Any winemaker and/or enthusiast knows the importance of racking wine and ensuring that the wine is aged and preserved in the best conditions possible. Different wineries rack wine in different ways, depending on the type of wine they are producing, how many barrels they have and, largely, personal taste.
There are many methods to rack wine, but the most important element is to be as careful and gentle as possible so as not to have any negative effect on the wine. The transfer of wine from one barrel to another, or any type of vessel, has to be completed with the same level of care as any other stage.
Why Should You Rack Wine?
The purpose of racking wine is to clear and drain lees out of the barrel in which the wine has been ageing. Lees are made up of dead yeast cells and solids that have settled at the bottom of the barrel during the wine’s ageing process. In most cases, lees will want to be removed as they can cause the wine to cloud and harm the flavour if left in for too long.
Without the removal of lees, the yeast cells will begin to create hydrogen sulphide which gives off an unpleasant smell likened to a rotten egg. Soon, hydrogen sulphide morphs into mercaptan and that is when you get the taste of burnt rubber. In very occasional circumstances, such as in the process of making wine like Chardonnay, fine lees are stirred.
How to Rack Wine
To rack wine, you won’t need much in the way of equipment (although commercial wineries are likely to use industrial standard equipment). The simplest way to rack your wine is to use a racking cane (stainless steel is best) and tubing. The size of cane you opt for should be relative to the amount of wine you are transferring. For example, a 3/8-inch cane will be suitable for most home winemaking solutions while a half-inch cane should be used for barrel-to-barrel transfers.
The racking of wine should be gentle and shouldn’t be rushed, otherwise you risk oxidising your wine and then it will turn bad. Before you know it, your entire product is ruined, and you are left with bad wine that has to be discarded. This is also why you should use a size of racking cane that is relative to the size of the vessel you are using, as too large a cane will cause the wine to transfer too quickly.
While there are no set rules as to how many times a batch of wine should be racked, it is generally accepted that you shouldn’t rack for the sake of racking. Many amateur winemakers rack in the belief it makes the wine taste better which, when it is needed, is true – but racking without any need only increases the chances of the wine reacting with oxygen.
When to Rack Your Wine
The first racking is the most important and will occur at different times depending on whether you are making red or white wine. Red wine should be racked one or two days after pressing, giving the wine time to settle out. In the case of white wine, the first rack should be after pressing but before primary fermentation (for red wine, pressing happens after fermentation). This is to separate the wine from the thick layer of lees on the top.
Your second racking should take place after fermentation has completed. White wine should be allowed to settle for a couple of days upon completion of fermentation. While you can choose to rack your wine as many times as you like between your second racking and bottling, we recommend only racking your wine once more at the time of bottling to transfer the wine into a temporary vessel before bottling.
Looking After Your Wine
Once you have racked your wine and it has been bottled, then comes the most important stage of all – storing your bottles. For ideal conditions, bottles of wine should be stored in a cool and dry setting which is why a wine cellar makes for a perfect storage solution.
Of course, not everyone has the capability of installing a wine cellar in their basement which is why Cranville Wine Racks offer various wood and metal wine racks suitable for all settings - big or small. For more information on picking the perfect rack for your bottles, please get in touch with a member of our team today.