How long can you ignore your wine?

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drainsurgeon

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OK, another member made a post today (hillpeople I believe) that stated that if you get your kmeta up to 60ppm you could walk away for a year or two. I think that the comment was made tongue-in-cheek and maybe a little exaggeration, but just how long can you really ignore your wine while bulk aging?

It is a problem I have dealt with for almost a decade. I go south for the winter so when I return in late April or early May, I scramble to get as many batches going as fast as I can so they can have 5-7 months aging before I have to bottle before heading south. I know they should sit longer, but I've learned, been told/warned about letting wine sit unattended for more than 3 months.

I'm gone for a solid 5 months every winter and would like to find a way for my aging wines to continue to do so before bottling. My basement is cold (40-45) and dark over the winter. I can go with water-less bungs but is there a safe way to bulk age and not rack or add kmeta for 5 months? Most have cleared and stopped dropping lees after a few months, so I don't think racking is an issue, but sulfite levels have me concerned.

Could I try double dosing sulfite before leaving? Or is this idea simply too risky? I would not be very happy to come home and having to dump 30-40 gallons of wine down the drain! :(
 

Ajmassa

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Yes. I've seen wine sit for over 5 months, (oct-may) with ZERO sulphite added at all, come out perfectly fine. Multiple times. Being topped up protected the wine enough to where there was no issues.
With waterless vented bungs at those temps and being topped up and sulphited heavy right before, I'd totally feel comfortable letting it go 5 months personally.
I've seen my family follow barely any 'rules' we all use and make pretty decent wine many times. Originally I had picked up some bad habits, but I also learned how resilient topped up wine can be.
 

pjd

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I also go south for the winter and have no problems. I use the waterless air locks on my carboys and have 5 barrels with solid bungs. I adjust sulphite levels just before i leave and have not had a problem.
 

Boatboy24

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I also go south for the winter and have no problems. I use the waterless air locks on my carboys and have 5 barrels with solid bungs. I adjust sulphite levels just before i leave and have not had a problem.
Does anyone top up the barrels for you?
 

FTC Wines

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Phil, I'm headed on a RV trip for 3 months & very worried about my 6 gal barrel. Was thinking of cleaning it & putting sulfited water in it for the 3 months. are you saying you leave your barrels full of wine & unattended for months. I have to top off mine every 2 weeks. My barrel is stored at 68* and 55-60% humidity. Thanks, Roy
 

NorCal

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@drainsurgeon, I did a study (which I can't find) where I looked at how much SO2 I was dropping per month in my vessels. I do remember my barrels were dropping SO2 levels 2X faster than my glass carboys and my flex tank in between.

Relying on memory, my barrels would drop 10ppm per month, my carboys 5ppm. If I had your temps, in glass carboys and had them at 50ppm with a reasonable pH wine, good breathable bung, freshly racked, I wouldn't think twice about them.

Not sure I would be comfortable doing the same in a barrel. In my environment, I would have substantial headspace after 5 months, with SO2 levels that have dropped. I'd be concerned with acetobacter and the development of acetic acid resulting in an incurable case of VA.
 

MDH

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You may want to ensure that your airlock is secured in such a way that gas can only leave the carboy. When you store the carboy in a cool place, a vacuum will form within it, and this will cause water in the airlock to retreat into the carboy, exposing your wine to air from the room and dramatically increasing the risk of infection. Due to this, you need to find some way to absolutely ensure the airlock does not allow ANY suction of air back into the carboy.

Secondly, dissolved sulfur dioxide levels will remain stable as long as the airlock is secure. And as long as your wine is stabilized with adequate levels of sulfites, you should not expect any unwanted secondary fermentation by anything.
 
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richmke

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Other than clearing, I don't think there is a material difference between bottle aging and carboy aging. So, if you have to bottle after 7 months, no big deal, as long as you still let the wine age 2 years before you drink it.

Try this:

Get the AIO Head Space eliminator. Try that on one of your wines over the winter, and see how it is when you get back.

FYI: There are times when I've gone 5 months between rackings (busy doing other stuff), and I haven't noticed any negative effects.
 

drainsurgeon

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Thanks for all the responses and I am encouraged that I can probably get away with going 5 months unattended. The next obvious question is what is the least expensive way to test for so2 levels. I have always done the 1/4 tsp kmeta every 3 months starting after fermentation is complete. Can I simply rack and do a double dose right before leaving? I know that testing the levels would be better but the meters I've looked at are pretty expensive.

I'll pick up some water less bungs also. The kind that will let co2 escape. The solid bungs make me a little nervous. I've read posts here of people going into the basement to check on things and finding a bung on the floor. The head space eliminator sounds like a good idea also, but don't you need to check the vacuum on those periodically?
 

Johnd

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Thanks for all the responses and I am encouraged that I can probably get away with going 5 months unattended. The next obvious question is what is the least expensive way to test for so2 levels. I have always done the 1/4 tsp kmeta every 3 months starting after fermentation is complete. Can I simply rack and do a double dose right before leaving? I know that testing the levels would be better but the meters I've looked at are pretty expensive.

I'll pick up some water less bungs also. The kind that will let co2 escape. The solid bungs make me a little nervous. I've read posts here of people going into the basement to check on things and finding a bung on the floor. The head space eliminator sounds like a good idea also, but don't you need to check the vacuum on those periodically?
You could easily get away with a double dose of sulfite and a vented silicone bung for 5 months. I do it all of the time with a single dose of sulfite and a double dose of being over committed in other areas of life.
 

drainsurgeon

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Other than clearing, I don't think there is a material difference between bottle aging and carboy aging. So, if you have to bottle after 7 months, no big deal, as long as you still let the wine age 2 years before you drink it.

Try this:

Get the AIO Head Space eliminator. Try that on one of your wines over the winter, and see how it is when you get back.

FYI: There are times when I've gone 5 months between rackings (busy doing other stuff), and I haven't noticed any negative effects.
Because I turn my heat way down while we're gone, my basement probably gets down to 40-45f. I have some of my red wines that were aging, gift me with some diamonds this spring. :h I know they don't hurt anything but I don't like the idea of gifting wine that has stuff in the bottle. By cold crashing the carboys for several months, I can send the diamonds down the drain instead of in the bottles. Other than that, I agree that bottle aging is probably just as good.
 

drainsurgeon

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From MDH
Secondly, dissolved sulfur dioxide levels will remain stable as long as the airlock is secure. And as long as your wine is stabilized with adequate levels of sulfites, you should not expect any unwanted secondary fermentation by anything.

If this were true, why do we have to keep adding kmeta every 3 months?
 
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Johnd

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Secondly, dissolved sulfur dioxide levels will remain stable as long as the airlock is secure. And as long as your wine is stabilized with adequate levels of sulfites, you should not expect any unwanted secondary fermentation by anything.

If this were true, why do we have to keep adding kmeta every 3 months?
Largely, it is the free SO2 in your wine which protects it from contamination and oxidation. Fermentation should be the least of your worries with a dry wine or one that has been properly treated with K sorbate. The free SO2 levels decline as the free sulfite becomes bound as it does its job, which is why it must be maintained at levels appropriate for your pH.

Bungs and airlock in carboys do leak, purportedly more than corks......
 

FTC Wines

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Drain surgeon, you never mentioned how you keep your barrels topped off for the 5 months. Could you enlighten us. Thanks, Roy
 

drainsurgeon

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Drain surgeon, you never mentioned how you keep your barrels topped off for the 5 months. Could you enlighten us. Thanks, Roy
I don't use barrels Roy, I use 5, 6 and 6 1/2 gallon glass carboys. From other posts here, it doesn't sound like I could get away with it in barrels. I keep most topped off within a couple inches of the bung. Even though the basement is pretty dark, I also wrap each carboy with a towel to minimize light exposure.
 
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drainsurgeon

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One more question. When I get back in the spring, these batches will have almost a year of aging on them. I will rack and should I give it one more dose of kmeta before bottling?
 

Johnd

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Very interesting study!! I certainly noticed the difference in the amount of wine it takes to top up my barrels since moving them from my conditioned home environment (75F / 45% RH +/- range) and into the wine room (55F / 70% RH +/-). Certainly makes sense, interesting that at elevated humidity levels, you actually lose ABV.........
 
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