One constant in the din of conflicting advice about winemaking is the importance of sanitizing your equipment. It’s so thoroughly agreed upon and so often mentioned, “sanitize all your equipment then …” that its rarely discussed. If you’re just starting out, how do you know what to use? Homebrewers transitioning to winemaking might be tempted to use bleach.
Don’t use bleach
This isn’t a good idea, because bleach can sometimes give way to “cork taint.” You’ll know it as an off odor and people will talk about it in different ways. If someone is says a wine is “corked,” or talks about TCA or 2,4,6-trichloroanisole they’re talking about a fault in wine that can be traced back to bad natural cork (or bleach!).
DIY Sanitizer for Winemaking
You can’t go wrong by buying a commercial sanitizer like star san or idophor, but I make my own out of citric acid and potassium metabisulfite (K2S2O5). It’s simple, cheap, and effective. Just dissolve three tablespoons (about 45 ml) of citric acid and three tablespoons K2S2O5 in one gallon of water. It gives off a very strong odor so only do it in a well ventilated area (and if you’re allergic to sulfite, go with a commercial product).
This recipe is from Daniel Pambianchi’s Techniques in Home Winemaking, a great book on making wine from grapes. He advises keeping it for only a few weeks because it becomes less effective over time. I believe the use of citric acid, which is optional and enhances the K2S2O5, and a long contact time of 15 minutes can extend it’s useful life to as much as six months.
To use, immerse tubing, stoppers, airlocks, or whatever you want to sanitize for 15 minutes. Pour the unused sanitizer back into the glass jug and keep it tightly stoppered. Discard after six months.
Adding sulfite to your wine
This solution is great when you want to sanitize your winemaking equipment with sulfite, but not for adding sulfite to wine. You need a different concentration for that. See this post on measuring sulfite for winemaking additions.
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