Common Winemaking Questions

We get all kinds of interesting questions from winemakers every year. Here are some of the most common questions we hear from beginners:

Is my wine fermenting?
Hydrometer readings are the best way to monitor the progress of your fermentation. The initial reading will tell you the potential alcohol in the wine. A dry wine should finish near 0.995 on the specific gravity scale.

Should I add oak?
Oak cubes or chips can add complexity to wine, and are practically essential to many wine styles, imitating the effects of barrel aging. Oak is typically added to wine once it is racked off the sediment following secondary fermentation. The wine should age on the oak for 2 – 3 months or more until the desired level of “oakiness” is achieved.

What about malolactic fermentation?
Malolactic fermentation can reduce harsh acidity in wine, and is particularly desirable for red wines and sometimes Chardonnays. If you choose to have your wine undergo malolactic fermentation, add the culture immediately following primary fermentation. Do not add sulfite until after the malolactic fermentation is complete (6 to 10 weeks), and maintain a temperature of at least 65 degrees.

How can I make sweet wine?
You should always allow your wine to ferment to completion (i.e., until there is no residual sugar). If you’d like to sweeten your wine, first be sure to add sulfite each time you transfer your wine to prevent malolactic fermentation. Then, a week before bottling, stabilize the wine with ½ teaspoon of potassium sorbate per gallon, and add sugar (dissolved) to taste.

How do I know if I need to make any adjustments to my wine?
Although grape juice from California can often produce wonderful wine without any adjustments to acidity, pH, or sugar levels, we always recommend testing these parameters to ensure the high quality and longevity of your wine. Also, although we provide reasonable guideline for sulfite additions, testing your sulfite levels will help you achieve consistently superior results. We sell all the tests you’ll need, and we would be happy to show you how to use them. Or sign up for one of our fun and educational winemaking classes! Call our Montgomeryville store for details.

Education, How To Make Wine