What do you consider "gross lees"?

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ChuckD

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I'm looking for a little clarity here. Everything I read says not to let wine sit on the gross lees too long. First, how long is too long? and what counts as gross lees?

I have an elderberry that is three weeks out of the primary and there appears to be about two inches of junk in the bottom of the carboy including some berry skins and seeds that I must have sucked up in the racking cane... I assume this is gross lees and I was thinking I should rack it ASAP.

I have an apple that sat in the carboy for four weeks before I racked it off nearly six inches of lees. It sat for three additional weeks with no clearing at all and then today I looked, and it had cleared! Now there is about 1/4 inch of lees on the bottom. Should I let this go longer or rack it now that it has cleared? I have read that apple doesn't need a lot of aging so do I just wait a few months and bottle or rack it again then wait a few months?

I pulled the straining bags and racked my wild grape to a carboy three weeks ago at SG 1.014 and it still looks like purple ink. There wasn't much for solids in the primary, and now it looks like there is about 1" of lees in the bottom of the carboy... should I rack it now or wait until it clears? Also, the more I read the more I see people talking about aging red grape wines for years. I'm OK I'm trying to,be patient here, so I was thinking about putting it in the cellar for some long bulk aging. Should I rack it first? I also picked up a few medium toast French oak spirals at a local brew shop. I was thiking of adding one... should I be tasting it every few weeks? How do I know when to pull it out?

My beet wine has been racked twice already and has just a dusting on the bottom of the carboy. It's sitting in the cellar now and I was assuming it's good to go for long-term bulk aging. Do I need to rack at some point, or can it sit like this for a year?

Basically, I'm wondering about how much lees is too much for bulk aging and should I be on a set schedule for racking, or do I let the wine tell me?

And thank you all for your comments... I feel like this forum has already upped my wine making game!
 

Chuck E

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I call it gross lees when it settles out in the first week or two in the carboy. My standard racking schedule is: 1 week, 1 month, then every 3 months thereafter. I usually add kmeta on the 3 month rackings. In white wines, you can let it rest on the fine lees for a longer time. I bulk age all my wines for at least a year.
 

Rice_Guy

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* apple with six inches; I would call this primarily fruit pulp, this probably can be filtered out with a coarse screen producing a fairly clean turbid yeast mixture. It should easily press out with a fine nylon straining bag.
* beet wine with dusting; I would call this fine lees, my assumption is there is little gas being produced/ mixing the yeast cells and the cloud/ turbidity is decreasing. This is suitable for ageing.
* elderberry with two inches; this is closer to classical gross lees, if one racks over and over they will have increased loss of wine, soooo you could rack or you could let it sit a while yet, this is not a life or death of yeast wine, but a question of patience versus yield. You would have tighter lees if this has bentonite in the primary like a kit would do. You can probably recover more wine off the lees by putting in a tall container as a spaghetti jar in the fridge and comming back in a week to do another separation.

Looking here at WMT I have not found good a description of flavor changes due to letting the lees sit a long time. A guess is that flavor results are variable and really hard to identify/ not consistent. My practice is “sloppy” which means read what the yeast are doing, ,, Example the current apple mead is at six weeks/ 1.010/ active gas bubbles. It doesn’t seem worth while losing yield while the CO2 turbulence is mixing pulp up. BUT, If I was doing straight sugar and the yeast was into decline phase I would have racked. ,,, My practice with lots of pulp/ normal sugars is to press with the fine nylon bag to remove fruit solids at roughly five days/ 1.020 gravity.
,,, Basically making wine is a process of cleaning successive material/ fiber/ yeast/ sugars out of the juice > beverage. We balance the completeness of the removal with yield.
 
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CDrew

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I have an elderberry that is three weeks out of the primary and there appears to be about two inches of junk in the bottom of the carboy including some berry skins and seeds that I must have sucked up in the racking cane... I assume this is gross lees and I was thinking I should rack it ASAP.

These are the gross lees. My vote is to rack asap. No good come from more than a few days on gross lees. But once off the gross lees. you are much less likely to develop off flavors and the like. I don't rack every 3 months or even close, but the first few weeks of a vintage, I'll rack 2ish times and the most important time is the first one. I try and do a very clean first rack, then after that, your racking schedule is not that important.
 

ChuckD

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I have seen bentonite come up as a pre-ferment addition in several conversations here but all of my books only mention it as a fining agent for post-fermentation clearing. How much do you add if you are putting it in up-front? And is it just for grape wines?
 

ChuckD

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* apple with six inches; I would call this primarily fruit pulp, this probably can be filtered out with a coarse screen producing a fairly clean turbid yeast mixture. It should easily press out with a fine nylon straining bag.
I have been making apple with chopped up fruit in the primary then squeezing it through a fine mesh bag at first racking. This is just the stuff that gets through that first bag! I recently picked up an apple chopper and a press so I’m hoping I can get away from the fruit pulp issue from here on out.
 

salcoco

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I follow the book of threes for racking. three days post fermentation rack, three weeks and thereafter three months. gross lee are gone after three day rack.
I use bentonite on peach, and pear wines pre-fermentation it aids in removing proteins and helps in clearing the wine post fermentation . dosage is usally on bag. I don't make a slurry just add to water until dissolved then add remaining fruit and juice for the must
 

ChuckD

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I follow the book of threes for racking. three days post fermentation rack, three weeks and thereafter three months. gross lee are gone after three day rack.
So is that “three days post fermentation” rack from the primary to the carboy or three days in the carboy then rack it again? My grape and elderberry have been out of the primary three weeks now (three weeks under air lock) so on your schedule you would rack again for bulk aging?
 

salcoco

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three days in carboy then rack. per my schedule you are one rack behind and definitely should be racking now. the first rack after primary is the most important to me. the gross lees have dead and live yeast. the live yeast will continue to eat the dead yeast and on remains of fruit skins, and other rubbish. since not nutritious gross odors and tastes can prevail.
 

Scooter68

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My spin on Gross lees is fruit pulp/skins and the matter that has settled by the time the SG is down to 1.010 or lower. Sometimes some small seeds and bits might sneak through the syphon an into the carboy and they would be best removed soonest possible BUT, unless you have a lot, perhaps say 1/5 of the surface or more of the carboy, I would just wait and get them with the second racking.
One way I try to work with the more pulpy ferments in that first racking from bucket to carboy is to stop the racking as soon as I see any opaque stuff heading up the racking cane. THEN I will use a sieve to and perhaps a piece of muslin cloth to filter that stuff. Once I've filtered it I return the filter wine to the carboy. IF there is still a lot of loose liquid lees I may put that in the fridge for a day or two and allow more separation to occur. Part of the process depends on the desired volume vs the starting volume. with Peaches I may start a 4 1/2 gallon bucket of must with the end goal of a 3 gallon batch of wine. In that case I may be willing to discard more of that 'dirty' mess of the must and not do a lot of filtering. I will admit to putting some to the more mush lees into a muslin cloth and then twisting it until all I have left inside that muslin cloth is a firm mass of pulp/lees. That liquid is then put in my fridge for 1-3 days to separate.
 
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Ask a question of 10 winemakers, you'll get at least 11 answers ... all replies so far are valid, even if we disagree. There's multiple schools of thought on this.

As stated, gross lees is fruit solids and may be relatively coarse. It can be thick, depending on many factors. Longer term exposure to the wine is dangerous, as decomposition produces off aromas and flavors.

Fine lees is yeast hulls and waste, will be a thin layer, and relatively light in color. Long term exposure is ok, and the sur lie technique (aging white wine on the fine lees) is a common technique to improve aroma and flavor.

The rule I was taught was 1-3-3 -- 1 week (fermentation), 3 weeks (clearing), 3 months (bulk aging). Some of the guys that taught me didn't have hydrometers and used a calendar schedule. I've learned to let the wine decide my timing. The hydrometer indicates when to first rack/press, and the gross lees buildup indicates when my next racking is.

I've noticed that the heavier bodied the wine, the longer exposure to gross lees takes to affect it. Heavy reds can handle longer exposure, while light whites cannot. But there's no definite rule.

Oddly enough, I wrote a post last night explaining my techniques for reducing wine loss during rackings, which includes my racking schedule.

 

NorCal

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I only do grape wine from fruit. I press, let settle for 24/48 hours, rack. When MLF is done (6-12 weeks) rack. 3 months later rack (unless super clean fruit like below, I’ll skip), rack a day or two before bottling.
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Rice_Guy

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A factory point of view; from where your apple wine is I would rack the clear wine then try to filter plant fiber out. * A Bentonite treatment will let you do a clarification process under an air lock. * Commercial Apple juice uses a technique making a filter cake with diatimous earth or rice hulls and pumping the juice through the filter bed. Using home tools an eight inch screen funnel with a paper coffee filter should trap most fiber yet let wine percolate through. This does take time so I run this in a fridge/ unheated garage. * there are 200 micron filter bags on the web (Ex modernistpantry.com) that should let you do this in the press you recently purchased.
2020 crop Chopped apple could be filtered before fermentation which will improve its processability.
I have been making apple with chopped up fruit in the primary then squeezing it through a fine mesh bag at first racking. This is just the stuff that gets through that first bag! I recently picked up an apple chopper and a press so I’m hoping I can get away from the fruit pulp issue from here on out.
I second @winemaker81 said, there will always be more than one way to run a process. From the pilot plant point of view how can you put together a process flow / equipment set up that gets the desired goal?
 
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I have seen bentonite come up as a pre-ferment addition in several conversations here but all of my books only mention it as a fining agent for post-fermentation clearing. How much do you add if you are putting it in up-front? And is it just for grape wines?

Many wine kits come with it included as a preferment addition, from what I understand mostly to prevent protein haze from forming. When I have added it to some fruit wines, I added "some" like 3-4 tablespoons or something like that. I've never really measured.
 

ChuckD

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Thank you all for the comments. They have been very helpful. This evening I racked the elderberry (0.992, pH of 3.65) and the wild grape (1.020, pH of 3.35). The elderberry lees only had a berry skin or two and was mostly whitish/purple goop... It was still fairly flocculent, and I assume it was mostly yeast. The grape only had about 1/2" of very firm lees. I had an extra gallon of grape, so I used it to top up the elderberry, then topped up the grape with 1.5 bottles of wine. The 0.5 bottles went to the help 😋. The apple only cleared three days ago, and the lees look to be about 1/8" to 1/4". I figure I'll let that one ride for another month.

As for taste, the elderberry was very dry so I took a little, added 1/4t sugar, and let it sit for an hour... it still had that rank elderberry taste. I have read that it needs a year of aging to taste good so hopefully that does the trick. I did the same with a small glass of wild grape. It was much sweeter and fruity. It's still fairly harsh but not astringent... I don't think it has a lot of tannin. I picked up some oak spirals so I think I will add one... how often should I taste it to judge the progress? It's still fairly harsh but I think that's just alcohol as it doesn't have any nail polish remover smell. I really wish I knew how to judge these things.

So, for bulk aging would it be better to leave them in the basement where it's about 65 degrees or put it right in the cellar where It's holding at 54 degrees and 80% humidity? The apple may be bottled by mid-summer, but I think the elderberry and wind grape will be sitting until next winter.

Anyways, I hope you all have a merry Christmas.

Chuck
 

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Tasting comes with experience. vinters clubs are helpful, being a wine steward at state fair is a good way to see judging comments and taste.
The important thing about temp is consistency avoid wide swings over the day as a sunny west facing window, ,,,. 65 works/ 55 works. ,,,, It is also nice to be able to check the air locks once and a while.
 
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@ChuckD, at 1.020 the wild grape isn't finished fermenting, and since you added it to the elderberry, it isn't done yet, either.

This is not a big deal. Leave them in the 65 F area and let them complete. Time and patience are your friends! Don't add anything else, including oak, until the ferment is complete.

Regarding oak, how big are the batches? Spirals and staves are designed for 5/6 US gallon batches, so you need to plan appropriately. Time? That depends on the wine and your taste for oak. In general, heavier wines handle more oak without being overwhelmed. Some folks begin tasting within a week or two, and may pull the oak after a month.

In my oak stix experiment, 3 carboys had Next Level Oak's product, while the 4th had 2 oz medium toast Hungarian cubes. The experiment ran for 7 months, and the tasting notes along the way are often surprising. Depending on how heavy the wild grape is, you may want to leave the oak in for 1 to 6 months. I'd taste monthly.


A new wine is not going to taste good. It's going through a lot of chemical changes in the next 6 to 12 months, and will change often.

Write down your impressions at each tasting, and later read the notes from first to last. It's a good self-teaching tool.
 

ChuckD

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The grape is 6gallons. I was wondering about it being finished. I used 71b so perhaps the yeast gave up the ghost (15% potential ABV according to the initial SG)? How long do I wait for it to finish? Should I try to get it unstuck? I would call the grape heavy. It’s deep purple. Almost black and lots of grape flavor. Maybe too much.

The elderberry is 3 gallons and I used less than a half gallon of the grape to top it up.
 
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I used 71b so perhaps the yeast gave up the ghost
According to this chart, 71b maxes at 14%, so you need to inoculate with another yeast. I'd go with EC-1118 as it will certainly do the job, and 71b has handled most of it.

If the wine is under airlock, let it go another 2 to 4 weeks. EC-1118 will probably finish in a week or so, but that's not a guarantee.
 

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