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nerdjuice32

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Hi guys. I just finished my first ever wine batch, based mostly on the Dragons Blood recipe. I’ve been collecting questions as I went. Sorry about the length.
You can see a gallery of my process if you scroll down a little on this page:
http://nerdjuice32.wixsite.com/robotphilosophy/projects

Every tutorial I’ve seen seems to be insistent that it’s viewers know that you DON’T need to stir in the yeast after you pour it in. They don’t, however, give any reason not to. Is there an actual reason why it would be harmful to stir? The way they always make sure viewers know this makes me think there might be. I don’t just want to know things, I want to know WHY things, if that makes sense.


You are told early in the process to stir vigorously to add oxygen into the must to aid in fermentation. Alcohol is only produced, from what I understand, when oxygen is depleted and the yeast instead starts feeding on sugar. My instructions for Dragons Blood told me to stir every day during the primary. I’ve also heard arguments that using only a towel cover for the primary instead of an airlock is good because it allows the yeast access to more oxygen, helping the colony grow faster.

Tutorials I have seen have said to not use an airlock for the entire primary process. However, I also read that typically about 70% of alcohol is formed in the primary, the last 30% coming in the secondary. So, when they say “starved” of oxygen, am I right in guessing that only covering the primary with a towel still doesn’t give the wine enough access to oxygen to feed the yeast by itself? The yeast eats the incoming oxygen fast enough that it needs the 2nd source of food in the sugar?

What would be the effects of using an airlock from day 1 and not stirring in oxygen? A slow growing yeast colony that takes longer to ferment? Is sugar harder for the yeast to eat than oxygen?

Sanitizing extra equipment seems unnecessary when you can just test your SG in the primary bucket itself. Is the only purpose of the test tube for the hydrometer just in case the meter breaks, spilling the lead? I would have thought it was also a precaution in case you don’t sanitize your hydrometer well enough so you don’t contaminate your entire batch, but most tutorials say to just pour the contents of the tube back into the primary when you're finished anyway, negating that precaution.

I tried my wine the day I bottled it and it already tastes fantastic. I’ll let the rest of it sit for a few months at least. The only qualm I have is that it’s honestly a bit too strong. It tastes more like 14-15% alcohol than the 11-12% my hydrometer predicted. That wasn’t really unexpected - the recipe stated that the extra sugar in the fruit itself will skew your initial SG readings somewhat, but if it was more like 9% alcohol I think it would be one of the best wines I’ve ever had. Is there any kind of rule of thumb for how much alcohol % 1 cup of sugar in the primary will add to your final product or anything like that? If I do the same exact recipe except 2 cups less sugar in the primary, can I be reasonably confident that the wine will turn out ~2% less alcohol or anything?
 

Boatboy24

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What you'll find in winemaking is that many of the things you hear that are stated as absolutes, are actually just personal preference of the winemaker. In many things with winemaking, there is no wrong answer - just different paths leading to the same destination.

Stirring the yeast in is a personal preference, as far as I'm concerned. Some sprinkle and walk away, some stir it in, and others make a culture, then pour that into the wine. I do all three, depending on my mood, what I'm making and/or what yeast I'm using.

The wine does need some air early in the process, yes. Again, you can snap down the lid and add an airlock, you can lay a towel over the top, or you can just leave it open completely. I've fermented all three ways and they have all worked. Most often, I have a lid loosely laid on top of the fermenter to keep dust and any bugs out. Snapping down the lid and using an airlock is a little overkill, but it won't ruin your wine. It's just a bit more work to take the lid off, etc.

As far as sanitizing test tubes, etc: I don't do it. Again, more work and more cleaning. I sanitize the hydrometer, then place it directly in the primary. This is not as easy once the wine is in a carboy. In those cases, I will use a wine thief to draw a sample, but I then just put the hydrometer into the thief to measure. Again, personal preference will dictate how you do this.

The wine you just bottled is young and may taste a bit 'hot' for a few months. It is also likely astringent and that may be what's coming through. On a Dragon Blood type of wine, you should see it smoothing out nicely within a couple months.
 

wineforfun

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What you'll find in winemaking is that many of the things you hear that are stated as absolutes, are actually just personal preference of the winemaker. In many things with winemaking, there is no wrong answer - just different paths leading to the same destination.
Some of the best advice you will read.
 

Bodenski

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IIRC, there are several stages that the yeast go through. During the initial growth phases, the yeast cells need oxygen to make needed cellular components. Most of the articles you can find online about the yeast growth cycle relate to beer, but there are some good reads out there about it. Once the yeast reaches a certain concentration it hits a stationary phase and seems to concentrate more on alcohol production vs expending energy on reproduction.

As far as sanitation goes, I think it partly relates to how long you expect the wine to sit before being consumed. Dragonblood and it's variants aren't usually expected to be aged for a prolonged time. Therefore, any organisms left by a lapse in sanitation are less likely to grow to the significant numbers needed to adversely impact your finished product. I have some stuff I'm planning on aging several years, and those I'm a lot more paranoid about on my sanitation practices. (And think I may have already messed one batch up, to be honest. Time will tell if I wasted my effort!)

I usually make one gallon batches and the hydrometer is heard to fetch out of the bottles. And usually I've had a lot of fruit which gets in the way of doing the readings in the primary. But it does get tiring washing/sanatizing every day. I started out checking readings every day while in primary, but now only do it every 2-3 days.

Out of my 10 or so batches I've done, one was a JOAM (Orange-based mead). You use bread yeast, and you don't ever bother taking readings or racking it. And it still ends up perfectly alcoholic and not bad tasting. I know in the beer brewing forums they'll tell you "RDWHAHB" (Relax, don't worry, have a home brew). Wine was being made long before we knew any of the science behind it. If you are making quick-drinking wines, I wouldn't stress. The longer you plan to age, the more important it is to get the details right. At least that's the opinion of someone who is opinionated but not that well educated!
 

milant

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You sound like an engineer - mostly because those were the same questions I had when I started. Soon you will come to realize that while wine making is certainly a big part science, it is also an art that allows for variations that fit the personality of the winemaker. But now I'm just horribly paraphrasing BoatBoy24. :)

Onto your questions:
-Stirring yeast suspends fermentation process as you are submerging yeast and taking it away from oxygen, but you are also providing new nutrients. The recipe wants you to stir every day to get all the sugars out of the bag of berries, even though it will temporarily suspend the fermentation.

-Put airlock or not - it usually doesn't matter. There is plenty oxygen in a reasonably large fermenter under an airlocked and sealed lid for most wine. The purist will tell you that some wine and some yeast in some temperatures will struggle and will need more oxygen. Others will point out that a healthy fermentation produces so much CO2 that it is protecting wine even without airlock and cloth is there to stop duct or bugs. I just like it sealed and airlocked - fruit flies will appear out of nowhere.

-Sanitizing is not absolute. If you want absolute sanitizing make wine in the perfectly "clean room". If you think about it you will realize that there are some many things that are not sterilized: water jugs you buy from the store, scissors with which you cut the packs open, water from the tap that you use for rinsing, your breath... The idea is to minimize the contamination of the wine, but keep in mind that a strong fermentation process is creating alcohol quickly and will usually kill minor contaminants. Sanitize well, but you have to be reasonable.

-Here is thought on the strength of DB. Additional sugar at the end helps to take the "edge" off the wine. That's not what you asked, but it may help.

Finally, welcome to the club, we have all been where you are at. Enjoy it.
Cheers!!!
 

nerdjuice32

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Thank you everyone for the answers! I feel I've learned a lot from the responses.

Boatboy: Yes, much of it seems mere preference that people often state as fact. It just is sometimes hard to tell which it is. I like knowing reasons why so I'll be able to answer my own questions in the future.

It's good to hear so much of it is preference. I definitely don't do well sticking to someone elses style. :p Part of the reason I'm so against using kits, myself.

Followup question: Why is wine 'hot' for the first few months? What chemical process is occuring allowing it to smooth out?

Bodenski: That's a good point. I never thought about that. The longer you plan on aging, the more strict you should be sanitizing. I never thought about it, but I guess it makes sense that even in decently sanitized conditions you will still end up with a little unwelcome organisms in your finished product. I'll keep that in mind for when I do longer-aged stuff. Thanks!

milant: Thank you very much. :) While I'm not an actual engineer, I like to think I have the mind of one. Engineer/scientist type, though I'm not nearly intelligent enough for either.

"submerging the yeast". I see. That might explain why people suggest not stirring yeast in after pitching - the yeast typically floats at the top and gets oxygen that way? I figured it was more about stirring oxygen into the must that fed the yeast - not like a breaching whale coming up for air. lol. That does make sense, though. Thanks for the tips and the welcome!

And I did backsweeten it. I tried a small sample before doing so and was actually surprised at how I couldn't taste any sweetness at all. I understand it all gets eaten during fermentation, but it was still surprising to taste it firsthand. The sweetness I added turned out nearly perfect, adding only a little less than the recipe recommended. I don't think it would quite cover the taste of alcohol, however, to add more. lol. Not a terrible thing to have it too strong - I just wanted to understand.
 

Boatboy24

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If you back sweetened, I hope you added sorbate. Otherwise, there is still yeast in there and they will eat that sugar (unless the ABV is high enough to be toxic). This will result in a carbonated wine, or worse, bottle bombs.
 

nerdjuice32

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I added sorbate when my SG dropped below 1.0, as per my instructions. Did I need to add more during backsweetening, which I did about a week later?

In any case, as I said before, I'm fairly sure this stuff is 14-15% alcohol, which is think is the high end of where this yeast is rated to. My girlfriend and I are going to open a bottle tonight (I know, I know, but we're impatient and have nothing else to drink atm. :p) I'll see if it's carbonated or not.
 

Scooter68

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Actually having a bottle now is a good way to establish a baseline - to help you learn how a wine changes. Take the time to make some notes about the taste of the "New Wine" so you can compare it to how it tastes in 3, 6, 9, or 12 months from now. If you and your girlfriend like it... that's what matters. (Be smart and remind her that you are sorta jumping the gun so the taste may be a bit "edgy."

Some folks like dragons blood to drink quickly others like to age everything. And remember some kit wines are recommended for immediate consumption. BUT as you've already read - There are many many opinions about wine making AND aging so you just need to find what works for you.
 
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