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I'm learning there are "gross" lees or the first big batch of sediment and then there are "fine" lees or the subsequent smaller amounts of sediment.

"Gross" lees can contribute to "gross" flavors, but "fine" lees can contribute to damn "fine" ones :). After I press, how long should I wait for the gross stuff to settle out? How do I know when to make the cut between what is good and what is bad for this red?

  • You should press when the wine is dry. Don't press until the cap has started to fall. You can disrupt the fermentation process by doing this. This usually ranges anywhere from 5-14 days. Do you have a refractometer or hydrometer? – farmersteve Feb 26 '18 at 13:56
  • Good point that the press should be triggered based on fermentation level, not time. Regardless, I mean to specifically ask when to rack off the first sediment AFTER pressing. I press, then let settle for X? days, then rack. – tarabyte Feb 27 '18 at 19:12
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    I ferment in 1 ton plastic bins, press and pump into large tanks over night to settle the gross lees. We are talking thousands of liters. Then pump into aging vessel, barrels or tanks. But usually around 24 hours after pressing is enough IMHO. – farmersteve Feb 27 '18 at 19:17
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According to Daniel Pambianchi, in his book Techniques in Home Winemaking :

the wine should not be left for too long on its gross lees to avoid potential spoilage... the gross lees consist mainly of dead yeast cells, and grapes solids. The length of time a wine spends on the gross lees is also dependent on the health of the grapes at crush or harvest.

Basically, you can macerate solids for some time if your grapes were in good condition, and the temperature is cool, then ferment and get rid of gross lees basing yourself on the comments above. If grapes show some signs or rot, then get rid of gross lees quickly.

fine lees are beneficial to wines, adding flavour and complexity, when left in contact for up to 6 months ... the lees should be stirred on a weekly basis for the first couple months ...

  • the answer appears that it really depends on the quality of fruit, as soon as the sediment gets too thick, before you smell/taste something off (which you have to subtract time from when you let it go too far with what you typically work with) but generally not longer than 1 week. there doesn't appear to be a single, general event to trigger the racking. – tarabyte Feb 27 '18 at 19:18
  • I'm not sure where the weekly stirring thing comes from. No professional winemaker I know does that. It would introduce too much oxygen into the wine. I know people that do extreme aging on lees and pump from press to barrel with removing gross lees. But I think that causes a lot of problems, especially sulfide problems. I usually rack reds a couple of times over 18 months to clarify the wines. Whites I can go either way, aging on fine lees for several months or rack a couple of times so I don't have that extended contact. It's a stylistic thing. – farmersteve Feb 27 '18 at 19:35
  • That should read "without removing gross lees" – farmersteve Feb 27 '18 at 19:43
  • The book I am referring to is more about home winemaking, not professional scale. But in either cases, it is not practical to stir fine lees so often, and I don't do it myself... As a general rule, I always rack the first time before the end of fermentation, usually 3-4 days depending of fermentation speed/temperature . This takes care of gross lees. – Philippe Feb 27 '18 at 20:09
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FYI I have not made wine before, but I do have a friend at a shop that has. She states to rack after vigorous primary fermentation.

from my research, gross lees is the first lees after fermentation. and fine lees is everything that settles after that first racking.

http://winemakersacademy.com/gross-vs-fine-lees/

http://winemakersacademy.com/racking-lees/

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Gross lees are basically the precipitated fruit/vegetative matter that were mixed with the juice when initially added to the fermenting vessel. Over time this stuff will settle to the bottom of the primary fermenting vessel. The time to rack the wine off the gross lees is when the gross lees have "settled". Settling happens something like one week into the p fermentation process but YMMV. Sometimes it can take several weeks, there is no set time for this to happen. It is relatively obvious when the "big stuff" has sunk to the bottom and there is no more in suspension. At that point rack the wine off the gross lees.

If one liquidizes the fruit into pulp for use in fermentation then the gross lees are still formed but only as a more homogeneous layer of small particles rather than big lumps of crushed fruit (not to be confused with "fine lees"). That can be more efficient in use of the fruit but it can also be more difficult to separate the "fine" gross lees from the wine.

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