Homemade Balloon style Airlock:
Poke the straw into the mouth of the pricked balloon (tape it around the straw if it’s loose) – when gases rise from the wine they will fill the balloon until the hole is opened by the expansion of the balloon. The balloon then continues to “stand up” until fermentation ends and the balloon “flops over” again signalling that it has done.
Fermentation does occur naturally. But natural yeasts cause unreliable and unsteady fermentation that is disturbed by any and all changes in temperature. Once these yeasts have died, acetic bacteria invades and turns the wine into vinegar.
Cultivated yeasts are used because they will tolerate higher alcohol levels and continue to work. Although the final character of the wine is affected by the fruit or other flavorings added at the beginning, there is no wine without the yeast.
Yeast can be very fickle, and the preparation of the starter mix is important in getting off to a good start with the brew. Before adding yeast to the must, it is best to get the fermentation going and the yeast active. Adding a small amount of sugar and a warm fluid will do this.
- Baker’s yeast, such as you find in cubes or sachets in the supermarket, takes 10 to 20 minutes to be activated. A small, narrow-necked bottle is best to use. Add the yeast, 2 tablespoons of white sugar and enough warm water to fill the bottle half full. Shake the mixture well and use a cotton wool ball to lightly plug the neck. Stand the yeast starter on a surface that can be readily cleaned. Within about 10 minutes, a froth will form.
Use this starter as soon as possible; it will climb out of the bottle if you don’t!
- Brewer’s yeasts and wine yeasts come in sachets or inactive mixes. Follow the instructions on the label or prepare as for the Baker’s yeast, but leave 2 to 3 days to activate. Plug the bottle neck loosely with a wad of cotton wool to stop the mix from becoming contaminated while it works.
Corks are made from the bark of the cork oak tree, Quercus Suber. They are harvested commercially for the most part in regions surrounding the Mediterranean, most notably in Portugal.
Agglomerated corks are made from cork pieces glued together. Inexpensive and easy to handle, these are suitable for wines that will be held for six months to a year. These are the cheapest corks, and because they tend to be less dense, are the easiest to insert after soaking.
Synthetic corks are made from resins. They are difficult to insert, won’t soften when they are soaked and are difficult to get out without breaking. They are not really suitable for the home winemaker.
Natural corks are punched out directly from the bark in one piece. They are the best quality and will usually be more expensive than the other categories of cork. Better quality cork will allow you to store and age your wine. The cheapest cork will do if you are not thinking of long storage. But, you get what you pay for and a good cork will protect your wine much longer.
If you are intending to age your wine – You should leave your wine bottles standing upright after corking to allow the compressed air above the wine to dissipate. After two or three days, put the bottles on their side for storing. The wine against the cork will keep it moist, keeping the cork plump and so stop leaks. Wipe off the corks as you lay them down to remove any wine that may have been left when you put the corks in.
For more on wine cork production see the Cork Quality Council website