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Don't Whine Over Bad Wine!

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Author: Ian Hugh Scott

When I was beginning to learn how to make wine, I had a five gallon batch that I had to pour down the sink. And of course, I had a sinking feeling inside me. The time, work and effort - going down the drain. I resolved then and there that I'd learn more about preventing my wines from becoming vinegar and ensuring I correctly and effectively sanitized my equipment and area.

There are a number of different chemicals and solutions used by winemakers for sanitizing. One of the oldest is still perhaps one of the easiest and best ways: The use of sulfites. There are two different sulfites that winemakers use and are Potassium Metabisulfite and Sodium Metabisulfite. There is not a great deal of difference in effectiveness of these chemicals, but Potassium Metabisulfite is the preferred additive to wine to prevent oxygenation.

As far as sanitizing purposes, mixing three tablespoons of Potassium Metabisulfite into a gallon of warm water will provide you with a very effective sanitizing solution. This won't kill all bacteria, but we aren't interested in sterilizing our equipment and work area. What we want to accomplish is controlling bacteria and wild yeast which sanitizing does.

Storage of your sulfite/water solution is important. The sulfites create a gas which can evaporate quite quickly, leaving you with very little sanitation ability in your solution. I keep my solution in a one gallon jug with a tight fitting screw cap lid. For convenience in cleaning the sides of my fermentation vessels, spoons, and air locks, I keep some solution in a spray bottle and use that to spray the solution onto the surfaces I want to sanitize. For best results, leave the solution on the surfaces for five minutes before rinsing with clean water.

Sometimes, you might find some recommendation (especially in older winemaking guides) to use chlorine bleach as a sanitizer. Never use chlorine around any of your home winemaking or brewing equipment! It can be very difficult to completely rinse off, and may also lead to "cork taint" if there is just enough of it that comes in contact with your wine.

There are other solutions and compounds that are available for use as a sanitizer to the home winemaker, but if you're going to make lots of wine, you'll probably need to purchase Potassium Metabisulfite in one pound packages. You may as well just use the sulfite as both your wine protectant and sanitizer.

One precaution: Potassium Metabisulfite can lose its effectiveness over time. Replace your supply annually to assure yourself of sanitized conditions and wines that won't spoil.

Since using sulfite exclusively as my sanitizing agent, I've yet to lose a batch of wine. If you consistently sanitize your equipment and work area with a sulfite solution, you'll reduce the chances of making spoiled wine.

About the author: Ian Hugh Scott has been making his own wine for years. As well as wines from commercially available kits, he has discovered the pleasures of experimenting with other ingredients such as black currants, strawberries, blueberries, and even ginger and parsnip!

Follow along with Ian's regular home winemaking activities at his blog.

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