Day 1 - Primary Fermentation

Q. Why do the instructions say I need to use a 27-46L primary fermenter? Can’t I ferment in my carboy or the 23 litre pail the juice came in?
A. No, if you ferment in a smaller than recommended container the yeast may suffocate. As juice ferments into wine carbon dioxide is created, if the gas builds up, because it is in too small or a sealed container the yeast may stop fermenting or work very slowly. You could end up with a stuck wine or off flavours. Also, in a smaller container there is a risk that the wine will foam over the top or through the airlock.

Q. Do I really need a hydrometer?
A. A hydrometer is your best tool for determining how fermentation is progressing. If the wine doesn’t seem to be fermenting well, or at all, the first thing you’ll need to know is the specific gravity, without that information we don’t know what is happening with the wine.

Q. What is bentonite? What does it do?
A. Bentonite is a fining agent, it helps to clear the sediment out of your wine, and it also works during primary fermentation as a “nucleation site” meaning it helps the juice to ferment. Bentonite is a type of clay, known as aluminosilicate, it is found with various minerals attached to it, ours is composed of sodium and calcium. When used in winemaking, it is stirred into the wine to remove proteins and other haze causing particles. Bentonite works through adsorption, it attaches itself to a particle and together they are too heavy to stay in suspension. They then fall to the bottom of the carboy, Bentonite settles out so completely that it does not leave any residue of taste or color behind.

Q. What kind of water should I use for making my wine, is tap water okay?
A. If the tap water is fine to drink then it is fine for wine making, if your water has high metallic or chlorine levels or contamination it would be a better to use bottled water. Water that has been treated with reverse osmosis or water softener aren’t great for making into wine.

Q. The instructions say to leave the wine in the primary fermenter for 14 days, why? Isn’t there a risk of oxidation?
A. No, one of the by-products of fermentation is carbon dioxide, it forms a protective layer of gas over the top of the wine as well as being dissolved throughout the must protecting it from oxygen. We suggest leaving the must in the primary for 14 days because it allows the wine to de-gas naturally without the large surface area. If you move it into a carboy and the carbon dioxide gas is trapped in your wine it will prevent the wine from clearing.

Q. I want my wine to be sweet should I add sugar to the juice?
A. No, any sugar that is added to the fermenter will be converted into alcohol, if you want to sweeten your wine you need to add wine conditioner after it has been stabilized.

Q. Can I make my wine less than 23 litres to increase body, flavour and alcohol content?
A. Our wine kits are intended to be made into 23 litres, if you do not add enough water the balance of alcohol, sugar and acid will be thrown off, the resulting wine may be very sharp tasting. Also, a wine with too high starting sugars may not finish fermenting, the yeast will reach it’s alcohol tolerance and stop fermenting, then your wine will have residual sugar and be sweet.

Q. I accidentally added the 2a-Sulfite instead of the yeast – what do I do?
A. Sulfite won’t prevent fermentation completely, stir it up well, that’ll blow of some of the sulfite gasses. Sprinkle the yeast on the must and monitor to make sure fermentation proceeds normally.

Q. I accidentally added the 2b-Potassium Sorbate instead of the yeast – what do I do?
A. Sorbate, neutralizes yeast, this is not as easy a fix. Try adding calcium carbonate (Tumms or Rolaids), grind it up, dissolve it in water and add to must, the carbonate bonds to the sorbate and should rise to the top as a layer of scum within 24 hours. Skim this scum off, sprinkle the yeast and monitor to make sure fermentation proceeds normally.

Q. What is the shelf life of the kit? How do I know how old it is?
A. On the label that says the type of wine you have is a date code, this is the day the kit was manufactured. The code is simple, YYYYMMDD, so a kit that has 20070214 was made on February 14, 2007. If they are stored correctly 4 week kits will last 18 months, 6 week kits will last 12 months. After that the quality will begin to decline, the juice oxidizes just like wine does.

Q. I have a silver foil bag that says "tstoak" and has some numbers on the bag, what's that?
A. That's toasted oak powder - add it into the primary fermenter on day 1.

Q. I have a package of something that looks like peppercorns, what's that?
A. Those are dried elderberries, rehydrate them in hot water and add to the primary fermenter on day 1.

Q. What do I do with the raisins?
A. Rehydrate them in hot water and add to the primary fermenter on day 1.

Q. What should the temperature during the primary fermentation be?
A. Ideally 18-22ºC/65-72ºF.