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Making Your Own Wine - Part 2

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The is the second part of a 4 post series on making your own wine.
In the first part we dealt with figuring out which wine to make and getting your must ready to be tested. This post will deal with testing your must before adding the yeast to ferment it. At this stage, it is easy to adjust your acid content as well as your sugar content. Trying to test after the fact is a major pain in the butt, so you want to do this part every time you make wine.
Let's start with checking for acid. You can use ph paper but a more accurate way is to use an acid testing kit.

Acid testing kit

You can usually purchase a kit for around $7. Depending on the type of wine you are making, the acid percentage should be around .60% to .85%. The kit tells you what your percentage by generally fruit (peach, strawberry, etc.) and red wines should be lower in acid and the whites should be higher. The kit includes a bottle of sodium hydroxide, coloring agent, testing tube and a syringe.
Parts of the acid testing kit
The process to test is rather simple. First you take the testing tube and fill it 15 cc of your must.
Testing tube with 15 cc of must
The second step is to put 3 drops of the coloring agent into the testing tube. Third step involves filling the syringe with 10 cc of sodium hydroxide. Caution -- Sodium hydroxide is very poisonous, be extremely careful around pets and children. The last step is to slowly put 1 cc of sodium hydroxide at a time into the testing tube until it changes color. At that point, you will know the percentage acid in your must. Basically, if you put in 5 cc of sodium hydroxide, then your must has .50% of acid content.
Testing tube after it has changed colors
After you determine the percentage of acid in your must, then you can make the necessary adjustments. If you need to raise your acid content, add acid blend according to the directions on the kit. If your acid content is too high, then add water and retest. I usually shot for anything between .60 and .70 for most of my wines and I usually don't sweat it if it comes to .70 when it should be .65. What you really don't want it a wine that is too low in acid or too high in acid because it will make some very nasty wine. And, I mean nasty in a bad way, not a good way. Now that the acid testing is complete, we can move to testing for the amount of sugar.
To measure sugar content we use an instrument called a hydrometer. A hydrometer looks like a thermometer but with a bubble at the end. For more info on how to read a hydrometer, click here. Basically water will read 1.000 on a hydrometer and most wines will ferment a few steps below that level. For most wines, you want the hydrometer reading to be 1.085 - 1.095. Most hydrometers will have 3 scales on them. Personally, I like the 1.000 system instead of Plato or Brix.
Hydrometer in testing tube.
 Notice that the hydrometer is barely over the top of the tube. This liquid was 1.000
Pour some of your must in the testing tube and then put the hydrometer in. Check the scale, if not enough sugar, add white table sugar a cup at a time. If you have too much sugar (over 1.100), then add some water
. Added some sugar.
Notice that the hydrometer sticks up higher in the testing tube. This measured about 1.020.
In the first post, I mentioned when using juice concentrate to fill your fermenter to the 3 gallon line before adding sugar. What I usually do at this point is to warm up 1 gallon of water and stir in 1 1/2 bags (5 lb) of table sugar. Once that is dissolved, pour it in the fermenter and stir for about 30 seconds. Then test your must for its sugar content. Too high, add some water, too low add some sugar.
At this point, we are ready to add the other ingredients and yeast. Which will be talked about in the next post.

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