Should You Soak or Boil Corks Before Bottling?

Should You Soak or Boil Corks Before Bottling?

It is often recommended that wine makers soak or even boil corks prior to bottling. Is this really necessary? Let’s take a look. Why Some Recommend Soak and / or Boil Corks Soaking corks came about as a way to clean the dust off of new corks. However, even back before pre-sterilized corks were available corks were not soaked for very long. Somewhere along the way some wine makers decided that this is a necessary step during the bottling process. Long soaking times, however, allow the cork to absorb whatever liquid it is submerged. That liquid can then be squeezed out of the cork when it is inserted into the bottle. Anything that comes out of the cork at that point goes into your wine. Boiling corks likely came about as a means to ensure the corks were sanitized. This would be a great way to sanitize corks without using chemical, however, boiling corks can seriously damage them and make your wine more susceptible to problems. Why You Should Never Soak or Boil Corks Soaking corks does two things. First it allows the cork to absorb the water and any other chemicals mixed with the water. Also, it allows the cork ample time to be exposed to contaminants and micro-organisms. Most of the recommendations I’ve seen for soaking a cork involve letting them sit in a bowl of water for upwards of five or six hours. That’s a long time to leave your cork out there exposed to everything. The only proposed benefit is that the cork goes into the bottle easier. While this may be true it could go in a little too easy. A soaked cork may go too far into the bottle, possibly ending up all the way past the neck. As I mentioned earlier whatever you soak your cork in will get squeezed back out again when it’s inserted into the bottle. Adding sanitizers directly to wine just doesn’t seem like it would be good for flavor. Boiling corks is the worst thing you can do to your closure. The high temperatures actually melt off a coating that is placed on corks to reduce cork dust and to help them stick to the inside of your bottles. Without this coating the water penetrates the cork and can actually hydrate dormant molds and bacteria that occur naturally in cork. Now instead of the corks being sanitized they may actually have been turned into a great place for micro-organisms to grow. What do Professional Wine Makers Do? Professional wine makers do not soak or boil corks. They insert dry pre-sterilized corks just like the ones you can buy at your local wine making supply shop. Pre-sterilized corks are sealed in air tight bags to keep them in pristine condition until you’re ready to bottle. Granted wineries are likely using something a bit more powerful than a hand or floor corker unlike amateur wine makers so they will have an easier time inserting them. However, their handling of cork closures is something to take note of. Wines produced by a winery will often be in the bottle for many...

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Glass Carboys vs Oak Barrels

Glass Carboys vs Oak Barrels

The two most traditional vessels to age wine in at the amateur level is in either glass carboys or small oak barrels. Which is better? You’ll have to be the judge. Glass Carboys Glass carboys have been used as far back as the early 1800’s (per some historians), mainly to hold strong chemicals such as acids. Eventually these vessels were used in water coolers and by amateur wine makers. Their use in wine making stemmed from the need to have a small and affordable container to ferment and age wine in. Plastic carboys did not come onto the scene until very recently. Thus amateur wine makers had to choose between a glass carboy or an oak barrel. Here’s a cost breakdown between an oak barrel and a glass carboy. Beyond cost there are several advantages to using a glass carboy over a barrel. For starters the glass carboy can be used over and over again indefinitely. They don’t have a shelf life like a barrel does. Glass does not impart any flavors or chemicals into your wine. This is convenient because we can use the same container to make wines with or without oak in the same vessel. Oak chips are available in many forms from saw dust to cubes to spiral cut dowels. They can be purchased in all the same toasting levels that traditional barrels are made of. Another benefit to using glass is that it does not harbor micro-organisms. The smooth finish of glass provides no place for micro-organisms to hide from sanitizers and it’s easy to clean. So if a fermentation were to get spoiled by a stray micro-organism such as vinegar bacteria you merely have to clean out your carboy and you’re ready to go again. There are some drawbacks to the glass carboys though. First of all they’re made of glass. When they break they shatter and turn into a lethal pile of shrapnel. Second, they’re heavy which makes the first point that much more serious. In recent years plastic carboys have gained popularity because they’re lighter and don’t shatter. However, we’ll get into the glass vs. PET carboy debate at another time. Wine Making Barrels Oak barrels are the more traditional aging vessel for wine. By traditional I mean that they’ve been in use for a little over 2300 years. They came into common use around 350 BC by the Celts as a lightweight, portable container for shipping. Along the way winemakers determined that the oak imparted desirable flavors to the wine aged in it. Specifically if that oak had been subjected to fire on the inside face of the staves. This is called toasting. Prior to using barrels winemakers primarily used clay and concrete vessels. Obviously these were not not that portable. The use of oak as a building material likely stemmed from its structural integrity. While different woods may impart equally beneficial flavors they may not have been strong enough to be used as a barrel. Barrels are often referred to as the winemaker’s spice cabinet. Different types of oak offer different flavor profiles. The inside face of the oak...

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How to Use a Degassing Tool

How to Use a Degassing Tool

Degassing is the process of removing suspended carbon dioxide from your wine. Usually you’ll do this when you add your clarifier about two weeks prior to bottling. Wine that’s not properly degassed will be carbonated. If you don’t get the carbon dioxide out of your wine before you bottle it’ll still be there when you open it later. Most degassing tools attach to a power drill and can easily be inserted into your carboy. They’re designed to agitate the wine without introducing more oxygen into it. The tool I use to degas my wine is the Wine Whip from Fermtech (affiliate link). Most of these tools, including the one I use, cost between $10 and $30. What You’ll Need To degas using a degassing tool you’ll also need: a power drill a cup of water hearing and eye protection (optional depending upon how much you value your senses) How to Know When You’re Done Degassing There’s a simple test you can do to see if your wine has been properly degassed. Using your wine thief draw enough wine to fill your hydrometer test jar about half way up. Place your hand securely over the top of the test jar such that you get an air tight seal. Shake the sample for ten to thirty seconds while maintaining the air tight seal. Listen closely and release your hand. If you hear a burst of pressure being released you know there’s still more carbon dioxide suspended in your wine. Should this be the case toss the sample out, grab your degassing tool, and hit it again for another few minutes. Repeat this testing process until there is no pressure released after shaking a sample. Temperature and Degassing If you read the directions for a wine kit you’ll notice that there’s a very specific temperature range you’re supposed to keep your wine within. Generally it’s somewhere around 72-75 degrees (F). While the many yeasts can function in temperatures as low as 60 degrees (F) if you let your wine go below 72 degrees more carbon dioxide will remain suspended in your wine. Thus the time it takes to degas completely will start to increase. My Shiraz fermented and was clarified at around 64 degrees, well below 72. Because of this the two minutes of degassing turned into over twenty minutes! That’s a long time to stand there with a power drill screaming in your face. Things to Remember About Degassing 1. Once bottled carbon dioxide cannot escape so if you don’t get it out now it’ll always be there. 2. Test your wine for any remaining carbon dioxide using the procedure above. 3. Prevent excessive degassing times by closely monitoring and controlling the temperature of your wine during fermentation and the steps preceding degassing. If you’d like to pick up the same Wine Whip I use please consider purchasing through this link. It is an affiliate link which means that this site will earn a small commission on the sale. These commissions help me put up new content here at Winemaker’s Academy. Thank you for your...

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Where to Set Up Your Wine Making Operation

Where to Set Up Your Wine Making Operation

Making wine takes not only time but also space. The right kind of space. Finding The Best Wine Making Area With all the sanitizing, racking, and testing you’ll be doing it’s easy to see how wine making can get messy. Without the proper area you’ll definitely be leaving your mark. Let’s look at what sort of area will work best for your wine making operation. The most important factors are: A sturdy work surface. Temperature control. Exposure to sunlight. Being near a water source and drain. Having a washable floor. Having a well ventilated area. Have a Sturdy Work Surface Don’t trust wobbly tables or shelves to hold your carboys. A full 6 gallon glass carboy weighs around 50 lb when it’s topped up. If you’ve got two or three carboys make sure your table or shelves can take that kind of load. Most store bought tables will have some sort of indication as to what sort of weight you can apply before getting into trouble. Stay away from tables made from particle board if you can. Temperature Control Being able to control the temperature of your wine during fermentation is very important. If your winemaking area is too hot during fermentation your wine can take on a cooked taste. Too cold and fermentation will stop. Fermenting wine generates its own heat. So even if your wine making area is at a reasonable temperature your wine can still overheat. Prior to starting your wine making efforts take the time to log day and night time temperatures of your prospective areas. You might be surprised to find out that a certain area has wild temperature swings. The best area will have a more or less constant temperature day and night. Minimal Exposure to Sunlight Sunlight causes wine to age prematurely. Even if you bottled in dark green or brown bottles the light will still change your wine. At the very minimum you need to avoid direct sunlight. Ideally, though, you should block all forms of light especially once you’re aging the wine. During the wine making process cover your carboy to block the light if the room isn’t totally dark. I put an old jacket over my carboy to insulate and block the light. They do make insulating carboy covers that serve the same purpose. After I bottled my wine I moved it under the stairs in the basement. Even with all the lights on you can’t see a thing back there. Find a spot where you can produce your wine protected from sunlight but more importantly figure out where you’re going to store your wine for aging. Be Near a Water Source and Drain Having a water source and a drain of some kind close at hand is really helpful. Throughout every winemaking step, regardless of whether you are making wine from a kit, frozen must, or grapes, you’re going to need to sanitize and rinse equipment. I made my Shiraz in a basement that met every one of the requirements listed here except this one. While I was successful it would have been much easier had I had a...

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The Most Neglected Piece of Winemaking Equipment

The Most Neglected Piece of Winemaking Equipment

It’s inexpensive, easy to use, and easy to neglect. The cost of neglecting it, however, is all the wine your making. So what is this little savior of wine? The airlock. Why Are Airlocks So Critical? First, they keep out all of the undesirable micro-organisms that seek to ruin your wine. Vinegar bacteria, lactic bacteria, and weak wild yeasts are all kept at bay with a properly maintained airlock. Second, airlocks prevent oxygen from entering your wine. Not only does this prevent oxidation it makes the production of alcohol possible. As I mentioned in my post about the yeast fermentation process, yeasts only produce alcohol when it consumes sugar. This is only possible once they’ve run out of oxygen. Thus it is critical that a properly set up airlock is used to starve the yeast of oxygen so they’ll produce alcohol. Now that I’ve shown you how important it is to properly setting up an airlock let’s get into how to set one up. Why do Winemakers Neglect Airlocks? Airlocks are put in place when the wine needs to sit for a while. Generally they’ll be in place for as little as a couple of weeks or up to a few months or more. Many winemakers will “set it and forget it”. The hard part is done and now it’s time to give our wine a little time to itself to ferment or age. Many will just walk away and trust that it’s functioning properly and nothing will happen to it. However there airlocks can fail. All it takes is an overly active fermentation, an improperly seated plug, or a cat to make unseat an airlock and let int oxygen and some nasty micro-organisms. When that happens all that wine will have to go down the drain. How To Use an Airlock In the following four minute video I’ll walk you through the entire process of setting up your three piece airlock. These are not the only type of airlock on the market, however, they’re the ones with the most moving parts. Watch this video to make sure you set up your airlock properly. If you follow these steps you’ll be well on your way to making the best possible wine with whatever raw materials you started with. The price for not following these steps so is just too high. Pretty easy right? Yes, BUT, don’t take these little devices for granted! They may be simple but they’re our guardians against spoiled grape juice. Remember These Tips Clean and sanitize every part of the airlock and plug. Fill airlocks with only clean water. Check on your airlock every day! Here’s a link to the same three piece airlock I use to make my wine. This is an affiliate link so if you use it you will be helping to support Winemaker’s...

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How Much Does it Cost to Make Wine from a Kit?

How Much Does it Cost to Make Wine from a Kit?

Wine kits are by far the least expensive way to get into wine making. It requires the least amount of equipment and makes the smallest amount of wine. Let’s take a look at what determines the cost to make wine for the first time. The Equipment I Purchased To get started I picked up the Vintner’s Reserve Shiraz wine kit. This included the grape juice concentrate and nearly all of the additives required to make the wine. However, wine kits do not include any equipment. With that in mind I picked up this wine making equipment kit from Midwest Supplies. This kit included the following: Primary Fermenter Glass Carboy (6.5 gallon) Hydrometer Corker Corks Bottle Brush Sanitizer Airlock Carboy plug While this got me most of the way as far as equipment was concerned I also purchased the following items: Carboy Brush Wine Thief Hydrometer Test Jar Self Adhesive Thermometer Titratable Acid Test Kit (optional) pH Test Strips (optional) With this equipment I was able to progress as far as completing fermentation. However I did find that I was missing a few key pieces of equipment for degassing the wine as well as having enough additives to age the wine longer than six months. Thus I also purchased a Wine Whip 28″ spoon additional potassium sorbate Star San sanitizer. I’ll get to the cost here in a minute. The point of laying out my equipment purchases in this way was to show you that these equipment kits don’t necessarily come with everything you need. Neither do the wine kit instructions spell out everything you’re likely to need. When I was making my initial purchase of the wine and equipment kit I believed I had nearly everything I needed. Even then I’d already picked up several things that weren’t in the equipment kit. As you saw above though, I wasn’t prepared for all of the wine making steps. One thing you may have noticed that’s missing from this list of equipment are the bottles. I used bottles I’d saved from wine I had consumed. Also, I got in touch with a local winery who offered to save me their empty tasting room bottles. I encourage you to collect bottles any way you can. They tend to be quite expensive to purchase due to the shipping costs. Local supply shops also pay that shipping before selling to you so there’s really no good deals on bottles. The only hitch with used bottles is removing the wine labels. So let’s get to it! Here’s the complete list of equipment I purchased and what I paid for it. The price per bottle is the sum of all equipment I purchased divided by the number of bottles yielded, 30. In all honesty I wound up with 29.5 bottles but I could have had 30 had I been more careful with the racking cane. Now that I own this equipment the cost per bottle of the next batch will come down significantly. This is because the cost of equipment can be spread out over the two batches instead of just the one. Much of this equipment will...

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