One week after starting the batch of wine, I transferred the wine out of the primary fermenter (large bucket) to a one gallon glass jug (carboy or secondary fermenter) with a lid and airlock, leaving behind fruit and dead yeast sludge. At this point it’s time for the secondary fermentation.
The secondary fermentation is not primarily an alcoholic fermentation, although some sugars may still be being converted into alcohol. The secondary ferment is also called malolactic fermentation due to the malic acids being converted into lactic acid. Malic acid has a harsher flavor, and does not have the smoother texture of lactic acid. If you are not interested in making the best wine you can make and just want to drink the wine right away and skip the secondary fermentation. With a secondary fermentation, however, your wine will have a better texture, flavor, and finish. A note of warning however, if you are going to bottle your wine before a secondary fermentation, use a fermentation inhibitor to stop any remaining fermentation activity. This can lead to pressure rupturing the bottle. I recommend that if you’re going to make your own wine, to make it the best wine possible by doing the secondary fermentation during which you rack, or transfer the wine to another carboy leaving the sediment behind, every couple months for at least 6 months.
People transfer their wine in different ways and with different tools. Some folks may pour the wine through a cheesecloth lined funnel. I use a racking cane to syphon the wine out, trying not to oxygenate the wine through spashing too much. Oxsidized wine can get a stale flavor and dull color. This is why when racking you don’t just pour from one jug to another, and it’s also why we keep an airlock on the wine.
The first step with this process, and this applies to anything you ever do with your wine, is to sanitize your workspace and all of the equipment you will use. I sanitize the racking cane by filling the carboy with hot water and no-rinse sanitizer and then syphoning that solution through the racking cane. Even though the sanitizer says no rinse, I always follow this up by rinsing the equipment and then repeating the process with just water. It’s also a good chance to practice the mechanics of using the racking cane, as this can be a bit tricky. After everything is sanitized, place the receiving vessel and a catch container lower than your primary fermenter with the wine inside.
It’s at this point that we open our primary fermenter and get our racking cane ready. This takes some skill, and if this is your first time I suggest practicing with water several times to get the coordination down and not waste any wine. Turn cold water on in your sink, and place the stiff end of your racking cane under the faucet until you get a steady flow of water going through with little or no airbubbles.
After you get water flowing through the cane and tubing, stop the end it is flowing out of with your finger, or clamp it. Now, take the stiff end and hold it up while your put the stopped flexible end down, release your pressure from the stiff end and place it into the wine. Place the flexible end over the catch bowl and let go. You will see the water flow into the bowl followed by the wine. When the wine gets there stop the flow again. Place into the bottom of the jug and allow wine to flow through.
While allowing this flow to happen there are a couple things to keep in mind. Keep the lower end submerged in the wine, not splashing down. This will reduce oxygenation. On the top end, keep the racking can low, but not all of the way down at the bottom of the fermenter. You want to avoid sucking too much of the sludge through. If you do see sludge going through the cane, don’t worry too much about it. Later rackings will take care of this. I always make sure to have more than enough liquid in the primary fermenter to more than fill up the gallon jug after leaving the fruit behind. You want to fill up the container to about an inch away from the top, to not allow oxygen to build up. With the airlock on, fermentation gases will fill this space. If you think you may be short on liquid, you may want to have a reserve of the fruit or juice you used just to be safe. When I made apple mead, I topped off the jugs during the racking with apple cider (not the hard kind). For this wine, I am going to keep some cherry cider around for rackings, where you also lose some liquid along with the sludge at the bottom, often referred to as lees.
When you have it filled to within an inch of the top, stick an airlock in the top with vodka to the fill line. Place in a dark, cool, and dry place like a basement. I put mine under a stairwell. It’s time to let the secondary fermentation process go for a couple months (at least). When we get to the next step, racking, I’ll write about that. I’ll also include more video in that post. As always, if you have any questions about the winemaking process, let me know. Best wishes!