When To Start The Secondary Fermentation

Starting Secondary FermentationHow long can I let the wine ferment before racking into a carboy and starting the secondary fermentation? My wine has been working vigorously for almost three weeks now.

Russ — NY
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Hello Russ,

When to start the secondary fermentation is a question we get from time to time. The quick answer is, “it depends”.

 

If you are fermenting on fruit pulp, you will want to move the wine into a secondary fermenter around the 4th to 7th day. Whether you rack on the 4th day or on the 7th day will make a noticeable difference in the body and color of the wine. The longer the pulp is in the primary fermentation, the more tannin and color pigmentation will be extracted from the fruit. So timing is important when there is fresh fruit involved.

 

If you are fermenting from a juice concentrate, where there is no pulp involved, when to start the secondary fermentation is still important but not nearly as critical. If you are fermenting an actual wine juice kit, then I strongly suggest that you follow the directions that came with it. It will specify a number of days before your first racking.

If you do not have an actual wine juice kit but are freestyling it with some juice concentrate you have, then I would take the following into consideration when determining when to start the secondary fermentation:

 

  • Shop CarboysYou will want the primary fermentation to be long enough to allow the yeast colony to grow into healthy numbers. The primary fermentation should be exposed to air. Don’t use an air-lock on it. Just cover it with a thin towel. Oxygen is what allows that little packet of wine yeast you added to flourish to about 100 to 200 times itself. If all goes well, this will happen in about 3 days.
  • The fermentation needs to have settled down enough so that it doesn’t foam out of the secondary fermenter. You do not want the secondary fermenter to have a lot of head-space, so there will be little room for foaming. Yes, you could employ a blow-off tube into a jug of water, but it is completely unnecessary to go through such measures when simply waiting longer will do. This is not an issue that will affect the wine. It’s more of a practicality issue.
  • You do not want the wine to be sitting on dead yeast cells for extended periods of time. You want to get the wine off the sediment in a timely manner. Not doing so can cause a condition known as autolysis. This is when the live yeast cells start feeding on dead yeast cells. This mostly happens the wine yeast run out of sugars to consume. This result is an off-taste in the wine that ranges from bitter-nut to metallic. For this reason the primary fermentation should last no longer than 2 weeks, and less than this if the fermentation has already stopped.

 

Shop Wine Making KitsRuss, all these things need to be considered when trying to figure out when to start the secondary fermentation. If you are making your wine from fresh fruit, the timing is fairly narrow 4 to 7 days. If you are making your wine from a wine juice kit, the answer’s simple: follow the directions. But if you on your own with some concentrate consider the three bullet-points above.

Happy Wine Making,
Customer Service at E. C. 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.

10 thoughts on “When To Start The Secondary Fermentation

  1. Ed,

    This article is somewhat confusing to me. I thought that using a hydrometer, you would rack from the primary fermenter once the specific gravity reading is less than 1-.0995. Isn’t this reading more reliable and accurate to determine when to rack from the primary fermenter than counting the days?

    • Greg, the hydrometer can also be of some help to some degree in the situation. The first racking into secondary is usually around a specific gravity reading of 1.010 to 1.030. The racking after that will typically have a reading of .998 to .992. This indicates that the fermentation has completely finished and is ready to start the clearing process.

  2. Hello Ed,
    I have an issue, need your help. I live in tropical zone of the Caribbean where we have fruits all year around. I make wines for 4 years, using wild yeast only. But this year I have tried cultivated yeast Lalvin 1118, with purpose to make dry wine. During 9 months I have made a dozens of gallons of sweet wine with final reading 1.020 – 1.030 using fresh fruits: pineapple, banana, cashew, mango, sea grape, almond, blackberry. But only once I was close to my goal getting reading 1.000. I tried to feed yeast by adding sugar partially to have stronger wine, nothing works. Once the alcohol content is 10%-11% the yeast stop working. Same result was with wild yeast, no progress at all. Main factor: the temperature here is 80F-90F almost all year around. I think this is the problem. What is yours and please advice. Thanks

    • Walter, temperature is actually the number one reason for fermentation failure. Wine yeast likes to ferment between 70-75 degrees. This is a big factor contributing to your fermentation issues. You need to find a way to cool the juice down. There are other factors that can come into play as well. Below you will find an article that will discuss the top 10 most common reasons for fermentation failure.

      Top Ten Reasons For Fermentation Failure
      http://www.eckraus.com/wine-making-failure

  3. Ed, I wrote my request to you at least a year ago, not in 2018, for sure.
    Since there, I have found a way to make dry wine 15% alc volume , o.992-995, even if temperature is 85F and higher. But I have another question to you: I totally switch to screw-head bottles for one reason: after aging for 2 years wine into corked bottles it start oxidizing – changing color and taste. Due to oxygen penetrating into bottles. I do not have a cellar to keep my wines in low temperature that 75-85F. With screw-head bottles this problem solved. Does that mean that cork is not a good saving tool anymore?
    P.S. Not using sulfites, except to sanitation

    • Walter, what you described is the wine oxidizing. I think the fact that you did not add sulfites when you bottled the wine and the warm storage temperature are the issues. Sulfites help keep the oxidation and spoilage down while the wine is in the wine bottle. Cooler temperatures slow down the effects of oxidation. Wines that are not treated with sulfites at bottling tend not keep as long as those that are.

  4. My last two batches went bad smelled like sewer water and I can’t figure out how or why. I proceeded the same way as my prior batches. I anitized everything I used Could it be possible the plastic bucket I used for the first fermentation was not the proper type. Any advise?

  5. 5-Gallons back…yes, “I said 5-Gallons back” I lost 5 -Gallons from stupidity, or maybe carelessness…you had told me once the correct way to sweeten my wine at bottling time…you offered me a lot of “teaching”, there just wasn’t any “learning” on my end!

    I forgot to add Potassium Sorbate after adding sweetener, like sugar. I bottled 10-Gallons after figuring out how much (by taste) sugar was acceptable. I checked the finished one day in my basement and lo-and-behold…you guessed it…all bt 5-Gallons had popped their corks…I was embarrassed more than disappointed.

    I managed to open the remaining 5-Gallons (yet to pop the corks) and transfer them to a clean 5-Gallon carboy, along with an air-lock…(no potassium sorbate)…mainly to see if any further fermentation was taking place. It’s been almost a month and no C02.
    The wine tastes good.

    I plan to leave the wine in the carboy as a “large bottle” for storage.

    Question:

    There has been some slight sinking/clarification by leas to the bottom of the carboy.
    If I bottle some of it. do I leave the rest in the same carboy? Or a smaller one?

    Thnx

    George

    • Hey George, it happens to the best of us. As for your question, it would be best to siphon the wine off the lees into another container before re-bottling. You don’t want any of that mess in your wine bottles. Also, I would recommend adding the potassium sorbate to the wine in this situation, regardless if you add more sugar or not.

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