, and I pretty much just followed the recipe and watched and smelled it ( primary about 5 days, secondary about 4 weeks and now been racking about 4 week.) it smells wonderful and I tasted it when I racked it and taste was great. The hydrometer is all greek to me but I do have one and plan on using it ( starting sg ) but mostly I want to do just what you said.
Thanks for the post.:b

After smelling this wine kit fermenting for the past 3 days..( it's really stinky, compared to fruit wines, my hubby has also mentioned the smell.)

Fruit wines smell completely different.. light and sweet, there's a point with fruit wines, where the smell changes and you know the wine is ready to be strained off the pulp.

That's about the best I can describe it, without sounding like some sort of nutcase.
Last edited:
Well said, true winemakers march to a drummer of their own... experience rules.
Most winemakers visiting the forum however are not so experienced and can use some basic ground rules to go by and that is why recipes are posted on kits and basic wine waking advice is dispensed by members of the forum.
Sharing your personal experiences with us adds a different perspective and I for one have gained much from your sharing.
Sound advice

I'm very thankful that I came across this site with so many different viewpoints about making wine. I'm looking forward to figuring out all the ins and outs of certain fruits and vegetables and learning by taste and smell. Keep the sage words flowing.
Great thread everyone and Luc I again agree with you BUT like Sacalait said we have to include some rules for new winemakers to have a clue(Do as we say, not as we do) Like instructions on a kit you can alter them and end up with just as good a wine or better. I really dont think that any wine should really be drqank before 6 months anyway with the exception of a Mist kit. But I very much do like the tannin explanation you have given for extraction.

Latest posts