How Can I Tell If My Wine Yeast Is Working?
How do you know if the wine yeast is working, I prepared the yeast per the instructions that were on the packet and when set to ferment the air-lock is not popping. Did I do something wrong, What would cause this to happen?
Thank you for your help,
Albert the beginner
Good Morning Albert (the beginner),
Let's see if we can't figure out what's going on...
First, it's important to understand that it can take a wine yeast up to 36 hours to start showing signs of fermentation. On average, it takes a yeast about 8 hours, so if it hasn't been this long, you may need to wait.
How long a fermentation actually take to begins depends on a whole host of factors: temperature being the most critical. You want the wine must to be between 70° and 75°F. for a timely fermentation. You can find other factors by reviewing, The Top 10 Reasons for Fermentation Failure.
You will notice the first signs of fermentation activity as little patches of fine bubbles on the surface of the wine must. These patches will eventually grown into a thin layer of fine bubbles across the entire surface. You are likely to notice this before you will see any activity in the air-lock.
Here are a couple of issues I would like to bring up briefly that are indirectly related to your question but may bring some light to it:
The directions on a typical packet of wine yeast will state to put the wine yeast in water that is at such-and-such temperature for so-many minutes before adding to the wine must. It is perfectly fine to follow these directions, but only if you actually follow them. This means using a thermometer to track temperature and a watch to track time. Following such directions in a haphazardly way will lead to the destruction of the wine yeast and a fermentation that has no chance of starting.
If you are not willing to monitor the process precisely, you are much better off just sprinkling the yeast on to of the wine must. The must will start fermenting, but it may take a little more time to get going.
Using The Air-Lock
You stated that you are watching the air-lock for signs of activity. In spite of what many wine making instructions may say, we do not recommend using an air-lock during the first few days of a fermentation (primary fermentation).
Yeast needs air to successfully multiply into a larger colony. By using an air-lock, the air is being kept away from the yeast. For this reason, we recommend that you do not use an air-lock during the primary fermentation. Instead, take the lid off and cover the fermenter with a thin cloth towel or something similar.
If you are concerned about leaving a fermentation exposed to the elements, rest assured that as long as you have an active fermentation starting up as scheduled, your wine must will be safe from any airborne contaminants. The positive flow of CO2 gas from the fermentation will help protect against this.
Another Wine Making Tip...
One think I like to do is put the air-lock on the fermenter for just the first few hours – just long enough to determine that the yeast is going to start. Once I see the first signs of fermentation, I then take the lid and air-lock off and cover with a thin cloth towel. This give the wine protection when it is most vulnerable and oxygen when the wine yeast most need it.
Happy Wine Making,
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.