Basic Wine Making: Sanitization in Winemaking

It has been awhile since my last post, so I decided to do a series on Basic Wine Making.  I teach a wine making class here in Portersville, but for those of you who could not make it, I am going to go over what I teach in class. This is going to be a multi-part series starting with sanitization.

I have been making my own wine for over 12 years now. I started my journey making wine completely by happen-stance. One year, my father decided he wanted to make some pear wine because he had lots of pears from his fruit trees. One of his buddies decided to help him with this project. Now, my dad likes to jump right into new projects and since he had so many pears, he decided to make 55 gallons of pear wine! He got an old plastic 55 gallon barrel, put in the pears, some water, 25 pounds of sugar and a brick of bread yeast.

He stirred and stirred, it bubbled and fermented, this went on for a few weeks. After a couple months, we had this barrel full of nasty, vinegary, pear flavored concoction. It certainly was not wine. We had to dump this stuff down the drain.

After this first failure, I figured I would try to make a batch of wine. One of the first batches of wine I tried to make was a Strawberry wine. I did a little research on the Internet, borrowed an old crock pot, bought some wine yeast and tried to make strawberry wine. I boiled some water, added some sugar, added the strawberries, fermented it in a old crock pot, and it failed spectacularly. It was the most terrible thing I ever tasted!

For the record, don’t try to make wine in a crock pot that has been used to make sauerkraut… EVER!

Other than the fact that I should not have used a crock pot that had been used for sauerkraut, the other big mistake I made was not to sanitize my equipment. Which leads me to the point I am trying to make here.

KEEP EVERYTHING THAT TOUCHES YOUR WINE SANITIZED!

I can’t stress this enough. Proper sanitation will solve 90% of your problems before you have them. Wine spoilage is almost always the result of not properly sanitizing something along the way. Make sure your equipment, buckets, carboys, siphon hose, and anything else that touches the wine are all properly sanitized. Sanitizing involves more than just washing your equipment with dish soap, so I will explain how to do it properly. In fact, you don’t want to use dish soap to clean your equipment, you want to use a clenser like B-brite.

There are 2 types of sanitizers that I have used in wine making. The sanitizers are Sulfite solution and Star San. Star San and Sulfite solution are no-rinse sanitizers. What that means is that you can use them with out rinsing the solution off the equipment with water. Star San is an acid based sanitizer and will not harm your wine. Sulfite is found naturally in wine and also will not harm your wine.

I mostly use Star San for sanitization now. I mix my Star San at 1/4 ounce per gallon, the directions say use 1oz for 5 gallons. Leave your equipment stand for a few minutes to give the sanitizer time to work. You do not have to rinse your equipment after using Star San. Another no rinse solution you can use is sulfite solution. You can make this by mixing 2 ounces of Potassium Metabisulfite into 1 gallon of water. You can then spray your equipment and give it a few minuets to work.

I clean my equipment with B-Brite after each use and then let air dry. B-Brite is an oxygen based cleanser. When I am ready to start another batch of wine, I’ll sanitize the bucket, spoons and any other equipment by spraying everything down with Star San. Then I will make my wine. After a week or two, I rack the wine out of the bucket. I will then rinse the dirty bucket with cold water. This will remove any sediment, fruit, and wine still in the bucket. Once the bucket has been rinsed, I will use B-Brite to wash out the bucket. I make sure to get B-Brite on every surface of the bucket, inside and out. I use it like dish soap and clean the whole bucket. To make a B-Brite solution, mix one table spoon into 1 gallon of water.

I used to use a sulfite solution to clean my bottles prior to bottling. I would fill the bottles with the sulfite solution, give them a couple minuets to soak then pour the solution from one bottle into the next. I would leave the bottles wet to add a little sulfite to the wine to keep the wine from spoiling. The one downside is that sulfite solution has a bad sulfur smell. I have switched to Star San to sanitize my bottles. Now I check the sulfite levels of my wine while it is bulk aging. I will go over this in more detail in a later post.

This concludes the first post in the series Basic Wine Making. I hope you understand how important proper sanitization is to Wine Making. It will solve 90% of your problems before you have them. In the next post, I will go over the equipment used in Wine Making and each items purpose.

Enjoy!