Love the taste of wine and want to have a go at making it yourself? We have all the tips and guidance you need on how and when to rack wine at home. No matter your experience, we’ll share tips and the benefits of racking so you’ll feel completely confident when it comes around to it.
— Marijana (M&M) (@SunshineCity83) November 10, 2018
What Is Wine Racking?
You might think that it means putting your wine on a rack. In reality, it is a very detailed process that is essential in winemaking. “Rack your wine” is an expression used to move wine bottles from one place to another, which is typically from a tank to a barrel or barrel to a bottle. The first racking is usually performed after the initial fermentation of sugar turning into alcohol. This racking process separates the liquid from the dead cells, seeds, and skins.
After the wine has completed the second racking, you can rack it again. The purpose of racking wine again is to clean the barrel and place the remaining wine back into the barrel. During this stage, a winemaker might add some character to the creative process.
When to Rack Your Wine
There are several stages to racking wine, and the first 3 months are the most important for a complete and delicious taste. Below is a guideline to follow after pressing fresh grapes and pouring the liquid into a vessel.
Barrels all set for racking today – racking is a natural way of filtering the wine. In French it's called soutirage! pic.twitter.com/CId7ln0f19
— Alex (@LDNCRU) June 14, 2016
Initially Racking Wine
If you’re making wine from fruit, it’s a good time to rack wine within the first week of adding your yeast. This is because if you leave your wine unattended for a long period of time, the fruit will collect at the base of the fermentation vessel. However, you can avoid unpleasant flavours and aromas by conducting your first racking within the first seven days.
Additionally, you should rack off fine lees once the wine has a 1/2 inch thickness on the base. If it’s any thicker than that, the year should begin to decay and release flavours and aromas.
The second racking wraps up fermentation and gets the wine away from the lees and placed into an ageing vessel. A carboy or oak barrel is fine for this process. You should rack the wine for the second time before two months of the first process. Otherwise, it could release aromas and flavours, which leads to sure lie ageing.
Third and Final Racking
You’ve now reached a point where it’s time for the third racking stage before you bottle the wine. At this point in the winemaking process, the liquid shouldn’t have any strong smell or have a visible haze.
For this final stage, you might need to split it into a two-stage process. In particular, rack the wine from the remaining lees into a temporary vessel. You’ll also need to conduct any last-minute blending at this point, such as adjusting and/or checking sulfites. If you’re making a rose wine, you’ll want to check the sweetening levels before pouring the wine into bottles and storing it. If you’re receiving some bad smells, your wine may need less air exposure.
😯 What's going on around here ?! 🤐
C'est le soutirage ! #barrique #vinification #chai #vin #wine #redwine #workinprogress #vineyard #Malbec #Cahors #winelovers #chateaulagrezette #winetourism #LotVignoble #TourismeLotDordogne pic.twitter.com/jd02STQj6d
— Manon Decome (@ManonDecome) July 12, 2018
What Happens If You Don’t Rack the Wine?
If you choose not to rack your wine, this can lead to a thick layer of lees, which contributes to unfed yeast cells creating at the bottom of the container. Plus, leftover nutrients can fall into the wine after the fermentation stage, leading to the production of bacteria and yeast.
Don’t Rack Too Much
When the benefits and emphasis put on racking for winemaking, it can be tempting to fall into the trap of racking too much. But, each time you rack wine, you expose the liquid to air, which contributes to the ageing stage. As a result, over racking puts your wine at the risk of micro-organisms growing in the liquid. Plus, if you don’t thoroughly sanitise the equipment you’re using for racking, you risk spoiling the wine.
Is It Necessary to Rack Wine?
Racking is an important protocol because the last thing you want is for the liquid to sit on a large amount of sediment for a long time. In which case, this can cause the wine to develop an off-flavour. But if you’re a beginner at winemaking, you can lose a lot of wine during the stage, so it’s important to scrape out as much wine as you can from the container.
— Douglas Renall (@douglasrenall) March 20, 2018
Tips for Home Wine Making
Want to be just as good as other winemakers out there? Here are some useful tips for getting the process started and helping you to make great-tasting wine effectively.
Choose the Environment Wisely
Don’t just choose any spare space you have to make wine. Instead, ensure that you choose a primary space free from strong odours that could affect the quality and flavour of your homemade wine. This is because alcohol absorbs odours in the atmosphere, so if you have high humidity levels or a room filled with artificial chemicals, this will impact the wine.
In fact, some people might not even know that the environment where wine is stored affects its flavour because they sip the wine in the same environment when it’s prepared. So you may also want to test the alcohol in different environments afterwards too.
Avoid a Lot of Oxygen Exposure
Making wine involves you being extra attentive to your surroundings. In particular, prevent making the alcohol where it’ll be exposed to a lot of oxygen. This is difficult to comprehend for newbies since you can’t escape air unless you make the wine in outer space.
But, there are ways you can minimise excessive oxygen exposure. Use vessels that can help with the production of bacteria growth, which would result in vinegar activity. Bacteria and yeast cells then create ethyl acetate. But you can reduce oxygen interaction by adding sanitise marbles to the win.
Yesterday got lucky, caught up w/ the french workers at Château Margaux for wine racking "Soutirage traditionnel" pic.twitter.com/tXdQwNLbP4
— Sanghamitra (@winesutra) March 20, 2014
During the primary fermentation stage, you might want to add dried yeast cells to the wine to add more nutrients to the alcohol. Or use a yeast hydration nutrient. You may also want to add complex nutrients to the wine during primary fermentation within the first one to two days, within a cool environment. Adding dried yeast cells to the liquid can prevent the wine from smelling rotten and reduce the risk of fermentation.
Most importantly, you must sanitise your environment and equipment. If it’s your first time making wines, ensure to thoroughly clean and sanitise all accessories and areas you plan on using first.
As an example, clean a wine press before you add the grapes to the machine. A rinse with clean water won’t be enough; ensure that you use a sanitising product for the best health and safety conditions. You should also sanitise the accessories that you use to remove the wine from the container before it comes into contact with the wine.
Rack Your Wine
Racking wine is a vital step of the winemaking process, so we want to be sure we all get it right. Now that you’ve got our take on rack wine, whether that be white wine or red wine, we hope that your endeavour will be a success.
What are your insights about racking wine? Have you wanted to try it for a long time? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.