I love making wine, but I also enjoy using equipment that makes turning grape juice into wine easy without compromising quality. And a passion of mine is testing new products. And so it is I decided this winemaking season to try a 20-liter (5-gallon) batch of California Sauvignon Blanc.
Why Sauv Blanc?
It’s one of my favorite whites but, more important in the context of this test, is that it’s a variety sensitive to oxygen. Although I will not be quantifying oxygen uptake amounts and levels, any significant problems with oxygen will be easily detected with this varietal. There are many possible oxygen entry points – the top cover, through valve fittings, and thermometer-well and sampling ports. But everything seems well designed with a conscious effort to minimize, or eliminate, possible oxygen ingress.
There have been concerns in various forums about the large headspace volume, about 10 liters (2.5 gallons) with 20 liters of juice. Yes, this would be a concern for long-term storage, but the FastFerment was designed primarily for making kit wines and wines from fresh juice meant to be processed and drunk relatively quickly. It’s still a long time from the end of fermentation to filtering and bottling, a period when there is no more CO2 in the headspace to protect the wine. This is easily dealt with by using a CO2 cylinder and flushing the headspace with CO2 gas. Granted it’s additional equipment and costs, and likely beyond the interest of most hobby winemakers at this scale.
Getting Ready to Test the FastFerment
The first step was to clean and sanitize the unit. I used hot water for pre-rinsing followed by a thorough cleaning with Powdered Brewery Wash, or PBW, an alkali cleaner from Five Star Chemicals and Supply, as suggested in the instructions. Since the unit is manufactured from HDPE plastic, it is compatible with most cleaning and sanitizing agents. I also used the 20-minute contact period to check for leaks – there were none.
For sanitizing, I used a sulfur-citric solution at a concentration of roughly 10,000 mg/L of sulfite plus equal parts of citric acid. Citric acid not only increases sulfite efficacy but it also neutralizes alkaline residues. I finished off with a thorough hot-water rinse.
The complete cleaning and sanitizing process was very easy to perform, particularly that the vessel empties quickly and easily – no more need to flip carboys over. A floor drain makes this whole process that much easier.
Before doing anything, I measured the pH, TA, SG/Brix/PA and temperature of the juice to ensure everything was good. TA was a bit low for my liking, so I added tartaric acid to increase it from 4.4 g/L to 7.0 g/L.
Then, I poured the juice into the FastFerment. The large 6-inch hole makes pouring simple. I did use a large funnel at first given that the pail of juice was full to the rim. I decided to keep the bottom valve closed for now to facilitate stirring until fermentation starts and becomes vigorous. I will also not be doing that first racking (usually at SG 1.030) instead preferring to ferment completely to dryness before any racking.
I prepared the yeast and yeast nutrients and then inoculated the juice, and gave it a good stir with my drill-mounted stirring rod. This is the only cumbersome part thus far – stirring. The conical shape makes it difficult to reach any sediments at the bottom – another reason for keeping the valve closed for now. With a little practice, it becomes easy to stir into the narrow portion of the conical shape by using the (variable-speed) drill on slow to keep the paddles from opening up, and then moving it up and increasing speed. Although the paddles are made of hard plastic, I was still careful not to touch the wall of the vessel so as not to cause any scratches that might otherwise harbor microbes and complicate the cleaning and sanitizing process.
Everything is ready now. I set the cover and fermentation lock in place.
All I need to do now is wait for fermentation to start.