Is A Wine Refractometer A Good Alcohol Tester For Wine?

Refractometer With Grape Being SqueezedI have been told that a wine refractometer works real nice as an alcohol tester for my wine must and also at the end is this true?

Gary
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Hello Gary,

Thanks for the great question. Testing the alcohol level of a wine is a subject that always seems to have some confusion among home winemakers.

A refractometer can not be used as an alcohol tester for wine. It will not test the alcohol level. A refractometer will only test the sugar level of a wine must or finished wine. This is no different than what a wine hydrometer can actually do. They both measure the sugar in a wine, not the alcohol.

By comparing two sugar level readings, one taken before the fermentation and another after, you can determine how much alcohol was made. This is because wine yeast consume sugar and turn some of it into alcohol. If you know how much sugar was consumed by the wine yeast, you can then determine how much alcohol was made.

This principal is exactly the same for a refractometer as it is for a hydrometer. Neither are alcohol testers, but they will allow you to calculate the alcohol level of a wine must or finished wine by comparing a current sugar reading (brix) with a beginning reading.

What makes the refractometer extremely useful — and more handy than a hydrometer in some cases — is that you can take accurate sugar readings with very small liquid samples — just a couple of drops is all that is needed. This makes it ideal for checking the ripeness of the grapes while out in the vineyard. You only need to squeeze the juice from a single grape to see how sweet the grapes are becoming. This is very valuable when trying to determine when to pick your grapesShop Refractometers.

Alternately, the hydrometer needs enough sample for it to float. This could take as much as 4 or 5 ounces of wine or must. A hydrometer jar is also needed to hold the sample. So as you can see more time and effort is involved to take a reading with a hydrometer. This pretty much rules out taking a sugar reading on the fly as you might with a refractometer.

Gary, to answer your question more directly, a refractometer is a great tool for any winemaker to have. It is very handy, and it provides a quick way to get a sugar reading almost anytime, anywhere. But a wine refractometer is not an alcohol tester. It will not directly give you the alcohol level of your wine. This can only be done by comparing a beginning reading (before fermentation) with a current reading.

Happy Wine Making,
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.

Adding Yeast To Homemade Wine: Dried vs. Rehydrating

Checking temperature before adding yeast to homemade wine.Maybe you can answer a question that I have. When adding wine yeast to a juice or kit, do you need to place it in hot water as the directions say on the yeast package, or can you just sprinkle it onto the must? I noticed that some wine recipes call for the wine yeast to be placed in hot water first, and other recipes call for the yeast to be sprinkled on the top of the must. What is the best thing to do?

Eric L. – OH
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Hello Eric,

You are correct! There is some conflicting information running round when it comes to adding yeast to homemade wine. Almost all wine ingredient kit directions and wine recipes will say to sprinkle the dried wine yeast directly on top of the juice, but if you look at the packet of wine yeast itself, it will have directions that instruct you to put the yeast in warm water first. So, what should you do? How should you pitch the wine yeast?

Putting the wine yeast in warm water before adding it to a juice is a process called rehydration. What rehydration does is take a dried wine yeast and bring it back to an active state.Shop Wine Yeast

If you pitch the dried yeast directly into the wine must it will rehydrate and eventually start fermenting, anyway. So why do the yeast producers recommend this extra step before adding the yeast to the wine juice?

 

Why Rehydrate The Wine Yeast?

When a yeast cell rehydrates, its cell wall is swelling and gaining back its elasticity – its ability to flex and and be soft. This is a process that is prone to leaving a few cells damaged. In fact, a percentage of them don’t make it. But, by using plain water at an optimal temperature you are reducing the number of yeast cells that are being damaged during the rehydration process.

 

Why Sprinkle The Wine Yeast?

The reason wine ingredient kit producers, wine recipes, and even the directions on our website do not mention rehydrating before pitching the wine yeast is that many home winemakers – particularly beginners – do not perform the rehydration process correctly. Some tend to gloss over this procedure, not knowing its importance. This can cause more problems than if they had just added the dried yeast directly into the must.Shop Temp Probe

As an example, the typical rehydration directions for adding yeast to a homemade wine goes something like this:

“Dissolve the dried yeast in 2 ozs. of warm water (100° – 105° F.). Let stand for 15 min. without stirring. After 15 min. stir and add to must.”

These are great directions and should be the directions you use with the yeast that came in this packet, that is, if you follow the directions, exactly. But if you don’t follow the directions, exactly, then things can start to go wrong – very wrong!

It is important to understand that at 100° – 105° F. a small portion of the yeast cells are dying every minute, and as the temperature goes up an even larger number die every minute. What this means is that if a thermometer is not used to make sure that the water is at or below 105° F., or the yeast cells are allowed to stay in the water for longer than 15 minutes, too much, or potentially all of the yeast can be destroyed before making it to the juice or wine kit.

Shop Stir PlateA second complication is that it can take overnight or even a couple of days, for some, to discover that their wine is not fermenting or fermenting very sluggishly – much more so than if they’d just sprinkled the yeast onto the wine must in the first place. And this is a time that the wine is most susceptible to contamination and spoilage – before any alcohol has been made to help protect it. It needs an active fermentation to start up in a timely manner.

For this reason, wine kit producers elect to play it safe and advise that adding the yeast to your wine, that you sprinkle the dried yeast on top of the wine must. This is a much better option that having a first-time winemaker ruin their wine.

 

What Should You Do?

Regardless of what method you use for adding yeast to your homemade wine – sprinkle dried yeast on the must or rehydrate the yeast – some of the yeast cells will die before going into action. That’s just the way it is, but that’s okay. The number of yeast cells that are provided in each packet allow for this attrition. Just remember that if you do decide to rehydrate your wine yeast before pitching it, it is critical that you follow the directions closely with regards to temperature and time. If you’re not willing to go through the hassle, just sprinkle the yeast on the must.

Happy Wine Making,
Ed KrausShop Aeration System

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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.

How To Use Bottle Sealing Wax

Man Using Sealing WaxDear Mr. Kraus,

Did not receive any instructions on how to use the bottle sealing wax beads I ordered . What is the best method to melt the wax beads. Have never used this wax before. Do you sell some type of melter. If you would please let me know how to use.

Thanks,
Sammy L.
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Hello Sammy,

How you use the bottle sealing wax can vary somewhat. There is not a specific way it has to be used.

We recommend melting the sealing wax in a tin of the appropriate size. This can be something as small as a soup can if you are only doing 5 bottles. If you are doing 50 bottles you may want to use something as large as an old 2 pound coffee can tin. Sit the tin in a pan of water to make a double boiler on the stove. This will help the wax to heat more evenly over a period of time.

Once the sealing wax is melted you will want it to stay in that tin, permanently. The wax if very hard to remove once in a container, so don’t actually put the bottle sealing wax in any good pots or pans, themselves.

How to use the bottle sealing wax is something that can be approached from a couple of different angles:

 

  • Dip the whole neck of the wine bottle into the sealing wax.Shop Sealing Wax
    Not only will the wax be sealing the wine bottle air-tight, but it will also become part of the wine bottle’s decorative decor. The colors look incredible against the glass and can work together with the wine label to a bottle of wine worth sharing.The downside is that this method can use up quite a bit of bottle sealing wax. One pound of wax will do about 40 to 80 bottles depending on how far you dip the neck into the wax. You may also need more sealing wax than this to create a reservoir deep enough to coat the amount of the bottle neck you want. This is dependent on the profile of the tin you select.
  • Pour the sealing wax directly onto the cork itself.
    The second way to use the sealing wax is more efficient but not as decorative. Inset the cork by an eighth to a quarter of an inch into the neck of the wine bottle. Then pour a disk of wax into the inset. You will want to pinch a spout onto the tin you are using. Heat protective gloves will be needed for this method, as well. Just like dipping the bottle into the wax, the cork is sealed air-tight, but will use much less sealing wax per wine bottle. You will usually get about 150 bottles per pound done with this method.

 

As you can see, how to use bottle sealing wax beads is open to some interpretation. If you are looking for full decorative value, dip the bottle neck into the sealing wax. If you are only wanting to make a better seal then use the second method and add a layer of sealing wax on top of the cork, itself.

Happy Wine Making,
Ed KrausShop Heat Shrink Capsules
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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.

The Art Of Fining And Filtering Wine

Fining And Filtering WineYour article on fining agents was superb. It informed as to what other benefits (other than clarity in a wine) that fining agents can produce. My question regards the connection (or benefits) of fining and filtering wine. 1) If you filter a wine, should you also use a fining agent? 2) Conversely, if you’re fining a wine, is filtering no longer suggested? 3) Do you recommend both fining and filtering wine? 4) What would be the benefits of using both ?

Thank you
Steve
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Dear Steve,

How you handle the combination of fining and filtering wine is partially an art. I say this because there are really no hard-fast rules to be followed. Both processes are tools that the winemaker has at their disposal to help shape a wine with the characteristics they desire. Experience will help the winemaker to use these tools more effectively.

The difference between fining and filtering wine is subtle.

Certain wine fining agents will settle out certain particles more readily the others. For example, gelatin is not very good at settling out large volumes of yeast and other proteins, while bentonite on the other hand is. However, gelatin is good at settling out that last, little bit of particles, while bentonite isn’t. Some wine fining agents are better at removing bitterness, or harsh aromas than other. And, so-on and so-forth… How you decide to treat the wine with fining agents will shapes the wine to some degree, as well as clear it.

Shop Wine FiltersWhen you filter a wine, you are mostly concerned with clarity. While the finest filter pads can reduce color and body to a minor degree, adding a beautiful polish can be done with the coarsest of wine filter pads – 6 microns, for example.

A recommendation I do make is that if you do decide to filter a wine, always treat it with bentonite, first. This will help to drop out any excess proteins that is in the wine, including the yeast. As a fining agent bentonite is great at clearing out large volumes of particles. This will allow your filter pads to last longer and not clog up with every gallon or two of wine being filtered. But beyond this, whether you decide to filter, or not, or what type of other wine fining agents you decide to use, if any, is completely up to you.

Again, it is important for you to know that just like some fining agents, filtering a wine can effect its body and color as well as its clarity. Depending on the fineness of the filter pad you choose, some body and color can be taken out of the wine. The finer the filter pad the more likely body and color will be reduced.

Shop Mini Jet Wine FilterFor the heaviest of wines this is usually an improvement in the sense that reduction in color will rarely be noticeable, and the amount of aging (maturation) needed will be brought down to a more reasonable time-frame through the removal of excessive body elements. For example, two years instead of five.

For lighter white wines, a fine filter pad (.5 microns or less) may be selected to reduce color and body as much as possible, making the wine look a faint-yellow instead of a straw colored and adding to the wine’s light, crisp character that it often looked for with such wines.

There is also the issue of the wine’s stability. Both fining and filtering a wine will help to make it more stable. By reducing the amount of tannins and other proteins there is less chance of the wine forming deposits while aging in the wine bottle.

As a novice winemaker, I would suggest that you take a middle-of-the-road approach when it comes to filtering and fining wines. Treat the wine with bentonite a few days after the fermentation has completed and then filter the wine right before bottling with a medium (1 micron) or coarse (6 micron) filter pad. This is a good starting place if you are not sure how you would like to proceed.Shop Super Jet Wine Filter

Happy Wine Making,
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.

How Long Does It Take To Make Wine?

Woman Wondering How Long Does It Take To Make WineOne of the more common questions we get asked by beginning winemakers is, how long does it take to make wine? And most often they begin to show signs of excitement after we explain to them that it does not take nearly as long to make as they think to make a good batch of wine. In fact, it is very possible to have a wine bottled within a month from the time you begin the wine making process.

Once the wine has been bottled there are some benefits to aging, but a remarkable amount of the improvement can be obtained within the first 30 to 60 days of bottle aging, so it is possible for you to have a very delectable wine within 2 to 3 months from the time you start making wine.

How long it actually takes to make wine depends on what you are using to make the wine. Are you making your wine from grapes? Are you making you wine from fruits? Are you making your wine from wine ingredient kits?

Packaged wine making juices tend to make wines faster than making wine using fresh fruits. This is primarily because there is no pulp or skins involved. The concentrated juices clear up much faster, allowingShop Wine Ingredient Kits the wine to be bottled much sooner. Wine ingredient kit have there own wine making recipes included with them, so it makes it a good option for the first-time winemaker.

 

So, How Long Does It Take To Make Wine?
Here is an overview of what to expect based on what is being used to make the wine:

  • Winemaking Ingredient Kits:
    If you are making a wine from one of our winemaking ingredient kits you will be bottling your wine in about 4 to 6 weeks, depending on which brand of wine making kit you are using.
  • Winemaking Caon Concentrates:
    When using winemaking can concentrates such as SunCal, Alexander or Country Fair,  you will be bottling your wine in 6 to 10 weeks.Shop Wine Press
  • Fresh Fruits:
    Because of the pulp involved, it takes longer to make wine using fresh fruits or grapes than it does using packaged juices. Aging can take a little more time as well because of the higher level of tannins and other proteins that are typically in the wine must from the fresh fruit. You can expect to be bottling your wine in about 8 to 12 weeks from the time you started the batch, and also anticipate needing to bottle age the wine at least 3 to 4 months, and sometimes up to a year, depending on the fruit.

 

The amount of time it takes to make a batch of wine can vary somewhat based on the scenario, but all in all, the time needed is usually less than expected. Start off with one our California Connoisseur ingredient kits, and you’ll be drinking wine in 28 days. Or, maybe you have someShop Wine Making Kits fresh fruit growing out back. In that case you may want to get our Your Fruit! Necessities Box. Wine making recipes are included.
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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.

Wine of the Month: Apple Wine

Apple wine, also commonly referred to hard cider, is one of the oldest fermented beverages in the United States. This crisp, sweet wine can be made from fresh apples, apple concentrate, or even apple cider. Even better, October is the perfect time to pick apples from your local orchard. Fall is a great time to make this wine. Read on to find out more about apple wine, along with our exclusive recipe and wine pairing tips.

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Wine of the Month: Pear Wine

Our wine of the month is pear wine. This lightly colored, sweet wine packs in the nutrients given the healthful properties of its main ingredient: pears. In addition to a delicious recipe, we’ve got some useful tips so you get the most flavor out of your wine.

Why should I make pear wine?

Pears are a member of the rose family of plants and are chockfull of antioxidants, dietary fiber, and flavonoids. In fact, about half of the fiber found in the pear can be found in its skin. The phylonutrients contained in this delicious fruit not only contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory flavonoids, but also contain cinnamic acids that can help prevent cancer and decrease the risk for Type 2 Diabetes. Pears, along with apples, are known to have the second highest number of flavonols among all fruits and veggies.

Now let’s get to the wine part. Due to the fact that pear wine is a fruit wine rather than a grape wine, it has a higher ORAC content. In short, this means that it’s winning the antioxidant game. We’ll cheers to that!

Recipe:

Makes about 5 gallons
20lbs of Pears
10 lbs. of Sugar
1 tbsp. of Yeast Energizer
1/2 tsp. of Pectic Enzyme
3 tbsp. of Acid Blend
1/2 tsp. Wine Tannin
Yeast EC-1118

There are a few things to keep in mind while you’re making your pear wine. For the best results, you should slightly over ripen the pears. This is key, because they aren’t an extremely flavorful fruit by nature. If you don’t let them ripen, the wine will have more of an apple flavor. Let them get extremely soft (without rotting) and you’ll set yourself up for success. Also ensure that you rinse your pears before you crush them.

Where and how can I find pears?

The state of Washington is the largest grower of pears in the United States. It accounts for half of all of the pears distributed in the country, followed by California and Oregon. Most of the pears found in US grocery stores fall into the European Pear category. They can be found in green, yellow, red, gold, and brown. Once you find them at the grocery store, you’ll need to give them a few days to ripen. Just make sure you watch them carefully, because once they ripen, they tend to perish quickly. It can be hard to determine ripeness because many pears do not change color as they ripen.

What foods does pear wine pair best with?

Given pear wine’s light and refreshing taste, it pairs well with bold and flavorful cheeses like blue cheese and goat cheese. Spread some cheese on a cracker and sip some pear wine in between for the perfect pre-dinner snack. As for main courses, pear wine tastes great with white meats, either baked or roasted. Finish off the meal with a fruit or nut-based dessert and you’ve successfully and deliciously paired your pear wine!

Ed Kraus’ Wine of the Month: Concord Grape

Our wine of the month is Concord grape. Native to North America and also known as a “backyard garden grape,” it is the most popular grape in the country. Named after Concord, MA, where it was originally grown, the Concord grape is rich and full-bodied in flavor. Although you can commonly find this fruit in jams, jellies, and juices, it’s time to kick things up a notch. Discover our wine recipe for Concord grape wine and reap all of the delicious benefits.

Why should I make Concord grape wine?

This dark-skinned grape variety, a.k.a. the fox grape, contains high levels of anthocyanin and resveratrol. Resveratrol is an antioxidant and phytochemical that can produce many skin benefits. In addition to protecting skin from UVA and UVB radiation and damages caused by sunburn, it is also known to lower the risk of skin and breast cancer. In fact, purple and blue grapes are known to contain the highest amount of antioxidants of all of the varietals, making them extremely beneficial to cardiovascular health and the prevention of degenerative diseases.

Wine Recipe:
40 lbs. of Grapes
6 ½ lbs. of Sugar
2 tbsp. of Yeast Nutrient
¾ tsp. of Pectic Enzyme
1 tbsp. of Acid Blend
1 tsp. Wine Tannin
Yeast 71B-1122

You can find easy directions to making wine on our website. While you’re making the recipe, keep in mind that these are “slip skinned” grapes, meaning that their skins slip off easily. Oftentimes, the flavor of the skin is described as “foxy,” so you may want to remove the skins, dilute the grapes, and press the juice before you add yeast to avoid any chance of a chemical-like taste to the wine. Also note that Concord grapes are higher in acid and lower in sugar than wine grapes, making it a bit more challenging when it comes to winemaking. But hey, who doesn’t love a challenge?

Where and how can I find Concord grapes?

You’ll have the most luck finding Concord grapes in the northern climates. Major growing areas include the Finger Lakes, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, Southwestern Michigan, and Yakima Valley. Look for darker, larger grapes because table grapes are a bit loftier than wine grapes.

What foods does Concord grape wine pair best with?

Concord grape wine’s aromatic and robust flavor makes it a suitable partner for both sweet and salty dishes. It can be paired with other strong flavors like sharp cheddar and goat cheeses or can be used to complement lighter flavors like fish and chicken. Don’t forget to save room for dessert, either, because Concord grape wine couples deliciously well with chocolate.

Regardless of what you choose to pair Concord grape wine with, make sure you enjoy every sip of this foxy, flavorful beverage.

Environmentally Friendly Ways to Make Wine

Making your own wine is a great way to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. There is no better way to ensure that the wine you drink is healthy for both you and the environment, than making it yourself. Making homemade wine give’s you control of the process, from picking ingredients to corking each bottle. You can ensure the ingredients and supplies you are using are eco-friendly and do not contain any unknown chemicals or preservatives.  Continue reading