Racking Homemade Wine – Learning the Hard Way What the Books Don’t Tell You

By , February 26, 2010

Wednesday, we racked our homemade wine for the first time, siphoning it into a new container to remove the lees, the mush of dead yeast that accumulated over the last month.

The authors of the four or five wine making books I use all talk about this process as an opportunity to taste the wine, and seem to regard it as a pleasant activity. It may be for some; there are also those who can put in a full day’s work after a “three martini lunch.” I’m not one of those people.

I learned long ago not to drink alcohol with a straw. Aerating alcohol only intensifies its inebriative effect—that’s the science behind the frat boys’ “beer bong.” Unfortunately, the siphoning apparatus I have includes a rigid section of pipe, so I can’t sink it into the wine to fill before lowering one end into a container beneath to begin the siphon. If I wanted to siphon, I had to suck the liquid through the hose.

My siphon is long enough that just pulling the air out of it is chore enough; it didn’t help that the new wine was foamy, so air pockets formed in the line as I sucked. Out of breath, eager to do Everything Right, I sucked down mouthfuls of air and wine.

Also, we discovered too late a little detail that none of the wine books mention: you need to break the seal to create a draw! They all stress the importance of keeping air away from wine. I dutifully kept my set up airtight, which of course meant that anything I sucked out of the container got yanked back in by the vacuum! Once we cracked the seal, things went better, but the suction in the hose kept backing up, requiring me to “reset” the siphon.

Michelle spelled me when I grew too lightheaded. She quickly discovered that the instructions she’d been peppering me with while I worked weren’t helpful after all. Nor was the snickering, which started pretty early. In the middle of the day, against our will, and in the face of a fairly crucial step in the wine making process, my wife and I were getting blasted!

We started spitting mouthfuls of wine into a container when we could, but that only worked for the last mouthful after the flow started. Like it or not, we continued to guzzle the wine at an alarming rate. It felt like we were being force fed.

Before long, I stumbled down to the beach for some fresh air. Aly tagged along, to make sure I didn’t fall in. Michelle urged me to leave it alone until another time—rather than “stone boat it”—but I had two half buckets of wine with way too much air in them. We had to continue. Michelle sterilized a small pan and used it to bail the first bucket carefully into the second. With the bulk of the liquid transferred, we managed to siphon the remainder. We sealed it, placed a bubbler, and cleaned up.

About then, my hiccups started. I’m not talking regular hiccups—these were the kind we call “gut rippers,” for their loud, innard-jarring ferociousness. I hiccuped continuously for almost two hours! I thought I would die.

We ate very little dinner, staggered to bed early, and slept late the next morning. My night was haunted by the half-dream that I had deliberately gone on a bender, and deserved my shameful condition.

We’re making our own wine as a frugality measure, but I would gladly have paid premium prices to avoid the day’s ordeal. On the other hand, maybe we will save money after all—neither of us wanted our customary glass of wine with dinner, that night or the next. There’s no real telling when we’ll be interested in it again. As for this batch, it needs to sit for several months of secondary fermentation. I doubt it’ll be disturbed for at least that long!

2 Responses to “Racking Homemade Wine – Learning the Hard Way What the Books Don’t Tell You”

  1. jack says:

    Mark, I need about 3 weeks notice the next time you need to accomplish this.. and I’ll come up and be your siphon…. then the 3 of you can just snicker at me… and I’ll happily fall off into oblivion… 🙂

  2. Mark says:

    Done, my friend! Pack your toothbrush and pajamas, we’ll give you as many weeks as you need to sleep it off.

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