Other FWK Users - What process do YOU follow?

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Nextech

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Hey all! I'm a long-time lurker on the forums but just recently created an account now that I'm actively making wine. I've been a homebrewer for many years, sticking to mostly beer and ciders. I decided to expand into winemaking at an exciting time and became an early adopter of Finer Wine Kits. FWK is the only kit that I have used (just started my 9th batch) other than a few wines I made at a brew-on-premise shop nearby which tasted terrible. So far, the FWK products have really changed my opinion of those kit wines.

I've seen so many people sharing bits and pieces of their modified FWK winemaking process, and there seems to be endless variations. @jgmann67 recently shared a custom checklist that he created especially for making FWK Forte Series Kits. That post, along with a couple other threads, recently got me thinking.... I'm curious to know the general process that FWK users are following when making these kits.
  • Do you follow the kit directions without any modification? Or do you tweak it?
  • Are you starting with exactly 6 gallons of must?
  • What do you use for a fermentation vessel? What do you use for racking and clearing?
  • What temperature do you ferment at? Do you have temperature control?
  • Are you performing extended maceration?
  • Do you bulk age? If so, for how long?
  • Do you use kieselsol and chitosan or do you let the wine naturally clear?
  • Do you degas? If so, what method do you use?
  • When do you add the oak cubes and for how long?
I believe that sharing this information in a single thread will allow us all to learn from each other and benefit those who are new to FWK wines. I'll share my general workflow below, but I'm curious... what do YOU do?
 

Nextech

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For FWK Forte wines, this is generally the approach I follow:
  1. Combine concentrate and distilled water in 7.9 gallon Speidel fermenter (admittedly, sometimes I cheat the volume a little bit to try to make up some of what is lost during fermentation/EM/racking – OG has never been an issue)
  2. Add skins, oak chips, and seeds (all in the muslin bags for ease of cleanup)
  3. Add starter packet and floating hydrometer to fermenter, seal with airlock
  4. Place in fermentation chamber to control temperature
  5. Immediately prepare yeast starter
  6. Pitch yeast 18-24 hours after starter initiated
  7. Ferment at 66-68F
  8. Once fermentation is active, remove airlock, replace with clean towel on top of fermenter, and punch down skins 2-3 times per day
  9. Monitor SG with floating hydrometer and add yeast nutrient when 30-40% attenuation is reached
  10. When SG approaches 1.000, close fermenter with airlock and raise temp to 70-72F over 2 days
  11. Hold at 72F for extended maceration for 3 weeks
  12. Squeeze skins and rack into 6 gallon carboy, add stabilizing packet. For first 2 kits, I degassed here. For the rest, I did not.
  13. 2 weeks later, rack into 6 gallon carboy to remove gross lees
  14. 4 weeks later, rack into 5 gallon carboy and gallon jug (or 750 mL bottles)
  15. 12 weeks later, add ¼ tsp k-meta, re-rack into 5 gallon carboy
  16. 10 weeks later, sample and if ready, add oak cubes (soaked first in distilled water)
  17. 2 weeks later, rack into bottling bucket, add ¼ tsp k-meta, and bottle
I typically don’t like adding anything unless it’s necessary, so I have tried to avoid the kieselsol and chitosan. My first 2 kits I didn’t allow them to bulk age enough so they didn’t clear as well as I would have liked prior to bottling. I have since extended my bulk aging time as noted above. If you’re adding the fining agents though, this wouldn’t be an issue. My second round of FWK batches are almost ready to bottle, so I am anxious to see if the schedule above is adequate.

What do you do similarly? What do you do different?
 
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Welcome to WMT! We have some recent discussions on wine making philosophies, and I find it interesting to see why folks do what they do. My comments reflect my curiosity.

Combine concentrate and distilled water in 7.9 gallon Speidel fermenter (admittedly, sometimes I cheat the volume a little bit to try to make up some of what is lost during fermentation/EM/racking – OG has never been an issue)
I reconstitute to 23 liters, and expect to add wine after fining. See below.

Add skins, oak chips, and seeds (all in the muslin bags for ease of cleanup)
I haven't done this, but it's a great idea!

Add starter packet and floating hydrometer to fermenter, seal with airlock
Why seal, if you're going to cover with a towel after inoculation? I use 7.9 gallon fermentation buckets for small batches and 32 gallon Brutes for large.

When SG approaches 1.000, close fermenter with airlock and raise temp to 70-72F over 2 days. Hold at 72F for extended maceration for 3 weeks
What is the value of holding the temperature there? Other than frozen water bottles to reduce temperature of a hot ferment, I don't worry about temperature as my cellar is typically 63 - 68 F in the fall, although it drops to 58 F in the middle of winter. I'd had whites ferment for 3+ weeks at that temperature.

4 weeks later, rack into 5 gallon carboy and gallon jug (or 750 mL bottles)
Why rack down at this point? Is it a matter of reduced volume from racking?

I did that in the past, but recently went with a "low effort" approach, AKA "laziness". I assume I'm going to topup to make 23 liters and have compatible wine on hand. For me, it's less effort to have a single container. It's also easier to not mix up containers -- at this time I have 2 different Forte kits in barrels + topup for each, a Pinot Noir, and a Raspberry Chocolate Port, so it's REAL easy to mess up containers if I'm not labeling everything well. If making 1 batch at a time, or making 2 dissimilar wines (e.g., white and red), it's not an issue.

12 weeks later, add ¼ tsp k-meta, re-rack into 5 gallon carboy
In the past couple of years I've researched fine lees, sur lie, and battonage. My 2020 reds spent a year in barrel and I didn't rack, just added K-meta every 3 months. I stirred the wine monthly just before each topup and quality control (AKA tasting), until the last 3 months when I let it settle. My results so far are very good. The wine hasn't been in bottle long enough to make a real determination, but it's looking positive.

At this time I'm bulk aging light reds and whites for 4 to 6 months, heavy reds (barrels) for 12 months, and not racking during bulk aging.

10 weeks later, sample and if ready, add oak cubes (soaked first in distilled water)
Only 2 weeks on oak cubes? I assume you're looking for a very light oak flavor?
 

Nextech

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Hi Bryan,

Thanks for the response and for the questions! I will answer them below. In full disclosure - I am very new to winemaking and many of my practices come from my experience as a homebrewer of beer and ciders, which I'm learning can have very different requirements from wine.
Why seal, if you're going to cover with a towel after inoculation?

I do this strictly to prevent any wild yeast or bacteria from entering the fermenter until I am ready to pitch the wine yeast. The probability of spontaneous fermentation or bacterial infection are very low considering the addition of the stabilizing packet, but this is just an old habit I have formed ever since my early homebrewing days. This is likely completely unnecessary. However, it doesn't take me any extra time to do this, and I figure the added security is worth the minimal effort.
What is the value of holding the temperature there?

Again, this is likely much more applicable to beer brewing, but the one thing I found that improved the quality of the end product more than anything else was fermentation temperature control. I have developed the habit of starting fermentation on the low end of the range, allowing it to ramp up naturally by 2-3 degrees, and then maintaining that temperature throughout active fermentation. Towards the end of fermentation, I increase the temperature a few degrees. This helps prevent a stalled fermentation and encourages the yeast to completely finish the job. In the beer world, this control of fermentation temperature and rest at the end of fermentation is also important to minimize diacetyl and other off flavors that you certainly don't want in your beer. Is this as important in wine? From what I have read - no, particularly considering that wine yeasts are very clean when compared to ale yeasts. But I have the equipment and old habits die hard!
Why rack down at this point? Is it a matter of reduced volume from racking?

Perhaps this is just me being overly cautious, but I've read that once your lees/sediment reaches a certain level (3/8 of an inch or so). Since I am not using any clarifying agents, I find that I usually accumulate 3/8 - 1/2" of sediment approximately one month after the first racking. I also only have one 6 gallon carboy, and transferring at this point allows me to free up that vessel for another batch. Is this excessive racking? This is precisely why I started this conversation :)
In the past couple of years I've researched fine lees, sur lie, and battonage. My 2020 reds spent a year in barrel and I didn't rack, just added K-meta every 3 months. I stirred the wine monthly just before each topup and quality control (AKA tasting), until the last 3 months when I let it settle. My results so far are very good. The wine hasn't been in bottle long enough to make a real determination, but it's looking positive.

At this time I'm bulk aging light reds and whites for 4 to 6 months, heavy reds (barrels) for 12 months, and not racking during bulk aging.

At what point do you consider your wine to be bulk aging? After your first racking to remove gross lees? Then you don't re-rack until the end, only add k-meta every 3 months or so? Are you using the kieselsol and chitosan at the end to clear it, or are you saying that just 3 months is sufficient to let it completely settle to your liking, without the use of clearing agents?
Only 2 weeks on oak cubes? I assume you're looking for a very light oak flavor?

I chose 2 weeks based solely on the FWK instructions and various posts I've read that indicate most of the flavor from oak cubes is extracted within this time. However, I'm definitely open to changing this practice if the experienced winemakers feel there are benefits to longer oaking. Unfortunately I don't have any barrels yet, but this is certainly on my list, for both wine and beer!

I'm very much still learning, so if you have input on any of these points I'm happy to hear it.
 
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@Nextech, wine and beer are both made by fermentation using yeast. Everything else is different! Quite a few of us on WMT do both, so we are aware of the many differences. The safest position for you is to assume you know nothing, but as an experienced brewer, you'll learn quickly.

The probability of spontaneous fermentation or bacterial infection are very low considering the addition of the stabilizing packet, but this is just an old habit I have formed ever since my early homebrewing days. This is likely completely unnecessary.
It is unnecessary. However -- if it makes you feel comfortable, keep doing it. It hurts nothing to do it.

Is this as important in wine? From what I have read - no, particularly considering that wine yeasts are very clean when compared to ale yeasts. But I have the equipment and old habits die hard!
Fermentation is very different. In contrast, winemaking is winging it, all the time. Keep doing what you're doing, but as time goes on, let yourself experiment. You'll get lots of good advice.

An important point is that if you ask a question of 10 winemakers, you'll get at least 11 different opinions. Most things in winemaking have more than one valid solution, so you will have to determine your own path. You'll pick things up quickly.

Perhaps this is just me being overly cautious, but I've read that once your lees/sediment reaches a certain level (3/8 of an inch or so). Since I am not using any clarifying agents, I find that I usually accumulate 3/8 - 1/2" of sediment approximately one month after the first racking. I also only have one 6 gallon carboy, and transferring at this point allows me to free up that vessel for another batch. Is this excessive racking? This is precisely why I started this conversation
Search on gross lees vs fine lees. Gross lees is grape/fruit solids while fine lees is yeast hulls. There is a definite difference between the two, but it can be difficult to visually identify them. The solution appears to be time -- gross lees drop within 72 hours of the end of fermentation.

If you follow the FWK methodology, after you unseal the fermenter and rack, you've eliminated gross lees. Anything that drops after that is fine lees. You probably will not experience any thick lees after that. Based upon my research of fine lees, sur lie, and battonage, you do not need to rack again until you are nearing bottling.

At what point do you consider your wine to be bulk aging? After your first racking to remove gross lees? Then you don't re-rack until the end, only add k-meta every 3 months or so? Are you using the kieselsol and chitosan at the end to clear it, or are you saying that just 3 months is sufficient to let it completely settle to your liking, without the use of clearing agents?
The last 5 years have seen an evolution in my winemaking. Things I was taught decades ago are being discarded in favor of new techniques and ideas that are practically proven to be valid. My current thinking, which is subject to revision:

As per FWK, let the wine ferment for 4-7 days, until the SG is down to 1.010. Seal the fermenter and let rest until 2 weeks post-inoculation. The gross lees should be dropped, so rack off it. While this second week is not necessary for whites and reds without skin packs, IMO it's a good process as it ensures the ferment is done.

Next degas and add the K&C + 1/4 tsp K-meta. Let the wine rest in a carboy for 2 to 3 weeks, then rack. I add K-meta at each racking.

After this, the wine is in bulk aging. I used to fill a 19 liter carboy then divide the remainder among smaller containers. My lazy approach is to top a 23 liter carboy with compatible wine to eliminate hassle. One container is just easier to deal with.

Whites and light reds bulk age for 3 to 6 months, with K-meta added every 3 months. My heavy reds go in barrel, are topped monthly, and receive K-meta every 3 months.

Oak cubes go in with the start of bulk aging. I was using 2 oz cubes for 5/6 gallons, but have found that can be too harsh. My current dosage for heavy reds matches FWK, e.g., 1-1/2 oz. Experimentation indicates that most flavoring is extracted in about 3 months, but I've left the cubes for as long as 12, as this eliminates at least one unnecessary racking. For Tavola kits with no skin packs, I bulk age 3 to 6 months with 1 oz cubes.

At this time I making grapes and FWK. For FWK, I'm either making Tavola (no skin packs) or Forte. For my needs I'm either making a quicker drinking wine (Tavola) or a heavy, longer aging wine (Forte), so adding skin packs to a Tavola doesn't make sense for me.

The wines currently in barrel did not receive K&C. This was not a specific decision -- I was focused on bottling the previous contents and getting this ready for the new wine to go in the barrel, and just didn't do it. Given that these are triple batches, next fall when I empty the barrels, I'll put 5 gallons of each batch into a carboy with K&C, and bottle the remainder. Later I'll compare the fined vs. unfined wines to see if there is a difference, and if so, which is preferable.
 
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I follow the directions with these exceptions:
  • I don't add the yeast nutrient
  • I top up with similar commercial wine (not my kits) to avoid exposing the FWK to kit taste
  • I am currently doing extended maceration on Forte Pinot and Bordeaux Blend for 6-8 weeks on the gross and fine lees and will report back to the forum about whether that's positive or negative for the wine
 

Nextech

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@Nextech, wine and beer are both made by fermentation using yeast. Everything else is different! Quite a few of us on WMT do both, so we are aware of the many differences. The safest position for you is to assume you know nothing, but as an experienced brewer, you'll learn quickly.
Yes, I have done my best to take this approach. I learned early on that wine and beer making are two very different processes. I am fascinated by the science of fermentation and I love learning, hence why I've been devoting a great deal of time to reading these forums and other sources of information on winemaking. I'm a lifelong learner, and despite having two decades of brewing experience, I still learn something new with each batch of beer I brew!

The last 5 years have seen an evolution in my winemaking. Things I was taught decades ago are being discarded in favor of new techniques and ideas that are practically proven to be valid. My current thinking, which is subject to revision:

As per FWK, let the wine ferment for 4-7 days, until the SG is down to 1.010. Seal the fermenter and let rest until 2 weeks post-inoculation. The gross lees should be dropped, so rack off it. While this second week is not necessary for whites and reds without skin packs, IMO it's a good process as it ensures the ferment is done.

Next degas and add the K&C + 1/4 tsp K-meta. Let the wine rest in a carboy for 2 to 3 weeks, then rack. I add K-meta at each racking.

After this, the wine is in bulk aging. I used to fill a 19 liter carboy then divide the remainder among smaller containers. My lazy approach is to top a 23 liter carboy with compatible wine to eliminate hassle. One container is just easier to deal with.

Whites and light reds bulk age for 3 to 6 months, with K-meta added every 3 months. My heavy reds go in barrel, are topped monthly, and receive K-meta every 3 months.

Oak cubes go in with the start of bulk aging. I was using 2 oz cubes for 5/6 gallons, but have found that can be too harsh. My current dosage for heavy reds matches FWK, e.g., 1-1/2 oz. Experimentation indicates that most flavoring is extracted in about 3 months, but I've left the cubes for as long as 12, as this eliminates at least one unnecessary racking. For Tavola kits with no skin packs, I bulk age 3 to 6 months with 1 oz cubes.

At this time I making grapes and FWK. For FWK, I'm either making Tavola (no skin packs) or Forte. For my needs I'm either making a quicker drinking wine (Tavola) or a heavy, longer aging wine (Forte), so adding skin packs to a Tavola doesn't make sense for me.

The wines currently in barrel did not receive K&C. This was not a specific decision -- I was focused on bottling the previous contents and getting this ready for the new wine to go in the barrel, and just didn't do it. Given that these are triple batches, next fall when I empty the barrels, I'll put 5 gallons of each batch into a carboy with K&C, and bottle the remainder. Later I'll compare the fined vs. unfined wines to see if there is a difference, and if so, which is preferable.
See, this is precisely why I asked this question, to learn from what the more experienced winemakers are doing with these kits. The FWK process seems to open up the doors for home winemakers to get more creative with their wines and to experiment to produce wonderful results. I understand why they have laid out their instructions in the manner which they did, because they also need these kits to be simple for individuals that are new to fermentation. But the potential of these kits is nearly limitless, and so far I have been extremely pleased with the results.

I'm continuing to do research on fine lees vs. gross lees, sur lie, and battonage based on your recommendation. I must say, this is music to my ears and will save me a ton of work if I can still produce a comparable product. I don't have a suitable vacuum pump for wine yet, so racking is a practice that I hesitate to perform as it has potential to introduce oxygen, but I thought was necessary based on what the masses were doing. When I came up with my winemaking process, I combined the FWK instructions with the most common practices found online, while maintaining some of my own processes from homebrewing. I thought this would be the safest bet for my first several batches, but I did question the amount of racking I was doing. Your feedback is very helpful and I think for my next batch I will do a comparison of my current process vs no racking after it enters bulk aging.
 

Nextech

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Since the FWK kits have a yeast starter that gets very active, I didn't feel I needed it.
According to what I've read, that's mostly sugar.
I'm also a big fan of yeast nutrients, especially when fermenting high gravity products such as wine. I understand that wine yeast are alcohol-tolerant and well-suited for the job of a clean and complete fermentation. However, the yeast nutrient promotes better yeast health, reduced stress on the yeast, and helps prevent stalled fermentation and other complications. Yeast starters are beneficial for determining viability, ensuring adequate pitch rate, and conditioning yeast, but they aren't a substitute for yeast nutrient. In fact, I personally feel that yeast nutrient is even more important after making a starter, as some of the components necessary for replication and the formation of new cells are used up prior to pitching the yeast into the must. It's entirely possible that everything would be fine without it, but nutrients are cheap (and in the case of FWK they are included in the cost of the kit), so I see no reason not to use it.
 
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I don't have a suitable vacuum pump for wine yet, so racking is a practice that I hesitate to perform as it has potential to introduce oxygen, but I thought was necessary based on what the masses were doing.
O2 is the winemaking boogieman. A lot of folks fear O2 but have no real understanding.

Oxidation is a function of wine volume vs headspace vs time. A small volume of wine with a relatively large headspace for months will oxidize while exposing wine to air while racking in a period measured in minutes, will not. Oxidation of wine is not a rapid reaction.

Is there some reaction during racking? Probably. That is one of the reasons we add K-meta, as it binds to contaminants, including O2, rendering them harmless.

A vacuum pump is not necessary. They are nice pumps and the AiO pump (company owner Steve is a forum member) is a solid product, and is well supported. Those who own one, love it and if I wanted one, it would be what I'd buy. To meet all of my needs, I purchased a standard wine pump.

Regarding number of rackings, I was taught to rack every 3 months during bulk aging. In recent years I rack only when there is a need. My 2020 reds (Meritage and Meritage Plus, web site in my sig) were racked 4 times in 16 months.
 

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