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How Can I Tell If My Wine Yeast Is Working?

Posted on July 7, 2015 by Ed Kraus There have been 35 comment(s)

Starting Wine FermentationHow 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:


Yeast Preparation

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.

Shop Wine YeastIf 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
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.

This post was posted in Wine Making Blog, Wine Making Ingredients

35 thoughts on “How Can I Tell If My Wine Yeast Is Working?”

  • Mr. Rogers

    I use White Lab liquid yeast 720 Wine / Sweet Mead Yeast is it better to leave the airlock off of this as well, or is just when you are using dry yeast? Thanks!
    Mr. Rogers

  • Customer Service
    Customer Service July 7, 2015 at 3:56 am

    This goes for any form of yeast, however with White Lab yeast it is not "quite" as important simply because you are starting with a higher yeast cell count from them than you do with active dried yeast packets.

  • Jenny

    We are beginners in the homemade wine hobby and we only have one wine under our belt (banana- which turned out great). We started a blueberry/peach combo wine on Saturday night. We don't use any sulfur tablets because we want it preservative-free, so what we did after tons of research is heat the fruit (not boil) for about 30-40 minutes- we had about 2.5 gallons of crushed fruit. We waited 24 hours and added some heated water with 10 cups of melted sugar to take it up to 4 gallons. We barely made at this point a SG of 1.070. Right after adding the sugar water, we added liquid White Labs Champagne yeast (1vial). 12 hours later, nothing is happening except oddly enough some of the water in our air-lock has dissappeared. ??? Did it get sucked inside? The air tempterature was steady the whole time at around 72 degrees. We added no nutrients or anything else. A lot of pieces of crushed fruit, so its a little hard getting just liquid for our SG readings. Does thicker fluid affect the SG reading?
    Thank you for any help you can give us.....

  • Customer Service
    Customer Service July 7, 2015 at 4:12 am

    Hello Jenny,
    It sounds like the wine must was still too warm when you added the yeast. This won't necessarily kill all the yeast, but enough of it to get little action by way of fermentation. The wine must being warm is also what caused the water to suck out of your air-lock. As the must cools off, it contracts, causing the water to be sucked out of the air-lock and into the must. I would suggest adding more yeast and it should start up fine. You may also want to take a look at the article, "Top Ten Reasons For Fermentation Failure", listed under articles on our website.
    Happy Wine Making

  • Paul doesn't know what he's doing
    Paul doesn't know what he's doing July 7, 2015 at 4:25 am

    I'm only half way done with my first batch of raspberry wine and I'm having a ball. So much that I got 5 gallons of Delaware juice and starting to get that ball rolling. I used Lalvin 1122 and I believe I followed the directions on the recipe to the T. Its been a little over 24 hours and no signs of the yeast working. My question is, if nothing happens, do I need to scrap the juice or can I put in another packet of yeast. (Yes, I'm that new to this)



  • Custoemer Service
    Custoemer Service July 7, 2015 at 4:31 am

    There is absolutely no reason to throw this batch out, but you do need to determine why it is not fermenting and remedy the issue. The article, "Top 10 Reasons For Fermentation Failure", covers over 95% of the issues we run accross.

  • Sam the starter
    Sam the starter July 7, 2015 at 4:44 am

    Hi, I've read your fermentation failure article, but I still have a question. I'm on my second 5 gallon batch, which is a red grape wine from concentrate. I added the yeast 24 hours after the campden. It's been over 24 hours now since I added the yeast, and I have no action. I understand that it could take up to 36 hours, but if it doesn't start, can I simply add more yeast and hope it was just bad yeast? Additionally, if I do add more yeast and it still doesn't work, is there hope for the must, or do I scrap it and start again? Thank you in advance.

  • Frank & Kathy
    Frank & Kathy July 7, 2015 at 4:58 am

    We put in extra yeast in the wine. How.
    do we get rid of the yeasty taste?

  • Customer Service
    Customer Service July 7, 2015 at 5:06 am

    Frank & Kathy, putting in extra yeast would not have anything to do with a yeast taste in the wine. Whether you but in one or two or even three packets of wine yeast, it will multiply to 100 to 200 times what you put in. This is assuming you used an actual wine yeast. To answer your question, the best way to get it out is to add bentonite to the wine. It will collect yeast and other protein particles and drop them to the bottom of your fermenter:

    Speedy Bentonite

  • Denise

    I felt the need to re-inoculate my chardonnay. My question is do I have to follow up with sterilizers, kerosal and citosane again?

  • Customer Service
    Customer Service July 7, 2015 at 5:46 am

    Denise, the kieselsol and chitosan are not sterilizers. These are clarifiers. They are designed to clear out any thing that's floating in the wine. This may explain why you need to add more wine yeast. Go ahead and add the yeast, but do not add the kieselsol or the chitosan again.


    my air lock has two sides. it has water in both sides fulled to the line. i put it in a few days ago but i don,t see any bubbles.

  • Customer Service
    Customer Service July 7, 2015 at 6:23 am

    Valerie, if you see no bubbles then either your must is not fermenting. I would suggest that you take a look at the following article to try to see what might going on:

    Top 10 Reasons For Fermentation Failure

  • Rory Neumann

    I am on my 3rd batch of red wine. The first two batches, when they stopped working after 7 to 9 days the yeast settled out. The batch that I have now is 7 days and it looks like it has stopped working but the yeast is still in suspension. Also it does not have a strong alcohol smell. What wrong ?

  • Customer Service
    Customer Service July 7, 2015 at 7:21 am

    Rory, there is two ways your batch could be going. (A) It could have fermented out quickly but is take more time to clear up. Which is fine, just give it more time to clear up. (B) The fermentation could have slowed dramatically causing the wine to remain cloudy as the fermentation slowly tries to finish. This could take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of month to complete. Which path your wine is taking, I have no way of knowing. A hydrometer reading would let us know by telling us if there is still sugars in the wine to be fermented or not. If there are no sugars let then (A) is what's going on. If there are still sugars, then (B) is what's happening. In the case of (A), be patient. In the case of (B), read the following info:

    "Top 10 Reasons For Fermentation Failure"

  • billy mcleod

    i added to much suger in my 5 gallons batch,its been a month and my alcohol readings only went up 2%,all the yeast have settled in the bottom with no air bubbles,i think my sugar concentration started act as a preservative,what can i do to fix this,do i add more yeast?,please help, thanks.

  • Customer Service
    Customer Service July 7, 2015 at 8:01 am

    Billy, more yeast is not going to solve this problem. The yeast that has settled should be mostly alive. It is just dormant because the environment it is in is not hospitable to a fermentation. At this point either the alcohol is too concentrated or the sugar is too concentrated. The only way to continue a fermentation would be dilution with water. Realize this is going to weaken the flavor of the wine, so if you have enough alcohol in the wine already and the wine is not too sweet, you might want to leave it be.

    • Lorna

      Like Billy, my pineapple wine has too much sugar. After 3 months I still have bubbles in the airlock and the wine is very sweet. Can I mix it with my ginger wine which needs more sweet to make a pineapple/ginger wine

      • Ed Kraus

        Lorna, since you say there are still bubbles in the airlock, your wine is still fermenting. Before I did anything I would monitor the fermentation progress with your hydrometer. As long as it is still fermenting, even slowly, I would leave it alone. Once the fermentation stops, you can blend it with your ginger wine.

  • Martha

    I read your Top 10 list and I'm pretty sure the reason why my yeast isn't working is because I sealed the fermenter after adding the Campden tablet, which killed the yeast. 48 hours after adding tag yeast and nothing is happening. Can my wine be saved? Thanks.

    • Ed Kraus

      Martha, absolutely your wine can be saved. At this point, simply add another back of wine yeast and cover the fermenter with a thin clothe. It should start up fine after doing this.

  • Lorraine

    My wine tastes like water
    1 as beem fermenting for 3weeks ( strawberry)
    the othe just a week
    any advice

    • Ed Kraus

      Lorraine, Without more information, I am not sure if this is what is occurring with your wine but when wine is high in alcohol it can have a watery taste. Higher alcohol levels numb the taste buds more so than normal when these wines are consumed, making a normally flavored wine taste watery through no fault of its own. When making these types of wines use more of the fruit when possible. We have included the link to an article that will discus this further.

      How Much Alcohol Do You really Want?

  • melanie kelly
    melanie kelly July 7, 2015 at 9:48 am

    I am making elderflower champagne ,its sat in bucket covered for 7 days and yesterday i put into demijohns with an airlock on top ,i want it to stay fizzy but not explode how long do i keep airlock on it for ? its fizzing away at the moment

    • Ed Kraus

      Melanie, I am sorry; due to the difficulty and danger involved in the process, we do not provide any information regarding the production of sparkling wine.

  • Ollen J Rush

    To Melanie Kelly,I used to make a lot of sparkling wines and apple "champagne",The best thing to do is let the wine ferment out 990 on your hydrometer,clarify the wine, and use Champagne
    bottles to bottle it in,AS they will take three atmosphere's,you add up to a teaspoon of sugar or
    simple syrup to the bottle and add the wine with a filler and use the plastic stoppers,press them in and wire them down,lay the bottles in a rack and wait,you will see the yeast build up in the sides,you know it is working,Best thing is to buy a book on making wine and look for making sparkling wines,it will show you how to get rid of the settling's .

  • Dave Stuart

    opps to much sugar. I cooked 5 gallons of golden plum wine to below zero on the Sg scale. Added the potassuim sorbate with hopes of sweeting it a bit. After a couple of days to let the wine settle in goes 1 cup of sugar. The Sg berely budged. Instead of waiting another day in goes another cup sugar and Sg jumps to 1.040, way too sweet.
    Tried to restart the fermation to cook the sugars down. nothing happened. Stirred the wine strongly to get the SO2 out tried yeast again. Still sweet. Any body know of a good wine jam recipie? Dave

  • Gary

    I started a batch of wine and added camden tablet waited 48 hours added yeast and nothing started. I didn't realize the container needed air so I may have killed the yeast. I put in a second batch of yeast and sealed the container with an air lock and again nothing started. I just reading you articles on needing air and exposed the container to air...How long should I let it this way before putting on an air lock? If it doesn't start can I add yeast again or should I do something first? What are my next steps?

    • Ed Kraus

      Gary, if you did not leave the fermenter covered with only a thin towel or something similar for 24 hours so that the campden tablets could dissipate before you added your second package of yeast, you probably did destroy it also. If you did leave it uncovered before adding the other packet of yeast, there may be something else causing the fermentation issue. I would take a look at the article link posted below on the most common reasons for fermentation failure to see if any apply to your situation.

      Reasons For Fermentation Failure

  • Bruce

    Peach wine:

    Hello, I screwed up by not paying attention ! I had 25 pounds of peaches roaring with bubbles for one week. Strained off the peach pulp into a three gallon carboy and for some reason I added three campden tablets to the mix...! I let it set for a couple of days and the fermentation stopped im guessing because the campden tablets killed the yeast. I added another packet of yeast as well as more yeast nutrient(twice)and still nothing. everything settled out very fast im guessing because it all died. I think I read somewhere that the additional yeast nutrient in this can create bad byproducts in the wine ? I don't remember where I read this. It has been setting for about one month in the carboy with no gas release through the bubbler that I know of. Last reading was at 1.12 after the initial 1.78. Can I do anything with this or just dump it. Thanks for any help

    • Ed Kraus

      Bruce, you are correct that adding the campden tablets probably did destroy the yeast. Adding another packet of yeast was the correct thing to do. However, if you did not leave the fermenter covered with just a towel for 24 hours to allow the sulfites to escape, you may have destroyed the new packet of yeast as well. Adding an additional dose of yeast nutrient should be just fine. What I would do at this point is make a yeast starter and add it to the wine to complete the fermentation. Below you will find the directions for making a yeast starter.

      Yeast Starter

  • Jennifer Kisleiko
    Jennifer Kisleiko October 12, 2015 at 7:04 am

    HELP! My Pinot noir grape juice has been in a carboy for a week with an airlock and only tiny bubbles. I have not seen any "heavy fermentation" I added a 2nd package of yeast (which I rehydrated) this morning and switched to a coffe filter over the hole with a rubber band and still no heavy fermentation. Should I add a 3rd pack of yeast? Could the fermenting have happened before adding the yeast? How will I know when to rack without seeing heavy fermentation? What am I doing wrong?!!!

    • Ed Kraus

      Jennifer, first let me say that just because you do not see much activity does not mean that the wine is not fermenting. In addition, each fermentation is different, some will ferment at a more vigorous pace than others. The only way to monitor the progress of the fermentation is by taking readings with your hydrometer. You can also use your hydrometer to know if it is time to transfer the wine to the secondary fermenter. The article posted below will discuss this in more detail. If your hydrometer reading does indicate a stuck fermentation, please take a look at the article below that discusses the most common causes of fermentation failure. Before you can correct the situation, you need to know the cause.

      Top Ten Reasons For Fermentation Failure

      When Do I transfer My Wine To The Secondary Fermenter

  • Robert Keepers

    I am making 5 gallons of grape wine. How long does it usually take for the wine to quit babbling, so that I can bottle it.

    • Ed Kraus

      Robert, how long it takes to make wine can depend on how you are making the wine. When using wine kits or concentrates, it can take anywhere from 4-10 weeks. When making wine from fresh grapes or fruit it can take a little longer. The article posted below will discuss this in more detail.

      How Long Does It Take To Make Wine

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