When To Move Your Wine To A Secondary Fermenter

Showing When To Move Wine To Secondary FermenterI have a couple of questions about using the hydrometer and when to move your wine to a secondary fermenter from primary fermentation and once the wine fermenting is done. As I take readings I am a little confused about when to move wine to secondary fermenter. How long? Is it a certain number of days or are we measuring for a specific reading on the wine hydrometer? On the secondary fermentation, I know you are looking for a reading a specific of 0.995. Is that true?


Hello Terry,

These are great questions. I’m glad you brought this issue up. It seems like the more you read about when to move wine to a secondary fermenter, the more answers you will find. Everyone seems to have an opinion on how long the fermentation time should be in the primary fermenter and the secondary fermenter, so let’s see if I can solidify an answer to your question. What you are essentially asking is:


How do I know when it’s time to move my fermentation into a secondary fermenter, and how do I know when the wine’s done fermenting?


A short answer to your question is: you should be following the number of days that are called for in any wine making instructions that you have. Simple as that! If your wine making instructions say to move the fermentation into a secondary fermenter like a wine carboy, etc., then do that. This is your best course of action.Shop Wine Carboys


But what if I don’t have instructions to tell me when to move wine to secondary?

Typically, the fermentation will need to be transferred into the secondary fermenter around the 5th day of fermentation. But, not all fermentations are the same. Some ferment so hard and fast, that by the fifth day, the fermentation is completely done. On occasion, others will take much, much longer.

What you are basically doing is transferring the fermentation into secondary when it has slowed down enough so that it won’t foam up and out of the secondary fermenter. This is usually around day 5, or when the wine hydrometer reads 1.030 to 1.020 on the specific gravity scale. This is when to move wine to a secondary fermenter when everything runs normal.

However, there are times when the fermentation is still foaming too much to go into a secondary fermenter, such as a carboy. In these instances you should wait until the foaming lowers enough that it can safely go into the carboy without making a big foamy mess through the air-lock.

Conversely, there are also times when the fermentation is going so slow that it might be 2 or more weeks before the fermentation will reach 1.030 on the hydrometer. In these instances, you must figure out why the fermentation is going so slow. The article,Shop Auto Siphon Top 10 Reasons For Fermentation Failure, that is listed on our website should give you some insight into this.

If after a couple of days you’re attempts to re-invigorating the fermentation are unsuccessful, go ahead and put the fermentation in the secondary fermenter anyway, and let it finish out it’s long, slow journey to becoming wine.


To answer the second half of your question…

The only real way to know if a fermentation is complete is to take a reading with wine hydrometer. You are looking for a reading of .998 or less on the specific gravity scale. I’ve seen fermentations end as low as .988, but this is rare.

Most importantly remember, just because the fermentation has stopped bubbling does not necessarily mean the fermentation has completed. All you know for sure is it has stopped, so be sure to have a hydrometer reading to depend on for verification of a complete fermentation.

Shop Transfer PumpsWith all this said, knowing when to move wine into a secondary fermenter is not super-critical to the process. Wine will be made, regardless. The only thing you don’t want to do is to completely forget to move the wine into a secondary at all. You want to keep the wine off of excessive amounts of sediment for extended periods of time. That is the most important aspect of when to move wine to secondary fermentation.

Happy Wine Making,
Ed Kraus
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.

16 thoughts on “When To Move Your Wine To A Secondary Fermenter

  1. Question: Is there a specific % (pre- potential alcohol to post- potential alcohol) that should be achieved before transferring to secondary fermenter…? for example. If pre-potential alcohol was 15% at time of adding yeast, what should % be before transferring to secondary…? is 12% enough, or should I wait until it has fermented by half, down to around 7%…? Thanks, Robert

  2. Robert, your question is answered, indirectly, above. By converting the 1.020 to 1.030 specific gravity readings to potential alcohol readings, you get your answer. Rack between 2.3% and 3.5% potential alcohol. Please realize that this is a general rule-of-thumb and does not need to be followed exact, but gives you a good idea of what course to take.


    • Peter, it sounds like bacteria or mold forming on the wine. The biggest question at this point is: how far along is this infection? Does the wine still taste fine? If not, there is not much you can do to reverse the effects. But, if the wine still taste okay, there is a lot you can do to save it. The first thing you need to do is to rack it away from the growth. The article posted below will tell what you need to do to save the wine.

      White Stuff On My Wine

  4. I am currently making a zinfandel and I need some help. It is currently in the secondary fermentation. I think that I might’ve racked it too early because when I siphoned it out of primary, the S.G. was 1.010. I heard that you are supposed to wait until it is at .99? I waited 4 days and then siphoned it into another carboy because there was so much sediment. It has been 13 days since I last touched it. I just took another reading and the S.G. is still at 1.010. Is it ok to bottle? Or should I wait?

    • Allie, you didn’t hurt anything by racking it when you did. Actually, the first racking is typically around 1.020 – 1.030. You do not want to bottle it until the specific gravity reaches .998 or less or it could start to ferment again in the bottles. If the specific gravity reading has not changed in 13 days, it sounds like you have a stuck fermentation. To get the fermentation started again you need to find out why it stopped to begin with. The article posted below will discuss the most common causes of fermentation failure.

      Top Reasons For Fermentation Failure

  5. I’m making blackberry and elderberry wine. After 4 days of fermentation my S.G. is still in the 1.070-1.080 range. Can I add a little more yeast at this point to speed up the process. My back porch is not the ideal place as day time temps run up into the eighties and higher. I think this may be why the yeast is working very slow. I’m going to move it to my garage as its a bit cooler out their. Your thoughts thank you.

    • Dave, the high temperature is why the wine is not fermenting properly. As long as the temperature is high adding more yeast will probably not help. Once you get the temperature stable and cooler, you can add more yeast. In addition, the high temperature can also promote bacteria growth. You need to move the wine inside where you can keep the temperature between 70-75 degrees. For more information about temperatures that are too high, please take a look at the article posted below.

      Fermentation Temperatures That Are Too Warm

  6. I am making 1 gallon of Elderberry wine and have a pint of extra wine after transferring to a secondary. I put the extra in a canning jar. Is there any way I can save it to use for topping off when I rack? Thanks.

    • Frank, it is perfectly fine to save the extra wine for topping up as long as you seal it up after fermentation is complete. Many people do so.

  7. Ed, I am just starting a 5 gallon batch of autumn olive wine. I made my first one last year, tasting fantastic. However, after 5 months aging and then bottling, it got very hazy on me. The flavor is still awesome but the haze is so embarrassing. This batch I’ve doubled the pectin enzyme and added some bentonite in hopes of better results. Is there anything else I can do besides secondary aging longer and trying a clarifier?
    Tom F.

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