Proper Starter Cultures for Wine and Mead
OK, starter cultures for wine are NOT necessary if you are using dried packs, but are useful if using liquid wine yeasts. For meads, we always recommend starter cultures - they help the fermentation to finish quickly and strongly. In any case, though, they NEVER hurt and I like to do them personally all the time.
One of the reasons I like them is that they are so easy to do. Unlike beer starters which take boiling and cooling and sterilizing, wine starters are as easy as a trip to the supermarket.
Go to a store and by a pint or quart, or single serving (glass or clear plastic) container of either Welches grape juice or Martinelli's non-sparkling apple juice (or is it cider?) Take it home. Apple juice is more neutral than grape juice. I only use grape juice on my grape wines - white for white, purple for red. I use apple juice on all my meads. You can probably use other juices, too, just make sure they are 100% pure, no additives, no preservatives EXCEPT ascorbic acid, (which is OK if it is in there). Pasteurized is fine, and probably desired. Raw apple juice and fresh-squeezed grape juice may be full of wild, competing yeasts, so I avoid these.
Make sure the liquid is at room temp - not refrigerated. Pop the top off of the container and pour about half of the liquid out of the top into a glass: you can drink this later. The half that is remaining in the jar will be your starter. The container is pre-sterilized, the juice is sanitary - everything is ready for you. Nothing could be easier.
Sprinkle your yeast into the glass jar and either cover the top with Saran Wrap, put an airlock and fitting-stopper atop it, or screw the lid on GENTLY so as to allow air to escape. If you screw the lid on too tight it will blow up on you. Let the starter sit at room temp for 12 to 24 hours.
When it starts fermenting, it is soon ready to pitch into your must. Be sure to tailor your starter size to the volume of wine you are fermenting. Do not pitch a half-gallon starter into a gallon of wine, nor a 1/2 cup into a twenty-gallon batch. Usually a quart is great for five gallons, and a cup is great for one-gallon, but anything will really do. There is no reason to be precise, it all works. I usually just eyeball a good dose into each fermenter.
Be prepared for a healthy start and a good fermentation, and as always, call me with questions...