Q: What happens if I use inadequate
equipment?Q: Why is it necessary to add the
fining agents (package #4) before transferring the wine must off
the sediment that has built up in the carboy bottom? Wouldn't it
be more efficient for package #4 to be added after the sediment
has been removed? It seems the clearing agent has to do more
work to clear the wine by adding it with the sediment still in
the carboy, especially when you're stirring this sediment up in
A: Wine making equipment - such as
pails, carboys and spoons - often seems similar to items that
may be around the home. However, in many cases, proper
winemaking equipment and utensils are made of special materials,
and this can influence your finished product.
A: This one fools a lot of people, as it does seem at the outset
that you'd want to get rid of the sediment first and then add
the clearing agent, particularly when the wine in the carboy
otherwise seems clear. The temptation is so great, many
winemakers DO switch the steps themselves. This is not wrong -
it's just less efficient, believe it or not.
The clearing, or fining, agents used in Winexpert's wine kits,
whether it be chitosan or isinglass, both act more efficiently
in clearing wine when they have a base of sediment to begin
with. The sediment acts as a trigger mechanism which sends the
finings into action in clearing out the mix of proteins,
pigments, phenolics, dead yeast, etc.
Both the fining agents and the particles to clear out from the
wine have either a positive or a negative charge. And just like
in the movies, opposites attract. A negatively charged fining
agent like bentonite will serve to bring together those
particles having a positive charge, while positively charged
fining agents like chitosan or isinglass will attract negatively
charged particles. This process allows for the molecular weight
structures of the particles to become larger: smaller particles
join together to become larger particles, which in turn fall to
the bottom of the carboy when their mass becomes great enough.
If the fining agents do not 'find' enough particles present in
the wine must to join together into larger particles, the
clearing process may stall, as there will not be enough small
particles present to conglomerate into the larger particles
which will fall out. Small particles on their own will remain
suspended in the must, and the fining's efficiency is reduced.
This is why you must thoroughly stir the sediment when adding
package #4, as it effectively mixes the fining agents and the
particles together to start the clearing process.
Resist the urge to jump the gun on transferring, or racking, the
wine! Trust the method behind the madness of Winexpert's
instructions, and stir up that sediment with confidence!
Q: Can I reuse equipment that has held
other food products?
A: Re-using plastic pails from other sources, like buckets that
previously held food products, is always a mistake. The food
odors will have sunk into the plastic, and will taint the wine.
Also, plastic items not intended for food purposes, such as
brand-new garbage pails must never be used for winemaking. The
pigments, UV protectants and plasticisers (chemicals used to
keep the plastic from becoming brittle) will leach into the
wine, and could affect your health.
Your retailer will be able to direct you to equipment
appropriate for winemaking. Saving a few dollars by using
suspect equipment is not worth it.
Q: What happens if equipment isn't properly
A: 90% of all winemaking failures can be traced to a lapse in
cleaning or sanitation. (Cleaning is removing visible dirt and
residue from your equipment. Sanitising is treating that
equipment with a chemical that will eliminate, or prevent the
growth of, spoilage organisms).
Everything that comes in contact with your wine must be clean,
and properly sanitised, from the thermometer to the carboy, from
the siphon hose to the bung and airlock. One single lapse could
cause a failure of your batch.
Q: Can I cut corners or simplify a process
to save time?
A: Wine kit instructions may seem to be long and complicated,
and the urge is to simplify them, or to standardise steps
between different kits. This is always a mistake, for several
First, the kit instructions are based both on sound wine
making techniques, and empirical trials. Development of
the specific steps employed in the instructions came about
through both learned theoretical winemaking practices and
through repeated wine laboratory testing. Following the
instructions to a 'T' affords the maximum opportunity for
Second, if your kit fails to ferment correctly, or clear
sufficiently, there may be no easy way to correct it if you have
not followed the directions.
This is sometimes a problem in that kit instructions are very
different from those for wines made from fresh grapes. Trying to
use the techniques described in winemaking textbooks will
usually lead to problems: wine kits are another kettle of fish
Q: Is water a factor in the success of my
A: Water is not quite as critical as many people think. In fact,
if your water is fit to drink, it is usually just fine for
winemaking. However, if your water has a lot of hardness or a
high mineral content, especially iron, it could lead to
permanent haze or off flavours. Also, if your house is equipped
with a salt-exchange water softener, that water can't be used
for winemaking. If you're in doubt, go ahead and use bottled
water to make your wine: you'll appreciate the difference.
Q: What is the best way to handle the
A: If you look at the instructions in your wine kit (and please,
do), they will likely instruct you to sprinkle your packet of
yeast directly on to the must. Yet if you read the yeast package
(and many winemaking textbooks) they recommend rehydrating the
yeast. If the objective is to deliver the maximum number of
yeast cells to the must, which technique is best?
It turns out that the answer is not as simple as one or the
other, but the main point is that rehydration is not really
necessary. You can rehydrate your yeast if you absolutely want
to, but be sure to do it accurately and precisely, as explained
further below. The rest of us will tear open the package and
dump it in, and spend the extra time sampling our last batch!
When performed correctly, rehydrating gives the highest live
cell counts, and the quickest, most thorough fermentation. The
catch is, it has to be done precisely correctly. Lalvin EC 1118
champagne yeast, for instance, asks you to add the yeast to 10
times its weight in water at 40-43°C (104-109°F).
Breaking it down, the amount of '10 times' is important if
you're trying to maximise live cell counts. That's because the
yeast is dried on a substrate of nutrients and sugars. At a
ratio of 10:1 water/yeast, the osmotic pressure allows for
maximum nutrient uptake (osmotic pressure is influenced by the
dissolved solids in the water, like nutrients and sugars). If
too much water is used, the yeast will grow only sluggishly. If
too little water is used, the cells may burst from the flood of
liquid and nutrients forced into them.
Secondly, the temperature range is inflexible. The outer
integument of a yeast cell is made up of two layers of fatty
acids. These layers soften best in warm water, much as greasy
film will come off of dishes best in warm water. Once it has
softened up, it will allow the passage of nutrients and waste
products in and out of the cell much more efficiently. If the
water isn't warm enough, the cell won't soften. If it's too
warm, generally anywhere above 52°C (125.6°F) the yeast cell
will cook and die.
The next thing you have to worry about is temperature shear.
Yeast is terrifically sensitive to environmental conditions. If
it goes too quickly from a favorable temperature to a less
favorable one, weakened cells may die, and others may go
dormant, in an attempt to ride out the temperature shift. This
reduces the numbers of live, viable cells available to ferment
the must, and gives spoilage organisms a chance to get a
foothold, and potentially ruin your wine. So if you are
rehydrating your yeast, you'll have to wait as the yeast cools
to within two degrees of your must temperature before adding it:
On the other hand, simply dumping the yeast onto the top of the
must should result in lower cell counts. Empirical evidence
shows this isn't the case: the yeast appear to know what they're
doing. Generally, a five-gram packet of yeast will have less
than a six-hour lag phase on an average wine kit. This is
perfectly acceptable, and isn't long enough to allow spoilage
organisms to get a foothold in your wine. Plus, it's a heck of a
lot simpler than going through the rehydrating process, fraught
as it is with risks.
Q: My basement is cold. Is this a good
place to make my wine?
A: Kit instructions tell you to ferment your wine within a
specific temperature range. We recommend 18 to 24°C (65°F to
75°F). Yeast thrives between these temperatures. This is one of
the situations where Winexpert's instructions are different than
commercial winemaking techniques. In commercial wineries, some
white wines are fermented cooler than this, sometimes below
55°F. Commercial wineries have the luxury of taking a year (or
two, or three) before they bottle their wines, so they don't
have a problem. For the home winemaker though, if the
fermentation area is too cool the wine will ferment very slowly.
This will lead to an excess of CO2 gas (fizz) in the wine, and
it may not be ready to stabilise and fine on the appropriate
day. Even worse, the kind of fining agents included with
Winexpert kits don't work well at temperatures outside of the 18
to 24°C (65°F to 75°F) range. Below 17°C (64°F) your wine kit
may not clear at all!
Q: I added sulphite and sorbate too early
in the process. What will it do to the wine?
A: Sulphite and sorbate - the stabilisers in the kit - work to
inhibit yeast activity. If, by mistake, you add them too early
your wine may not finish fermenting. If you add the sorbate on
day one, the yeast will never become active, and the kit will
Q: Can I leave sulphite out of my wines?
A: Some people believe that they are allergic to sulphites, and
want to leave them out of their kits. While this is their
option, it's a bad idea. True sulphite allergies are
terrifically rare, and if someone has a reaction to drinking
wine, it's almost always due to some other cause (for a complete
discussion on this topic, see our handout "Sulphites: the
Facts"). Besides, yeast make sulphites themselves during
fermentation, so no wine can ever be sulphite-free, no matter
Without added sulphites the kit will oxidise and spoil very
rapidly. It will start to go off in less than 4 weeks, and be
undrinkable in less than three months. Also, if the sulphite is
left out, but the sorbate is added, the wine will be attacked by
lactic bacteria, which will convert the sorbate into the
compound hexadienol, which smells like rotting geraniums and
The bottom line is this: if you do not add the sulphite to the
kit, neither your retailer, nor Winexpert can guarantee the
wine, so think carefully before you do it.
Q: How long do I stir the concentrate mix?
A: On day one, the kit needs to be stirred very vigorously. This
is because the juice and concentrate are very viscous, and don't
mix easily with water. Even if it seems that dumping the
contents of the bag into the primary with the water has done the
job, it hasn't. The wine lies on the bottom of the pail, with a
layer of water on top, throwing off any gravity readings, and
making the yeast work extra hard.
When it comes time to stabilise and fine the wine, it has to be
stirred vigorously enough to drive off all of the CO2 it
accumulated during fermentation. This is because the dissolved
gas will attach to the fining agents, preventing them from
settling out. You need to stir hard enough to make the wine
foam, and keep stirring until it will no longer foam. Only then
will the gas be driven off so the fining agents can work their
Q: The kit says 28 days. Is that when it's
ready to drink?
A: Wine kits are ready to bottle in 28 or 45 days; they're not
ready to drink! If you really, really can't wait, the minimum
time before a kit tastes good is about one month. This is long
enough for the wine to get over the shock of bottling, and begin
opening up to release its aromas and flavors. Three months is
much better, and the wine will show most of its character at
this point. For most whites, however, and virtually all reds,
six months is needed to smooth out the wine and allow it to
express mature character. Heavy reds will continue to improve
for at least a year, rewarding your patience with delicious
Think of your wine like a gourmet meal: you wouldn't take your
omelette out of a pan before it was half-cooked, and you
wouldn't want to eat a cake that was only half-baked, so let the
magic ingredient (time, of course!) do its work! For further
information on ageing, click on the section called 'Ageing and
Storage' within this Answer Box section.
Q: My kit has two packages of oak chips in
it. Am I supposed to add both?
A: Yes. Wherever Winexpert's instructions call for the addition
of a certain item, you are required to add ALL of the packages
of that item found in the kit. This goes for packages of oak,
fining agents like isinglass, and so on.