As you probably know, wine fermentation is the most important step in the process of turning fruit juice into wine. This is where all of the magic happens. We’re going to talk a little bit about different types of wine fermentation containers. First, let’s discuss the two steps of fermentation.
Primary fermentation is the first step in the process. This is when you pitch your yeast into the must and let the work begin. The yeast will begin to consume the sugars in the must and convert them to alcohol and CO2. The CO2 is released into the air and the alcohol remains in the wine. The primary fermentation typically lasts 3 to 5 days. This is when most of the sugar is converted into alcohol. About 70% of your sugar will become alcohol during primary fermentation. Primary fermentation is usually done in an open container because air contact is actually vital at this stage. It helps the yeast to multiply and consume the sugar. The yeast can multiply up to 200 times from the starting yeast you get in a packet of dry yeast. Lack of air can inhibit this growth. Primary fermentation is typically done in a food-grade plastic bucket or a stainless steel tank. Some people use a carboy but that type of container doesn’t allow enough air contact in my opinion. You will notice the fermentation start to die down towards the end of primary fermentation. You will see less foam and bubbling. Less activity overall. After the primary fermentation is done in 3-5 days you can move on to secondary fermentation.
Secondary fermentation can last one to two weeks. This is where the remaining 30% or so of the sugar will be converted into alcohol. Secondary fermentation is much slower and you will see much less activity. During this phase, you want to start to limit the air contact as the yeast are basically done multiplying and they will focus their energy on converting that remaining sugar into delicious alcohol. That’s where a container with an airlock comes into play. The airlock will prevent air from coming into the mixture but allow the CO2 gas that is generated to escape the container. Secondary fermentation is usually done in any container that can use an airlock. This could be a carboy (glass or plastic), a fermentation bucket, or a stainless steel tank. We’ll talk about the pros and cons of each type of container below.
Food Grade Bucket Wine Fermentation Containers
Food grade buckets are a common choice for the home winemaker. They are simple to use and relatively inexpensive. Buckets are great for primary fermentation. Just pitch your yeast and cover them with a light towel to keep the flies out. Many of the actual wine fermentation buckets will come with a lid that has a bung for an airlock. You could use a wine fermentation bucket to do both steps of fermentation. However, the bucket lids don’t usually seal that well and can let in air. Therefore, we recommend using a bucket for primary fermentation but using something such as a carboy for secondary fermentation. These buckets can handle batches of any size and usually have a gauge on the side to tell you how many gallons you have in the bucket. Check out some of the fermentation buckets available.
Carboy Wine Fermentation Containers
A carboy is another popular choice for home winemakers. They can be made of glass or plastic. Some people like to use carboys for both primary and secondary fermentation. Since we prefer open fermentation we don’t like to use carboys for primary fermentation. These things are great for secondary fermentation though. We highly recommend glass over plastic as plastic can actually be somewhat porous and possibly let air in. It’s unlikely but it’s worth it to invest in glass. These carboys typically come in 1, 5, and 6 gallon sizes to allow you many options for batch sizes. All you need is a carboy, a bung stopper with a hole in it, and an airlock and you have the perfect secondary fermentation container. Check out some carboy options here.
Stainless Steel Wine Fermentation Containers
Stainless steel containers are perfect for wine fermentation. However, they are more expensive to purchase. This puts them out of reach for some home winemakers. If you want to get more serious about this hobby then you may want to invest in a stainless steel wine fermentation container. Stainless steel is a good material to do both primary and secondary fermentation in. You can do open primary fermentation and then add an airlock for secondary fermentation. Just make sure your lid has a bung for an airlock. Stainless steel tanks are really what you want if you are becoming a serious winemaker. Check out some stainless steel wine fermentation containers here.
Bonus: Aging with Oak Barrels
Oak wine barrels are a common aging vessel and technique to incorporate that rich oak flavor into your wine. Originally, most wines were stored and transported in wooden barrels. When technology changed so did our technique for transporting wine. However, some smart people realized that the oak barrels we used to transport wine in were actually affecting the flavor of the wine. That’s when again wine in oak barrels became popular again. Most of your fine red wines will have undergone some period of barrel aging. Oak barrels add more flavor, they allow oxygen to slowly penetrate the wine over time, and provides a stable environment for malolactic fermentation. If you want to get the experience of that nice oaky flavor at home you can buy some oak aging barrels here.