Bulk Storing Wine In A Carboy

Man Drinking From CarboyI have 5 gallons of wine that has just cleared up. Do I have to bottle it now or can I store it in the carboy? How long will the wine last in a carboy? Or will it spoil?

Name: Gary
State: GA
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Hello Gary,

Thanks for the great question on storing wine in a carboy. It brings up some interesting points, so I’m more than glad to answer it.

Carboys are great for long-term storage. They are easy to sanitize before using. They are also clear, so you can keep a good visual on the wine while aging. The shape of the carboy has it’s advantages for bulk storing, too. More on that in a moment.

A carboy can keep and age a wine just as well as a wine bottle. Some even say that wine will age better in bulk, but I have not seen any solid evidence on this one way or the other on that matter. My guess is it depends some on the wine being bulk aged.

What I can tell you is that wine can last in a carboy just as long as in a wine bottle – years! In fact, you can think of a carboy as one big wine bottle. Looking at a carboy in this way will bring some things to light. Here are some best practices when bulk storing a wine in a carboy:

 

  • The wine must have completed its fermentation and had plenty of time to clear. It is best to verify this with a hydrometer before moving forward. You want the wine to at a point to where it could be bottled if you wanted to. Storing a wine in a carboy before all the sediment has dropped out will only lead to a wine that is being aged on its sediment. This can lead to strange off-flavors.
  • The wine should be treated with sulfites directly after racking it into the carboy. This could either be a dose of Campden tablets, potassium metabisulfite or sodium metabisulfite. So in this respect storing wine in a carboy is no different than if you were bottling the wine in wine bottles.
  • There should be limited head-space in the carboy. Again, this is no different than when bottling a wine. This brings us back to the shape of the carboy. Because it has a small neck, you can keep the amount of head-space to a minimum by keeping the carboy full. You don’t have to have the wine touching the brim or anything like that, but you do want the wine up into the neck.Shop Carboys

 

When using a carboy for long-term storage you do not want to use an air-lock on it. Air-locks can dry out, among other issues. You will want to use either a tapered cork or a solid rubber stopper. The goal is to keep the carboy sealed-up tight… again, like a wine bottle aging.

This bring me to my last point: temperature fluctuation. Many don’t realize it, but a corked bottle of wine slowly breaths air in-and-out over time. As the temperature of the wine bottle changes from day to night or even summer to winter, the wine expands a little and contracts a little. This small amount of expansion and contraction causes tiny amounts of air to be either sucked into the wine bottle or pushed out of the wine bottle. The amounts are so small as to be undetectable, but the effects add up over time.

Now, apply this principal to a 5 gallons bottle of wine. A change in temperature has a much bigger effect. The amount of air involved is no longer undetectable. A slight contraction or expansion multiplied by 25 times a wine bottle’s volume can be noticed. It can also cause a problem by way of pushing your tapered cork or rubber stopper out of the opening, leaving your wine exposed to who knows what.

Shop Potassium MetabisulfiteFor this reason there are two things I recommend doing in addition to the above: 1) Keep the temperature as stable as possible while storing the wine in a carboy. 2) Wire down the tapered cork or rubber stopper. You can use a bailing wire of some sort. Tie it around the neck of the bottle then strap it across the top of the stopper with some needle-nosed pliers.

Gary, there is absolutely nothing wrong with bulk or storing wine in a carboy. It is a great way to handle the long-term storage and aging of a wine. It also allows you to bottle the wine when you are ready to bottle the wine. Just keep it full and the temperature stable.

Happy Winemaking,
Ed Kraus
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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

44 thoughts on “Bulk Storing Wine In A Carboy

  1. You are right I racked my wine during last 20 years at the carboy,and normally for the one year,with air lock ,but it is good to know without air lock and just lock the neck of carboy,I do it this year.
    Also I fill the carboy as much as possible ,as the less air at the carboy the risk will be less.
    Thanks for your answer to Gary,and I learn more from it.
    Best regards
    Dariush

    • I would go with glass even the best plastics can leach out things you don’t want in your wine. Time temperature and the alcohol will accelerate this process. Glass is the way to go.

  2. Another option (if pressure fluctuations are an issue) is to fill the air lock with glycerine instead of water. Doesn’t evaporate and is non toxic.

  3. Since the last week of September 2013 I have a batch of Peach wine I am aging in the Carboy, a few weeks ago I made a batch of Pinot Noir during the fermentation stage I got scared that the temperature was below 70 degrees, so turned on a spot light over the bucket to raise the temperature; I covered the peach wine with a black garbage bag to keep the light out, each morning before I go to work I open the fermentation bucket and stir the Pinot Noir, the first morning after I turned the spotlight on I noticed the solid bung on the Peach wine popped up and leaved the carboy half open, that seems so strange because it never done that before, I placed a short piece of 2×4 lumber on the solid bung before I leave for work, on my return the evening the wood was on the floor and the bung half opened on the carboy, I thought the only thing different is the light I have on, so I wired shut the solid bung on the peach wine to prevent risking another incident. Yes you article is correct fluctuation in temperature can caused the bung to get loose and exposed the wine.

  4. Greg, no the carboy does not need to be made of glass. Plastics work fine so long as they are food-grade. We carry plastic carboys in varying sizes, and can be used for years of wine storage. They are made out of the same plastic the 2 liter bottles are made of:

    Plastic 6 Gallon Carboy
    http://www.eckraus.com/plastic-6-gallon-carboy.html

    Plastic 5 Gallon Carboy
    http://www.eckraus.com/plastic-5-gallon-carboy.html

    Plastic 3 Gallon Carboy
    http://www.eckraus.com/plastic-3-gallon-carboy.html

    • The rubber in balloons breaks down very quickly. So they are useless for long-term storage. If you have ever seen balloons hanging around when they are several days old, you’ll note that they droop and deflate rather quickly.

  5. Mike, I would not recommend using a balloon. There are the obvious reasons… It could pop, slip off the carboy. Either would leave the wine exposed to spoilage. But beyond this, the balloon would act as head-space to the wine. This would be a bad thing. The air would also be under pressure from the balloon causing it to saturate more easily into the wine and promoting oxidation.

  6. Vic, this is a new one on me. If the glass is truly stained, I do not have an answer for you other than to say it sounds like that acid in the wine from all those years may have etched the glass. Anyone else have any ideas? But if the glass just has a film of some sort then there are cleaners that can take it off. Which one will do the best for you depends on what wine left in the carboy for all these years. For example, if it was elderberry, a product at the grocer’s call GooGone works well for what it leaves behind, but no one cleaner will work good in all situations and different wines will leave different things behind.

    • My blackberry wine leaves a haze on the glass and my favourite (Canadian, eh) cleaning liquid for this is household amonia, 3 or 4water to amonia. Turns the purple to blue. Hope that works for you. PaulK

  7. These are great ideas to share.

    Is there any volumes of wine that can be too much to age at once.

    If wine was exposed to air for like a month is there any remedy that can put it right again?

    Thanks please.

    • Can it be kegged? Yes.
      WIne can be kegged with very few problems. Some might tell you to be careful of the material that your tap is made of due to potential leaching from the acidity in the wine. I use a decent quality stainless tap, but there are taps available that are made of a thermoplastic specifically for use with wine.
      Keep in mind that your Pinot might become Pinot Pop if you keep too much CO2 head pressure on the keg! …maybe not a bad thing?
      Rj.

  8. Karuhanga, You can bulk age wine up to any volume you wish. Just realize the larger the amount the slower the aging, but should not become a factor until you get over 100 gallons.

    Excessive exposure to air can cause oxidation in a wine. Unfortunately, there is no way to reverse this process.

  9. Jimmy, this is not an ignorant question. In fact, there are bars that have it on tap. What you do need to know is that unlike beer or soda pop, you can not push it with CO2 gas. This will eventually sparkle the wine. Wine needs to be pushed with nitrogen. It does not saturate into the wine so readily.

  10. My fruit wine is in the clearing stage; it’s been two and a half weeks already. I have a few questions with regards to this stage.
    i) I carried out the third racking (overall) a few days ago, transfering the wine from a 6-gallon polyfermenter to a glass carboy. I tasted the wine and the taste was good but it had a soft sediment-like aroma. This aroma was evident in the glass but not in the polyfermenter or glass carboy. What is the cause of this? Is this a wine fault that cannot be corrected?
    ii) How long does the clearing phase normally take? How do I know when the clearing process is finished?
    Thank you for your comments.

  11. Jacob, what you are more than likely smelling is hydrogen sulfide. All wine yeast produce this to some degree during fermentation. Some more than others, but all will produce more if put under stressful situations. This can happen from lack of nutrients in the wine must and things like that. The hydrogen sulfide will leave as a gas a little with each racking. This is probably why you were smelling. Rack the wine again in a splashing manner and follow up with either Campden tablets, potassium sorbate or sodium metabisulfite. In extreme cases, you may need to use a Degassing Paddle on the wine:
    http://www.eckraus.com/de-gassing-mixing-paddle.html
    The amount of time it takes for a wine to clear can vary greatly with each type of fruit and the situation of that particular fermentation. It can be anywhere from 3 days to 3 months. The only way to really know if the clearing is done is if no more sediment is being produced.

  12. Dear customer service, thank you for your recommendations. I will proceed accordingly. One more question, what are examples of stressful situations which cause yeast to over generate hydrogen sulfide? Is a high level of alcohol a common cause? Being this my first time making wine, the initial sugar level was too high. The result is a wine which has approximately a 15% by volumen level of alcohol. I do not know if this could in fact over stress the yeast. Thank you.

  13. When storing wine in a carboy for a longer time, would it help to put an inert gas on the top like you would for an open wine bottle, as well as cap it with a bung?

  14. Jim, purging the air out of the headspace is a great way to reduce oxidation. Nitrogen is used a lot of the time for this purpose. I do not recommend using carbon dioxide as it will saturate into the wine, carbonating it some. Sealing the carboy up air-tight is also a good idea, however it is important that the wine by checked with a hydrometer first to be double-sure that the fermentation is complete and not stuck.

  15. whats your thoughts on purging out the air with a balloon blown up inside the carboy, I have some fruit wines that I just racked and there is more headspace than I would like and this idea for the balloon popped into my head, but im not sure if maybe the rubber would make for bad flavours if its in direct contact with the wine, im only going to leave them in the carboys for another month and then bottle anyways, so maybe I should just bottle it all and not do any experimenting. whats your thoughts?

    • GeoffFox, we would not recommend using the balloon method for the very reason you mentioned, off flavors. If you are not going to bottle the wine right away there are other options for dealing with excess head space in the fermenter. The article posted below will discuss this in more detail.

      Topping Up Your Wine
      http://www.eckraus.com/wine-making-topping-up

    • We use clean (sterilized) glass marbles to displace the wine and eliminate the air gap. Make sure they are not the kind with an iridescent exterior, which flakes off. You can probably find glass pellets or slugs — like the ones that are sometime put in a vase for flower arranging.

  16. If my wine does for fill the caraboy to the next can I add water to it to get there? Is there a point where I might add too much water?

    • Chuck, the answer to your question depends on what you are making your wine with. If it is a wine ingredient kit, most of those kits do not advise topping up with water. However, if you are making wine from fresh produce, most recipes allow for topping up with water. Below we have posted an article that will offer other suggestions for dealing with excess head-space.

      Topping Up Your Homemade Wine
      http://www.eckraus.com/wine-making-topping-up

      • I have been bulk aging my wine in a carboy for about six weeks. It is not filled all the way to the neck. Do you think it is ruined? What should I do at this stage? Bottle? Top off? Throw it away and cry? Other suggestions? : (
        Thanks!

        • Sadie, unfortunately without being there we cannot say if the wine is still alright. You can look for signs of oxidation, if the wine turns orange or brown or if your notice a raisin, caramel or cough syrup flavor to the wine. Unfortunately if the wine has oxidized, there is nothing you can do to reverse it. The article posted below will discuss this in more detail. Unfortunately, having too much space can also promote bacteria growth. This you would see starting to form on the surface of the wine. If you do see any growth, rack the wine away from the growth, treat the wine with 1.5 campden tablets per gallon of wine and bottle immediately to prevent further formation.

          Topping Up Your Wine
          http://www.eckraus.com/wine-making-topping-up

  17. When I’m in the aging stage of my wine, would adding ascorbic acid help in keeping the oxidation to a minimum?

    • Jon, while ascorbic acid is normally added at bottling time, it would be fine to add it during bulk aging to help reduce oxidation chances.

  18. I have been tapping wine from corny kegs for over 20 years since I was introduce to it by a friend in MD. I bulk age in 5 gal carboys and then just rack into the keg of the same volume when I am ready. For most of that time I used nitrogen, but a year or so ago I read that it is better to use a gas mixture of 85% nitrogen and 15% CO2 because using nitrogen alone will ‘boil out’ the residual CO2 in the wine and flatten the flavor. The nearest thing to that I found available is a mix of 75% nitrogen and 25% CO2 marketed as Guinness Gas. I’ve been using it for a year now with no adverse effects, but I don’t know that it affects flavor much at all, since every batch is a little different anyway. By the way, you CAN use CO2 to dispense a small batch of light white wine, and it will become carbonated like a prosecco frizzanti. Great for a summer party, but I wouldn’t do a whole batch or store it that way.

  19. After years of use, the carboys may pick up a red stain which is from the red pigment of the wine. This pigment is soluble in alcohol but not in water. So… just rinse out the stained carboy with a little 100 proof vodka and it will be sparkling clear!

  20. I appreciate your answers which help me a good deal. I understand the necessity of keeping a glass carboy free of air when storing new wine. I bought mine from you several years ago. …. I’m now in my eighties and don’t make too much wine any more but did sometime ago using the carboy. I became ill (WWII) and set the new wine in the carboy aside for aging/storage. Apparently didn’t get the wine absolutely clear; it sat there while spent time getting well. The wine left a stain inside the carboy when I removed it. What can I use to clean the carboy up ? …. I have sent you a number of potential customers … hope they bought a lot !

  21. I just made my first two gallons of wine from bottled juice. I started my homebrew about 2 months ago and I plan on bottling in gallon carboys with plastic poly screw on caps. Do I need to worry about it spoiling or exploding with the screw on caps? Also if I decide to drink on one of the gallons do I need to worry about constantly topping it off or refrigerating to keep it from spoiling or can I just drink it and enjoy it?

    • Tom, as long as you have verified that the fermentation completed and stabilized the wine with potassium sorbate if you back-sweetened it, you will not need to worry about the jugs exploding. To prevent your wine from spoiling, you want to make sure to add sulfites at bottling time. If you plan to drink the gallon of wine within 2-3 days it will be fine. If any longer than that the wine could spoil due to the oxygen reaching the wine unless you are using a wine preservation system . The article posted below will discuss this in more detail.

      Using Gallon Jugs To Bottle Wine
      http://www.eckraus.com/blog/using-glass-gallon-jugs-when-bottling-homemade-wine

  22. I have made my first attempts at making wine last fall – Barbera and Riesling. They continue to age in carboys but the Riesling is still not clear. There are so many fining agents and it was recommended that I use isinglass before bottling. Any recommendations?

    • Toni, first you need to find out if the wine is still cloudy because it is still fermenting. The wine will not begin to clear until the fermentation is complete. There are a few other reasons than can cause a cloudy wine such as a pectin haze. If it is a pectin haze, adding a fining agent at this time will not help. Please take a look at the following article to help diagnose what is happening with your wine.

      4 Reasons For A Cloudy Wine
      http://www.eckraus.com/blog/cloudy-wine

  23. I am planning to move some wine to a 54 liter demijohn with a tap and fill bottles or pitchers as needed from the tap. This should hold us for two or three months. How would you suggest I keep the wine from oxidizing as the surface draws down? I read Frances Mayles’ “A year in Tuscany” and they added a few drops of olive oil to float on top of the wine. Has anyone tried this? Alternately can one add inert gas to the top? How about Private Preserve gas? Should the bung be solid or have a hole? Thanks for your response.

    • Bo, while we do not recommend storing the wine this way, if you decide to do so argon gas works well for purging the air out of any head-space. Nitrogen will work too. I would use a solid bung or you will need to keep a close eye that the airlock does not go dry.

  24. I was bulk aging 2014 Cab in a 6gal glass carboy and was in my 2nd year of bulk aging. I had wired down rubber stopper to neck of carboy and wine level was in neck of carboy and about 1.5in from solid stopper. This was being stored in my basement in a dark and completely opposite area and 2 rooms separate from furnace/AC unit to minimize temp fluctuations. It is Summer here in western NY and basement is constant cool temperture.
    About 2am there was a loud explosion and I come to find my carboy exploded sending all my wine to its fateful end down the sump pump.
    I am unsure of pressure fluctuations but can anyone shed some light or similiar experiences in this?

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