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How Can I Tell If My Wine Yeast Is Working?

Posted on January 27, 2011 by Ed Kraus There have been 19 comment(s)

Wine YeastHello Kraus,

How do you know if the wine yeast is working, I prepared the yeast per the homemade wine 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 18 hours, so if it hasn't been this long, you may need to wait.

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:

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. This is fine to do if you actually follow the directions, but if you do not monitor the temperature of the water or track the amount of time, carefully, you can destroy the yeast before it even makes it to the wine must.

For this reason, we recommend that you simply sprinkle the yeast on top of the wine must and skip the warm water.

Using The Air-Lock
You stated that you are watching the air-lock for signs of activity. In spite of what many homemade wine instructions say to do, we do not recommend using an air-lock during the first few days of 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.

Another Wine Making Tip...
Here's another one of my wine making tips. I like to 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.

Happy Wine Making
Customer Service
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 Q&A, Wine Making Blog

19 Responses to How Can I Tell If My Wine Yeast Is Working?

  • Mr. Rogers
    Mr. Rogers says:

    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

    Posted on March 15, 2011 at 5:44 pm

  • Customer Service
    Customer Service says:

    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.

    Posted on March 16, 2011 at 5:56 am

  • Jenny
    Jenny says:

    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.....


    Posted on August 16, 2011 at 6:37 am

  • Customer Service
    Customer Service says:

    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

    Posted on August 17, 2011 at 5:39 am

  • Paul doesn't know what he's doing
    Paul doesn't know what he's doing says:

    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)



    Posted on September 27, 2011 at 6:09 pm

  • Custoemer Service
    Custoemer Service says:

    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.

    Posted on September 29, 2011 at 6:18 am

  • Sam the starter
    Sam the starter says:

    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.

    Posted on February 23, 2012 at 2:07 pm

  • Frank & Kathy
    Frank & Kathy says:

    We put in extra yeast in the wine. How.

    do we get rid of the yeasty taste?

    Posted on February 26, 2013 at 3:44 pm

  • Customer Service
    Customer Service says:

    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

    Posted on February 27, 2013 at 6:06 am

  • Denise
    Denise says:

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

    Posted on May 27, 2013 at 8:52 am

  • Customer Service
    Customer Service says:

    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.

    Posted on May 28, 2013 at 7:04 am

    VALERIE says:

    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.

    Posted on July 30, 2014 at 7:43 pm

  • Customer Service
    Customer Service says:

    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

    Posted on July 31, 2014 at 6:07 am

  • Rory Neumann
    Rory Neumann says:


    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 ?

    Posted on October 27, 2014 at 4:05 am

  • Customer Service
    Customer Service says:

    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"

    Posted on October 27, 2014 at 7:21 am

  • billy mcleod
    billy mcleod says:

    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.

    Posted on October 30, 2014 at 5:46 pm

  • Customer Service
    Customer Service says:

    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.

    Posted on October 31, 2014 at 6:38 am

  • Ed Kraus
    Ed Kraus says:

    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.

    Posted on May 13, 2015 at 1:28 am

  • Martha
    Martha says:

    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.

    Posted on May 13, 2015 at 5:10 am