Category Archives: Storage and Aging

Moving Full Carboys

Maybe you sold your house, maybe you decided to rent a different apartment, but for whatever reason you’re moving. How do you transport your carboys and jugs without breaking them or spilling anything? I was in exactly that situation and I managed to get my fermenting and aging wine from the old house to the new house without incident. Here’s how I did it:

Bottle it!

By far the best way is to bottle your wine or mead, pack it well, and ship it. I was able to bottle some of my wine by moving day and I just turned that over to the movers. Most of it was in commercial wine boxes with cardboard dividers, but some of it was in ordinary moving boxes with each bottle wrapped in newspaper. However you do it, make sure the bottles are packed to they don’t move and that glass doesn’t touch glass.

Move the jugs in a cooler

I had quite a bit of aging/fermenting wine, and not a lot of free time. So by moving day I had a lot of 1-gallon jugs with airlocks that I needed to move. As with the bottles, packing the jugs so that glass does not touch glass and they don’t move will prevent breakage. But there will be bumps and there will be sloshing. That could lead to spilling and popped airlocks. One way to handle this would be to replace the airlocks with solid bungs and tape them into place, but even if you do this (I didn’t) you should still plan for spills.

I did this by packing the 1-gallon jugs into a large (37.5 gallon – 142 liter) cooler. It held all of my jugs, with airlocks, and I was still able to close the lid. Now the jugs were prevented from moving, protected from impact, and enclosed in a watertight cooler. The cooler went in the back of my SUV, and the jugs made the trip without breaks or leaks.

Use nested garbage bags to contain spills from a carboy

I had one carboy to move and no waterproof container to put it in, so I turned to large plastic garbage bags. I place the carboy into one bag, let’s call it the “bottom bag.” The other bag, cleverly named “top bag,” draped over the carboy. I tucked the top bag inside the bottom bag, then pulled the bottom bag up to enclose the carboy. Once I fastened the bottom bag in place with tape, even a violent spill would be contained.

The waterproofed carboy joined the large cooler in the back of my SUV, where I nestled it between boxes, towels, old clothes and whatever else was handy. After I was satisfied that it was well padded and immobile, I headed for my new home. Like the 1-gallon jugs, the carboy, and – more importantly – the blueberry mead inside it, arrived in fine shape.

There might be better ways of doing it, and I’d love to hear about them, but this is how I did it and it worked. Remember: immobilize, protect, and waterproof. It’s worth the effort so you can – and you really should – pop open some home made wine when you get to your new place!

My Dad’s Big Red Wine

My dad has been keeping this big old bottle of wine that none of us knows much about. According to the label it’s a 1978 red table wine from Piedmont, Italy. It also says, “Ribezzo Barbera D’Asti.” It’s a 12-liter bottle, and I was afraid the wine was past its prime. If so, it wasn’t getting any better and the thing to do was re-bottle it. Then we’d know what shape the wine was in and we’d have it in normal bottles to drink as we liked. The first thing I had to do was uncork it.

So how do you uncork a 12-liter wine bottle? A lever action corkscrew is no good because it’s too small for the cork to pass through. I tried a waiters corkscrew. It looked a little small in comparison, but I got it in as far as I could and started pulling. I thought it was working at first, as the cork seemed like it was coming out easily. I soon discovered that the 30-year old cork had split horizontally, so I pulled out the top half of the cork but the bottom half remained stubbornly in place.

Broken Cork

I was hoping to get the cork out whole and clean, but prepared to deal with cork or pieces of cork in the wine. I put plan B into action by gently pushing the cork down until it fell into the wine. So far, so good, but now we’re at the embarrassing part of the story. I began to siphon the wine into a bottling bucket, and all was going well. I made sure to keep the end of my racking cane off the bottom so as not to pick up sediment. As the wine level in the bottle went down, I lowered the racking cane until … it wouldn’t go down any more. That’s when I realized that this bottle was taller than my carboys and the racking cane wasn’t big enough to reach all the way to the bottom.

Too Small!

Lesson learned. Next time I have to deal with an unusual size, I’ll double check my equipment and make sure it fits the container. There I was with most of the wine in the bottling bucket, but no way to siphon the rest. I gritted my teeth and poured the remaining wine. From here on, it was pretty familiar. I moved the bottling bucket onto a counter, and filled 14 bottles while the Lady of the House corked them. Now we’ve got some tasting to do!

Update I took a photo of Big Red before re-bottling.

Freezing Wine: It really works!

Back in March, I wrote about freezing wine: that it can preserve an open bottle and even improve it. It was something I had to see to believe, and I did. I froze a half-full bottle of red wine for over a month, thawed it out, shook it up (that’s one of the steps!), and tasted it. Since I didn’t have the original unfrozen wine to do a side by side comparison with, I can’t say for sure if it improved. I’m certain that it did no harm, and the Lady of the House thinks it did improve.

So if, for whatever reason, you’ve got some wine that you can’t finish for a while, put the cork back in and freeze it. It will survive in fine shape and, who knows, might even improve.

Update 1/16/2010 – Luc Volders tried this too

He also reports an improvement after freezing wine.

Bottling: How Soon Is Too Soon?

The wine has fermented out, been racked, and is patiently aging in the basement. The winemaker, on the other hand, is not so patient. It isn’t brilliantly clear, but its flavor and aroma he’s interested in, so he bottles. The trouble with this approach is that a wine that isn’t clear has something in suspension, and it’s not going to stop settling just because a cork went into the bottle and a nice label got glued to the side.

What happens when you bottle too soon?

What sorts of things might settle out? It might be something harmless, like cream of tartar. It might be fruit solids. In the case of my 2006 Apple Wine it was yeast. I rushed it into bottles in December 2006, just two months after fermentation began. It was still and dry when I bottled, so there was never a question of fermentation pressurizing the bottles. But yeast went dormant in the bottles, settled out, and began to decay.

Good looking wine: More than just a pretty face

That doesn’t make for good flavor, which is why the bottle I opened last night failed to deliver on the promise I saw in it early on. I usually work to make clear wine because I appreciate how it looks in the glass, but I learned last night that lack of clarity can be more than an aesthetic problem.

Freezing Wine: This I’ve Gotta See

An open bottle of wine and no time to drink it

Julian Schultz at the Oxford Wine Room has endured a lot of friendly, and not so friendly, needling to tell us about freezing wine. Not only can an opened bottle, that would otherwise be ruined by oxidation, be preserved by freezing, it will be improved by freezing. And vigorous shaking. I’m not making this up, and I don’t think he is either. His story starts almost two decades ago, with a particularly good bottle of wine that he couldn’t finish before an overseas trip. In the freezer it went. A month later, he thawed it out and noticed that the wine had stratified. After some energetic shaking, the wine was whole again, and though the color had faded it tasted much better than it did before. He’s since repeated this experiment and now freezes wine regularly. He’s even won over some skeptical friends.

A practical joke? Only one way to find out

I first came across this story by reading it on Jack Keller’s blog. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone interested in making wine or mead at home who hasn’t heard of Mr. Keller, but if you haven’t you should bookmark his site right away. He’s got the largest collection of wine recipes on the internet, and I think of him as the Dean of home wine makers. He tried Mr. Schultz’s freezing method and got the same result. For all his expertise, he’s also got a wry sense of humor (they both do, as a matter of fact), so I’m torn between the trust that he has rightly earned and the very close resemblance of this wine freezing idea to the perfect practical joke. This is one I’m going to have to see to believe.

Update 5/21/2008 – Freezing wine really does improve it!

Seeing is believing – try it for yourself!

Update 1/16/2010 – What happened to the Oxford Wine Room?

Julian Schultz’s original article,, has been taken down. Inf fact, it looks like the Oxford Wine Room is no more. Does anyone know what happened to them?

Five Meads: Are we there yet?

I looked in on five meads yesterday to see if they were ready to bottle. I was looking for clarity, I tasted them to see if they were pleasant to drink, and I measured the specific gravity (SG), pH, and titratable acidity (TA).

Name SG pH TA (g/L)
2004 Plain Mead 1.001 3.05 5
2005 Apple Mead 0.995 3.39 5.2
2006 Experiment (boiled) 1.000 3.27 6
2006 Experiment (no heat) 1.000 3.29 5.3
2006 Grape Mead 1.000 3.51 5+

Ready or not, this four year old mead is going in a bottle

I tasted sweetness on the 2004 plain mead, despite the low SG. It had that distinctive, pleasant aroma that I’ve come to associate with mead, and the lady of the house thought it was, “a little young, but it’s going to be good.” I’m not sure I’m as patient as she is, so I’m going to bottle it.

This apple mead is the only one not ready to bottle

The 2005 apple mead tasted and smelled of apple, but only a hint. I thought it was a little tart. It was the only one of the lot that I thought wasn’t clear enough to bottle.

Trying to settle a long running debate

The 2006 experiment is a test of the idea that boiling a mead’s honey-water mixture before pitching the yeast impairs the aroma by driving off volatile compounds. I split a batch, boiled one and made the other without heating. That was two years ago, and I think these meads are ready to bottle. I normally age mead for three years though, so I may let them age in the bottle then have a tasting party next February.

Update 10/28/2008 – The results are in!
It was a long running experiment with a little surprise at the end. Follow this link to see the results of my mead boiling test.

The trouble with titration

The 2006 grape mead is made from the pomace of my smallest batch of wine ever. I added honey, water, nutrient, and cream of tartar. I had some trouble checking the TA on this one because I ran short of sodium hydroxide, the base I use to titrate acid in a wine sample. I added 5 ml to the sample, and that brought the pH to 7.4. That’s very close to the end point. If I really had reached the end point, it would have indicated a TA of 5 g/L. It’s a bit more, maybe 5.25 g/L, but since I can’t be sure I just noted “5+”

Hmm, that acid measuring contraption I wrote about the other day just looks better and better.

Time To Move Beyond Natural Cork

More and more wine is bottled with synthetic cork or twist off caps. Many people associate these modern enclosures with cheap wine and that makes wineries reluctant to switch. It’s a shame, really, because we’ve learned so much since natural cork was state of the art. We’ve learned that 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA), a substance that occurs in natural cork, causes a wine fault called “cork taint.” We’ve learned to make synthetic cork, which is free of such taint but can leave wine vulnerable to oxidation after several years. Finally, we’ve learned to make twist off caps that will allow a tiny, consistent amount of oxygen into the wine – enough for it to age properly, but not enough to oxidize it. After learning all that, twist off caps don’t look cheap to me; they look like really good modern closures that keep our wine in top condition.