When to rack?

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Cosyden

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Please bear with me on this one. I’ve read and read and read but I’m still non the wiser about when I should be racking my wine.

I started a gooseberry a couple of weeks ago in a bucket with the fruit in a bag. The SG was 1.088. I removed the fruit bag after 7 days. I transferred (racked) the wine from the bucket at day 12 into a 1 gallon demijohn/carboy. The SG was 1.012.

Today is day 15 (just 3 days in the demijohn). To me it looks like it’s settling fine but I keep reading references to getting the wine off the lees to avoid off tastes. There is about 1/2 inch of sediment settled after 3 days. The bubbler is steady at 3 to 4 seconds so it’s definitely still fermenting.

I understand there are loads of different opinions but my main source of information is CJJ Berry who suggests it should be racked off the lees once clear which maybe a number of months. And then racked again at bottling to pick off the last of the sediment.

I’m a bit lost here. Should I let it totally clear before racking or should I just rack off the lees and, if so, when should I do that?
Thanks, G
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VinesnBines

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I would leave it until the wine clears more because those are fine lees and not a big worry. I would, however, add a little more to the larger demijohn to eliminate more headspace. That means the smaller bottle will have even less. I would move the smaller amount to and even smaller bottle and plan on either drinking soon or keeping to top up the larger demjohn. Be careful, though, the smaller bottle may go off quickly. That happens with very small amounts.
 
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There is a lot of conflicting ideas regarding racking time. I've read all types of things, including one source that stated wine should be racked within 1 day of the end of fermentation as the gross lees starts decomposition immediately.

OTOH, practical feedback from WMT members indicates Extended Maceration on the gross lees up to 8 weeks is fine. My take is that you have time, and need to wait until the fermentation is complete (as noted above). Once fermentation completes, sediment held in suspension by CO2 will drop. Give it a week or so -- typically the sediment builds up, then compacts a bit. I typically rack then.

There's no definitive answer as to when to rack. It depends on the wine and each situation is different.

I disagree with @VinesnBines regarding topup. You have active fermentation and while it's not likely at this point, it's entirely possible to get a spurt of active fermentation that blows foam through the airlock. [Yes, been there, done that, stained the t-shirt.] The wine is continuously emitting CO2 during fermentation, so a large headspace is not an issue. Once the wine is degassed, then yes, reduce headspace to a minimum.
 

BigDaveK

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It's not fragile and you won't break anything by racking a bit too soon or a bit too late. I usually rack at 3 or 4 weeks and then about every 2 months. Nothing is scheduled or written on a calendar - if I'm in the mood I do it.

I suggest a little taste at each racking. You'll be surprised how the young wines will change.

When to rack is one can of worms. You didn't mention the OTHER can of worms - adding kmeta. :)
 
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I suggest a little taste at each racking. You'll be surprised how the young wines will change.
This is a highly valuable tip in self-education about how wine ages!

Racking after the wine clears is also an evolving topic. I was taught to rack every 3 months during bulk aging. However, I've since decided that if there is no sediment to rack off, there's no point in racking. I'm also allowing a fine layer of lees top settle -- look up "sur lie", which is aging on the fine lees. I've let wines age in a barrel for a year without racking.

This applies to all winemaking related activities -- before you do anything, ask yourself what you are achieving and if it produces benefit? If it doesn't, don't do it.
 

Cosyden

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I would not rack again until the fermentation completes. That doesn't mean you don't get action in your airlock. It means the SG stays stable for 3 or 4 days in a row and below 1.000.
Spot on, that’s what I’m after. I don't think I’ll measure the SG though. I’ll probably go on the bubbles in the airlock.

I would leave it until the wine clears more because those are fine lees and not a big worry. I would, however, add a little more to the larger demijohn to eliminate more headspace. That means the smaller bottle will have even less. I would move the smaller amount to and even smaller bottle and plan on either drinking soon or keeping to top up the larger demjohn. Be careful, though, the smaller bottle may go off quickly. That happens with very small amounts.
Aye, there’s only a pint or so in that wee bottle. I was planning to top up the demijohn when I rack it and drink the rest.
practical feedback from WMT members indicates Extended Maceration on the gross lees up to 8 weeks is fine.
That’s good to know. I like a heavy red wine so I was intending to keep the fruit in the primary as long as possible but the recipes I’ve been looking at say to remove the fruit bag at 7 days.
It's not fragile and you won't break anything by racking a bit too soon or a bit too late. I usually rack at 3 or 4 weeks and then about every 2 months. Nothing is scheduled or written on a calendar - if I'm in the mood I do it.

I suggest a little taste at each racking. You'll be surprised how the young wines will change.

Good rule of thumb. Oh aye, and don’t worry, I taste it every time I pass it!

Racking after the wine clears is also an evolving topic. I was taught to rack every 3 months during bulk aging. However, I've since decided that if there is no sediment to rack off, there's no point in racking. I'm also allowing a fine layer of lees top settle -- look up "sur lie", which is aging on the fine lees. I've let wines age in a barrel for a year without racking.
Great, that pretty much mirrors what CJJBerry suggests so I’ll just go with that.
He suggests first rack at 1.010, second rack when clear and third when bottling or into bulk storage.

Thanks everyone, much appreciated. I’ll chill out and let it do it’s thing. Worse that could happen is that I wasted 3lb of gooseberries.
 

FlamingoEmporium

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Spot on, that’s what I’m after. I don't think I’ll measure the SG though. I’ll probably go on the bubbles in the airlock.

bubbles in the airlock could just be gassing and NOT fermentation.

measuring SG is important until it is the same for 3 consecutive days then you KNOW fermentation has Stopped. It might only be Co2. And maybe a stirring (degassing) will help dissipate and clear it.
 
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@FlamingoEmporium beat me to the reply. :p

The hydrometer is the most valuable tool in a winemaker's toolbox. Get in the habit of taking an SG reading every time you touch the wine. During fermentation I don't record interim SG readings unless I have a reason to make a note, but I take the reading. It's a good habit, as you'll always have that reading when you need it.
 

Cosyden

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bubbles in the airlock could just be gassing and NOT fermentation.

measuring SG is important until it is the same for 3 consecutive days then you KNOW fermentation has Stopped. It might only be Co2. And maybe a stirring (degassing) will help dissipate and clear it.

Thanks for that. I understand fermentation vs off gassing but I don’t have a wine thief so getting wine out of a 1 gallon demijohn and measuring the SG 3 days in a row seems a bit impractical and risky in terms of introducing bacteria.
I have been measuring SG regularly in the bucket as it’s relatively easy.
I was planning to rack it when it’s clear and the bubbles are around a minute apart. I’ll measure the SG then and, if the fermentation is still active, decide whether to stop it or let it continue.

A genuine question though, why do I need to be absolutely sure that fermentation is finished? I get the back sweetening issue and also the risk of blowing a bottle but is there something else to consider?
 

FlamingoEmporium

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OK you don’t NEED a wine thief I use a Turkey blaster and a test vial with hydrometer. Introducing bacteria ? That’s why you develop almost obsessive compulsive sanitization procedures. I keep a small container of sanitizer by my wines (K-Meta mixture. )My must stirrer gets dipped in it and shaken off before it goes in bucket, I use the baster to suck some sanitizer up and swirl around my test vial and dip my hydrometer in the solution. If you get in the habit of doing this before and after you use them you should not be risking anything.
it’s not necessarily critical to know when your wine stops fermentation, but makes it easier to diagnose other issues, such as cloudiness etc.
your wine may continue to off gas a longtime. It doesn’t hurt to leave it in secondary, and that’s good to see that patience.
im sure in a short while you will get some better answers as to why it’s good to know what’s going n with your fermentation.

and you won’t get exploding bottles if you add sorbate if you backsweeten.
So many good threads about all of these issue. I think ve read almost every thread in these forums because you learn so much from a wealth of knowledgeable members
 

BigDaveK

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Don't buy a wine thief!!! Have one, pain in the butt, stopped using it almost immediately.
I agree with @FlamingoEmporium - turkey baster. Personally I think it's a must have.

You don't absolutely have to let fermentation finish. The general procedure is to let the wine ferment until dry and sweeten to taste. It's also possible to stop fermentation at some point leaving residual sugar. The amount of alcohol will be reduced, of course. Never did it, don't know the details or the pros and cons.

Get a turkey baster!
 

mikewatkins727

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The hydrometer is the most valuable tool in a winemaker's toolbox. Get in the habit of taking an SG reading every time you touch the wine. During fermentation I don't record interim SG readings unless I have a reason to make a note, but I take the reading. It's a good habit, as you'll always have that reading when you need it.
I do the same as @winemaker81, but I have a mild case of OCD and I plot the changing SG for S & Gs. 😁

It does help me to keep track of how fast the fermentation is progressing. No two fermentations are identical.
 

crushday

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Don't buy a wine thief!!! …Get a turkey baster!

If by wine thief, @BigDaveK means one of those three piece plastic ones then I agree. The success of the WT is the ability to create enough suction to cleanly move a small portion wine to test or to taste. I use a single piece glass wine thief that works amazing and creates the necessary amount of suction to move the wine as intended.

BTW, I have a stainless turkey baster (edited) too. It’s my second choice, personally.
 
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Rice_Guy

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* wine is forgiving, it doesn’t have to be finished. The advantage on waiting is that active out gassing causes mixing which keeps the yeast in suspension. Practically speaking if you decide based clearing you will be selecting a point when the fermentation has slowed down.
* if you are impatient, you could warm the wine which speeds yeast metabolism. The reverse is true you can refrigerate the wine and slow fermentation, with improved aromatics.
A genuine question though, why do I need to be absolutely sure that fermentation is finished? I get the back sweetening issue and also the risk of blowing a bottle but is there something else to consider?
* looking at factors which put your wine at risk, frequent exposure to air will be more damaging to flavor than letting lees sit for a few weeks (not months). With US rules we are supposed to stay below 200 ppm sulphite added. As a home wine maker no one will know, but high levels of added sulphite create a burnt match flavor.
* Bottle bombs? When the sugar level is half the original must, yeast cell count begins to decrease. Going back to temperature the fermentation rate is a function of temperature therefore a 10C / 50F ferment takes longer to reach the point where yeast populations decrease than a 20C which is longer than a 25C ferment. In a loosely controlled basement temp 17 or 18C I usually have clear wine/ cells have settled out and have low risk of bottle bombs by nine months.
* for contest quality I like to filter with a #3 pad (BonVino) there will be non visible yeast cells that are dispersed that can clump creating slight fine lees in the bottle.
 
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