How Long Before Excess Headspace Ruins Everything?

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Sep 2, 2019
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Hi all. My first batch is in "aging", second is in primary.

When I racked and degassed the first batch into secondary, there was a bit more headspace than I expected (see that's pretty common). I hunted around for foodsafe marbles but couldn't find anything. I'm reluctant to top off with a similar wine because I'd really like to see what it turns out like "untainted" but I think I have no choice - or rack it into a smaller carboy.

My question though is how long do/did I have? It's been in secondary about 2 weeks now with that headspace. I racked it again last night using a pump and #2 filter (mainly to test out this pump I inherited). Am I too little, too late? Should I run to the store after work and pick up some wine to top it off?

I noticed when I finished racking last night it had lost some of the fragrant smell and was starting to smell a bit more like the morning after a party when you're trying to clean up.


Fruit "Wine" Maker
Aug 29, 2015
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Northwest Arkansas
That fragrant smell was most likely yeast smell along with the fruit. When you say 'in secondary' do you mean the final bit of fermentation? While it's fermenting to any significant degree there is a blanket of CO2 gas coming off the wine. If your carboy has an airlock on it then the CO2 vapors are somewhat trapped unless they dissolve into and then out of your airlock liquid. Once fermention is over the yeast smell disappears. At this point unless you are getting some of the classic 'off odors' of sulfur, burnt rubber, vinegar etc I would not worry. But now would the time to rack again into a smaller container if fermentation is over. Along with that racking of course you should be adding your K-meta dosage for the first 3 months of aging.

As to downsizing, now would be a good time to do that. either into multiple smaller containers or one smaller carboy. If you still have a lot of cloudyness and suspended particles in the wine then you might start planning on your next move to replace lost volume.
I don't follow the route that many folks do since I make fruit wines and I try to start out with an over abundance of volume AND more fruit per gallon than is needed for a full bodied wine. So I have no qualms about adding a little water along the way, within reasonable limits. Also because I often have excess wine when I go from my fermentation bucket to a carboy, I keep that excess volume in the smallest possible container and often put it in the fridge sealed to increase settling and reduce any oxidation if my headspace is more than an inch or so. (Typically I'm speaking of tall glass juice bottles in 12, 16, and 20 capacity) This morning I had an apple cider recently out of fermentation and well settled. Along with my 4 liter carboy I had an airlocked 12 oz glass container. When I racked the 4 liter carboy I had about 3 -4 oz more in the smaller container than I needed to top off the 4 liter carboy - SO ... I got an early taste of a very young hard cider.

Sorry for the dissertation, hope it helps./

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