When you are learning how to make homemade wine, one very important thing you will want to avoid is fermentation failure. It is important to recognize the many causes of failure, so that you are able to avoid them before they ruin your wine. This list will show you why you are experiencing slow or non-consistent fermentation of your wine products.
1. Your Fermentation temperature may be too hot or too cold. The yeast in your liquid is better suited for its job if the temperature is between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, with approximately 72 degrees being the ideal temperature. If the fermentation is too cool it may become sluggish and ferment very slowly or it may not ferment at all. Fermentations that are too warm may allow microorganisms to grow in your wine causing it to have a bad flavor or may even cause the wine to be spoiled. In order to combat this problem you may want to buy a floating thermometer and put it into your fermentation vessel, that way you can watch it and be sure that you are maintaining the proper temperature for your wine.
2. Another reason for fermentation failure is adding to much sugar. Yeast needs sugar to produce the alcohol that you will need to make your wine, but sometime you may add too much causing adverse affects that you do not want when you are making your wine. When your sugar level is too high, the sugar will stop being a food source for your yeast and instead will prevent the ability of the yeast to produce the alcohol needed to make wine. Before you add any sugar you will want to know just how much sugar your fruit already has. Keeping in mind that the sugar level may be different in one fruit than it is in another. Some grapes need no additional sugar in order to make the 10% to 13% needed to make a good amount of alcohol. However in the instance of berry wines you may need to add a significant amount of sugar in order to get to the acceptable levels. It is recommended that you use a hydrometer to help you control the level of sugar you have in your must. It will tell you how much sugar you currently have as well as how much you sill need in order to reach the desirable level of alcohol.
3. The next reason for the failure of your fermentation is improper yeast starting methods. You will find that some packets of yeast will tell you to hydrate your yeast in warm water for a few minute before adding it to your must. The only problem with this is that some winemakers will use water that is too warm or they may leave it in the water too long. Some of the yeast packets will tell you to make the temperature of the water between 95 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit; however it is much better to use 90 degrees instead, because at the recommended temperature for every minute you leave the yeast in the water some of the yeast cells will die. If the water is even a little bit warmer, say 110 to 115 Fahrenheit, you will find that your yeast cells are dying even faster. This means that if your water is too hot or you leave it in the water to long, your cell count will be to low to support good fermentation.
4. Another reason for fermentation failure is sealing up your fermenter to quickly after you add the sulfites. Many wine making recipes call for you to use sulfites such a Campden tablets, you will be instructed to add them to your juice at least 24 hours before you add any yeast in order to sterilize your juices. The sulfites are used to destroy unwanted contaminates including molds and wild yeasts. The process usually takes about 18 to 24 hours of allowing sulfite gases to dissipate in to the air. After the 24 hour period you can then add your wine yeast. However, if your wine is sealed or air locked, the sulfite gases will not be released into the air, and when the yeast is added, it is most likely to be destroyed.
5. Using an airlock during the primary fermentation phase is another reason for failing in the fermentation process. In the primary fermentation stage, during the first few days, yeast uses most of its energy reproducing. The yeast will need to multiply itself to over 100 times the amount of yeast you put into the must. In order for this to occur the yeast must have air. If you use an airlock, it will keep the air out, depriving yeast of the much needed air and slowing down the reproduction. Instead of using the airlock, you should use a thin towel, or a cheese cloth. This allows air to get in and keeps out unwanted germs and bugs that could invade your must.
6. The next problem that could affect fermentation is a lack of much needed nutrients. Having the right amount of nutrients is very important to the success of the fermentation process. Without these nutrients, your yeast may have a problem performing as they should. This may because the fermentation process to be slow and sometimes even cause it to stop before it can complete its mission. When you are making wine from juices, you will be able to easily meet the nutritional needs of the yeast by simply adding yeast nutrients to the must.
7. Another interesting but sometimes unbelievable phenomenon is that your fermentation is already done. In most wine making recipes you were told that fermentation takes as much as six weeks to complete. However, in reality, the process can be done in about 7 days. Many new wine makers will think something is wrong and may add sugar thinking they need to restart the fermentation; however time does not govern the amount of alcohol that is made. The best way to tell if your fermentation was done correctly is to use the proper wine making equipment such as a hydrometer to test your levels and if the answer is 0.998 or less on the Specific Gravity Scale, it means that fermentation has been successful.
8. Another problem that may occur is that the yeast has reached its limits, many times musts that are in the beginning stages of fermentation, have problems when the yeast reaches it limits. As alcohol levels rise, you will notice that the process slows down. It does this because alcohol is a preservative (something that helps something perishable stay in the state it is in) which means that alcohol may very well be the reason that the wine is no longer fermenting, Another thing is fermentation may shut down no matter how much sugar is still in your must. It is very possible to still have quite a bit of sugar that could render you wine undrinkable. You will need to use your hydrometer to find out how much sugar is needed to produce the 12% to 13% of alcohol content that your wine needs.
9. Another fermentation hindrance may be the use of distilled water, using distilled water can cause you to have problems for 2 reasons. First distilled water has had all of the excess oxygen removed from it, and the second is that there are no minerals present in distilled water. Both conditions have a way of slowing down the fermentation process. While it is okay to use bottled water, distilled water can be a hindrance to the fermentation of your wine. During the fermentation process, the yeast will need all of the oxygen it can get to reproduce itself. If the yeast doesn’t get an adequate amount of oxygen, the fermentation of the wine may be slow and take additional time to complete the process. Having no minerals causes adverse effects in the fermentation as well. Minerals play an important part in providing the much needed nutritional requirement to the yeast and giving it the boost it needs to consume the sugar and make enough alcohol for great wines. If you are going to use bottled water be sure they say spring water or mineral water before purchasing them.
10. Sometimes you may find that your wine is not fermenting at a normal rate, it is either very slow or not fermenting at all. This problem comes from the fact that the yeast is too old. Another thing to remember is that a portion of the yeast cells die every day depending on the temperature where they are kept. At 80 degrees Fahrenheit your yeast will die very quickly, at room temperature it may die within a year, refrigerated yeast lasts about 2 years. Also know that yeast will not be usable forever and could be one of the reasons for your fermentation process not starting properly.
When learning how to make homemade wine you will want to learn everything there is to know about the process, but most importantly you will want to know what can affect the quality of your wine, because it makes the difference between good wines and great wines.