Measurements, buckets, carboys, and you...

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EngineJoe

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This is REALLY dorky... I'm guessing this won't be of much interest to anyone but me. But sharing knowledge/experience is always a good thing, so... :try

As a person who -- historically speaking -- brews beer, I don't have much experience with long aging, except in rare circumstances. And when I do, I usually do it in a 5 gallon stainless steel keg, sealed under CO2 pressure.

As a result, headspace hasn't really been a concern for me, except making sure I have enough in the primary. Minimizing hasn't really been my concern.

Well, now it is! Yesterday, I racked my first wine from the primary bucket to a 6 gallon Better Bottle for the stabilization/clarification stage. And I had to do some topping off to get the wine up to the old 'fill to 2" below the stopper' mark. So I opened up a bottle of wine and poured gently. It ended up taking nearly the whole bottle to get there! That got me wondering: is the 6 gallon BB really 6 gallons? Is the graduated primary bucket even remotely accurate? What about a glass 23L/6gal carboy?

The results were surprising.

Short version:
- where my bucket is marked 23L is actually just about 24L.
- a 6 gallon Better Bottle is actually 23.75L to the neck.
- a 6 gallon/23L glass carboy is actually 24.75L (about 6.5 gallons) to the neck.

These results obviously impact decisions on topping off vs. starting with more volume to start, etc.

Long Version/Method (for those who care) :a1 :

CALIBRATION: a US pint is 1 lb. To make sure my 32oz. measuring cup (it also measures mL) was accurate, I used my kitchen scale to weigh it out -- 32 volumetric ounces of water should weigh (drum roll) 32 oz. by weight. As it turns out, 32 fl. oz. on the measuring cup weighed 32.4 oz. Reasonably accurate for measuring out 6 gallons (only 9.6 oz. off out of 768 oz. -- a 1.25% variance). And as it turns out, that inaccuracy slightly mitigated the discrepancies in my results, not exacerbated them.

I measured out 1 gallon of water into a tall, thin pitcher (more accurate than short/fat) using the 32 oz measuring cup, then marked the gallon line. Using that, I added a total of 6 gallons to my primary bucket. Lo and behold, it came up to the 22L marker on the bucket. I added another 32 oz. and that brought it up to just about the 23L mark (which makes sense). LESSON: never assume your premarked/graduated gear is accurate.

Then I siphoned the water from the bucket to my 6 gallon Better Bottle. After the racking took all it could, I poured the remnants into my 32 oz. measuring cup. Result -- the Better Bottle was not full to the neck, and there was about 1L of water left behind in the bucket. I poured the water from the measuring cup to the BB and stopped when the BB was filled to the neck. I was left with about 250mL of water in the measuring cup. LESSON: So there is 23.75L capacity in a so-called 6 gallon Better Bottle (about 6.25 US gallons). (Aside: I had - anecdotally - had a similar experience with a 5 gallon BB when racking 5 gallons of cider from primary. I had to add about 3 12oz. bottles of my prior year's cider to get it filled to the neck)

I siphoned all of that water to the 23L glass carboy. Afterwards there was still a decent amount of headspace in the glass. I ended up adding a little more than 1L of water to bring it to the neck. Lesson: So there is actually around 24.75L capacity in the glass carboy.

To complete the circle, I siphoned from the glass carboy to my graduated bucket. After doing so, the water was slightly below the 24L mark on the bucket, again confirming that the bucket graduation was off by about 1L.

Conclusions: even if the measuring cup is not accurate, there is a significant discrepancy amongst the vessels (esp. the glass carboy). Thus, to ensure that your aging carboys are filled to the neck, the kit maker either needs to sacrifice gravity points (about 4.4% by my math) by adding about 1L more water at the start than is technically accurate... or they need to be willing to add a substantial amount of other finished wine at the secondary phase. Because if you actually start with 23L of juice, concentrate and water, you'll end up with maybe 22.85L in the aging carboy (I'm assuming some loss when racking off the lees). So that's a liter of headspace in a BB or two liters in a glass carboy that needs topping off.

Whether they'd rather lose a little gravity in the must upfront or top off with nearly a bottle (or more) of some other wine later, is up to the winemaker. In my case, I (inadvertently) started with 24L of fermenting must. I was able to transfer just over 23L of it to the BB, then had to top off with about 625mL of wine. I guess the upside was that I got a glass of wine out of it...

Comments? See holes in my logic/tests? Anyone still there?
 

Tom

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Bottom line is if you measured right in the primary you probably left to much behind. Topping off should be done as you did with a simular wine.
Winemaking you need to folloe the "3 P's"
patience
patience
patience
Just dont rack to often. let the sediment fall so whats on the bottom is firm.
 

robie

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I am fortunate to have 4 of the older Mexican carboys, which are closer to a true 6 gallons.

It hurts to have to add a full bottle of wine, just to top off. However, you are not wasting the wine, just moving it from one container to another.:se

The waste is what you have to leave behind in the form of lees/sediment. When racking from secondary or any subsequent rackings, you can save the sediment-filled results and pour it into a sealable glass container. After letting it set for 24 to 36 hours, you could be surprised at how it, too, will settle, leaving from a half-bottle to over a full bottle of recoverable wine, which you can siphon off and save.

When I rack, I don't top off the new carboy just yet. I let the sediment settle out and add the good part to at least partially top off the carboy. I know that during the 24 to 36 hours, the carboy is not properly topped-off, but I don't worry about such a short period of time.

Afterward, I might still have to top off some more, but it is going to be a lot less than if I had simply discarded all the sediment.
 

Runningwolf

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The waste is what you have to leave behind in the form of lees/sediment. When racking from secondary or any subsequent rackings, you can save the sediment-filled results and pour it into a sealable glass container. After letting it set for 24 to 36 hours, you could be surprised at how it, too, will settle, leaving from a half-bottle to over a full bottle of recoverable wine, which you can siphon off and save.

Robie you are so right and I also do this. Often times you'll hear Wade and Tom say to keep the racking cane away from the lees. They're right, when I get down to the last little bit I often times put it all into a smaller bottle including the lees and then rack off of that a week later or so.
 

robie

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Often times you'll hear Wade and Tom say to keep the racking cane away from the lees. They're right, when I get down to the last little bit I often times put it all into a smaller bottle including the lees and then rack off of that a week later or so.

A side benefit of this is that when racking, you can leave behind a lot more liquid, since you are going to recover most of it, anyway. That way, as you said, you don't have to get so close to the lees with the racking cane.

As a side, the warmer you keep the jar of settling sediment, the quicker it will settle out.

I bought a glass jar that is not tapered; it is about 12 to 14 inches high. It has one of those lids that snap down with a metal lever. They carry them at Hobby Lobby and Ikea. I have seen cooks keep spaghetti in them.
 

Wade E

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I have both the Mexican and the Italian. I use the Italian mostly for making fruit wines as I always make more then need be and go from primary to Italian to Mexican as I dlowly lose wine but I usually have extra still in a 3 liter or magnum with airlock. Kits I go from bucket to 6 Mexican and if need to to 5 gallon and 3 liter jug.
 

EngineJoe

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When racking from secondary or any subsequent rackings, you can save the sediment-filled results and pour it into a sealable glass container. After letting it set for 24 to 36 hours, you could be surprised at how it, too, will settle, leaving from a half-bottle to over a full bottle of recoverable wine, which you can siphon off and save.

Great advice robie and Runningwolf -- I had not heard of doing this before. And it makes it much less tempting to try and get every last drop you can, which is a dangerous proposition. I also like that this means you can do at least some of your topping off with your own wine. Keeps it a little more... "pure," I guess.

Thanks for the tip!

And I should have clarified in my original post that, yes, I am talking about the Italian carboys.
 
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Jwatson

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I also noticed that I have to add a lot of "topping off" wine to my so-called 6 gal carboy to minimize headspace, and I know I measured accurately on the very first day. Is this topping off (maybe 1 bottle of similar wine) a big deal? Will it affect the true taste of the wine I am making? I feel like switching to a 5 gal carboy which I used for beer. I guess everyone has this same issue.

I've been a beer maker and am new to this wine business. Making a MM meglioli amarone is on my short list. I really don't want to buy a $40 bottle just to top off my carboy to minimize headspace. Any other ideas or suggestions?
 
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pkeeler

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I've never had the markings on a fermentation bucket be accurate. Just ignore them, or make new ones.
 

Brian

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I'm with Dan and Robie! It takes alot of the OMG out of racking and if you are luck you get that extra glass to drink on the final racking..hehehe
 

chachi44089

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When you weighed 32oz. of water in the measuring cup, did you subtract the weight of the cup when empty ? Just curious..Might be the .4oz. difference.
I had no marking on my primary so I filled up my secondary with water and poured it into my primary and make a mark just above it to compensate for the loss when I rack to my secondary. It worked perfectly.
 

EngineJoe

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When you weighed 32oz. of water in the measuring cup, did you subtract the weight of the cup when empty ? Just curious..Might be the .4oz. difference.

Yeah, I zeroed out my scale to take the cup out of the equation.

I had no marking on my primary so I filled up my secondary with water and poured it into my primary and make a mark just above it to compensate for the loss when I rack to my secondary. It worked perfectly.

This is what Tim at Winexpert recommends people do for their kits in their "introductory" video. It's a good idea, but of course if your secondary is a 23L Italian glass carboy, then it really is more like 24.75L. Which means you get all the volume, but lose about 4% gravity to dilution in the primary because you're actually marking the primary to the "filled on the carboy" line, not 23L. Nothing wrong with it, but it's something that's good to be aware of.
 

robie

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jWatson,

Yes, it is a pretty big deal to top off properly. One of the challenges for home wine makers is to not allow their prize possession to get too much oxygen and become oxidized. It can affect the taste and will cause the wine to go bad (become vinegar tasting) much sooner than otherwise.

So, filling the carboy to within 2 inches of the bung keeps the oxygen level low enough to not harm the wine.

You don't need to top off between primary and secondary fermentation steps, but after that, you will need to keep your carboy full. (Same for wine in the bottle; only leave the small, recommended space for air beneath the cork.)

By the way, you can use marbles for topping off, instead of a similar wine.
 

Dugger

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Topping up is such a common & continued topic that I'm surprised no one has come up with an innovative way to displace volume in the carboy. Marbles are one way but there are drawbacks. We've got to put on our thinking caps and come up with suggestions - I often thought about water in a balloon and tied off sinking to the bottom but have never tried it ( with my luck, the balloon would break!). Anyone got any methods you'd care to share?
 

robie

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You can use food grade argon gas, but it can be expensive to start. The real expense is in purchasing or renting a small tank to hold it. It is even more expensive to buy a regulator for it. I have looked into it, but even without a regulator, it is a hefty expense for many home wine makers.

Argon is heavy enough to displace all the oxygen just above the wine; it forms a nice insulating (from oxygen) layer.

Trouble is, it will eventually dissipate, so you have to apply another layer from time to time. Knowing when to reapply can be a challenge.

But don't get me wrong, I would love to have argon in my wine room.
 

xanxer82

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This is why I have been debating on doing double kit batches. Approximately 12 gallons. To fill my Italian (6.5 US Gallon) carboys. I'll be able to fill one and one of my 3 Gallons with roughly two kits when I'm ready to bulk age. Or using a 5 gallon carboy for bulk aging works too. I have a few of those as well.
Basically, having multiple sized carboys for the correct step in your winemaking experience.
I use my better bottles (Approx. 6.5 US Gal) for first rackings (from primary). The wine at point has a lot of protective c02 so I dont have to worry too much about headspace and the better bottle can accept a spoon or drill mounted mix stir. After about a week or two or three, racking off the lees into a smaller glass carboy or having plenty of topping up wine on hand is key to reducing headspace.
This is just my experience and thoughts. Others may have different views.
If you top up, use the gallon jugs of wine and you've got a nice glass jug for overflow or experiemental batches.
 

Runningwolf

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Folks, you have heard it from two of the masters Wade and Al; keep your sulphites up and you'll be ok and rack down to smaller containers. It doesn't cost much toi have a few 3 gallon carboys, a bunch of 1 and 1/2 gallon jugs or 3 litter wine bottles. Make sure you have enough bungs and air locks. Don't forget the bungs for wine bottles either, I use plenty of those and splits for the last little bit also.
 
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