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Height advantage: Wine racking made easy

demijohn on chair

Written by Paula Goddard

Paula started her home-made beer and country wine journey in the 1990s when she won the Tunbridge Wells Wine Circle Brookside Novices’ Cup, Ladies Trophy, E&R Jubilee Bowl and Wells Trophy. Which matched her move from the research team at a food packaging manufacturer and deciding to be more involved with the food inside the packaging while beginning teaching food and drink courses at adult education colleges. Tea tasting expanded into popular wine courses that were regularly over-subscribed. She now runs online wine courses with Buckinghamshire Adult Learning, and tasting events through her own wine website wineuncorked.co.uk. You’ll find her on social media dispensing tips, views and wine reviews as @wineuncorkeduk

6 April 2022

Racking is the process of moving your home-made wine from one vessel to another. But when this involves moving up to 25kg of liquid, how do you do this without putting your back out? The answer is to think ahead and create the necessary height needed for racking wines into your fermentation process right from the start and move your brewing bucket off the floor.

Making a 30-bottle wine kit involves lots of liquid. Yes it’s ultimate aim is to be drunk and enjoyed 30 times over but the in-between stage creates 22.5-litres of fermenting diluted grape juice. And that’s a lot of liquid – an almost entirely filled large fermentation bucket that’s tall enough to come up to your knees when stood on the floor, whose liquid weighs the same as 50 food cans you’d find in the kitchen.

And it’s got to be racked-off at least once. Usually from the large fermentation bucket into smaller glass demijohns to let the yeast finish fermenting, or straight into wine bottles if the yeast has done its stuff and you’re making a 7-day wine kit.

Moving on up

But racking requires a height advantage – syphoning the wine through plastic tubing requires the receiving buckets and bottles to be at a lower height for it to work and the wine to move. So either the initial fermentation bucket needs to be placed at table-top height to start with or you’ll have to lift it up there.

It ain’t heavy

Advice on making DIY lifting equipment using ropes and pulleys is out there if you search for it, but the simpler solution is to place your fermentation bucket at the right height before you start filling it. This means it’s already at the right height for racking.

If no table can be purloined for the entire fermentation time, then another solution is to ferment in smaller quantities. Divide the liquid from 30-bottle wine kits in two and ferment using two buckets – so having to lift the equivalent weight of 25 cans of tomatoes off the floor for racking. You could also make the volumes even smaller and ferment in demijohns right from the start – using multiple vessels or make smaller 6-bottle wine kits instead. These 6-bottle kits are the volume of one demijohn (4.5-litres), so making for much lighter shifting and lifting.

What racking equipment can I get?

Young’s Auto-syphon 23-litre (£13.99) with manual pump action and long enough tubing to reach to the bottom of larger 25-litre brewing buckets used to make 30-bottle wine kits.

Fermenter Syphon Tube Clamp (£3.50) Use to keep the plastic syphon tubing tangle-free and stop the flow when necessary.

Young’s 25-litre Fermentation bucket and lid (£10) With graduated fill-level markings to help you ferment smaller quantities of wine – it doesn’t always have to be completely full!

Young’s 25-litre Fermentation bucket with tap and lid (£13.30) Open the tap to empty the bucket. The tap is placed above the bucket base and so won’t suck through any dead yeast ‘lees’ (the creamy-coloured deposit) but it will add a lot of extra air and turbulence as you rack which might re-start the fermentation.

Little bottler with on/off tap (£7.49) Connects straight to the tap on the fermentation bucket and allows you to rack off straight into wine bottles after the fermentation has stopped. It has it’s own simple on/off tap so you can stop the wine’s flow without over-filling each bottle.

Clear glass demijohn 5-litre (£12.99) Ferment your 6-bottle wine kits in one of these, or use five demijohns to ferment a 30-bottle wine kit in smaller units.

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