What Does the Term “Racking Wine” Mean?

5 September 2019

Many enthusiast wine-makers are puzzled by the idea of racking wine. Some of them tend to confuse it with sealing up the fermentation vessels or with the process of bottling the wine. However, this is not what racking wine is and a limited understanding of the latter can have a disastrous effect on the end product.

Actually, racking (siphoning or filtering) wine is a specific procedure through which the liquid is decanted, anywhere from 2 to 4 times, during the fermentation process.

Why Is It Necessary to Rack Wine?

Also referred to as soutirage after the French word for the procedure, filtering was initially developed during the 19th century in the Bordeaux region as a way to effectively remove the yeast, as well as other sediments, from wine. For this purpose, a racking hose is used to draw out the liquid from one container and gently pour it into another without disturbing the deposits at the bottom.

Instead of an electric pump, the procedure relies on gravity, because this is the best way to keep the wine separated from the sediments as much as possible. A proper racking system ensures that both the containers and the lees remain undisturbed for the entirety of this delicate process.

There are two important reasons why the making of a good wine involves the transition from one vessel to another. These are:

  1. Racking is necessary to slow down the fermentation process. Leaving the wine sit with the pulp for too long gives it a harsh, acidic taste. However, filtering must be done at the appropriate time, because the lack of sufficient maturing time with the yeast can often result in a liquid that is almost tasteless. The process has to be done just right in order to be successful.

  2. Racking ensures that your wine ends up clear. Racking wine is also called filtering because it renders the product free of sediments and unwanted tastes. Although some producers do age their wines on yeast, it takes specialist winemaker knowledge to know how and when this is done. If left unattended, the taste will gradually turn bitter, then rubber-y, and even metallic.

When Do You Rack Wine?

Anywhere from 5 to 7 days into the initial fermentation, wine is decanted from its initial vessel to another. Once this is done, the liquid must be kept under air-lock to slow down the fermentation, as well as keep the must protected from outside contaminants.

This initial period of time typically sees up to 80% of the sediments accumulating at the bottom of your containers, so it becomes necessary to separate it from the lees as fast as possible to prevent further unwanted fermentation and contamination with dead yeast.

Depending on how fast the entire fermentation process takes place, a second and third siphoning can become necessary anywhere from several days to a full month after the initial wine racking. These subsequent rackings are mainly done to ensure a crystal-clear wine that is appealing to the senses.

Be careful, though. Filtering the wine one too many times or unnecessarily exposing it to too much air throughout these procedures will work to the detriment of your vino’s flavor. The sugar-consuming yeast is the main source of a full bodied drink, similarly, though not identical to the process of making beer. It might take some trials before you get the environmental conditions, process, and wine rack set-up exactly right, but it will be well worth the effort in the end.

Wine Racks from KingmoRack

As we mentioned before, having a solid rack set-up for your wine barrels or containers will greatly facilitate the delicate process of racking wine. Moving or disturbing the vessels in any way will undo days, even weeks’ worth of sedimentation. For this reason, they will need to be placed onto a solid framework.

Instead of having to move your barrels, you can use a good setup that works in your favor, with a bit of help from gravity. We at Kingmorack are more than willing to help you figure out the best racking system for your wine storage – one that renders your filtering process easy and error free.