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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The Differences Between Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Sterilizing

While this may seem like a trivial distinction to make different wine making resources will use these terms interchangeably and it can get confusing. Cleaning Simply put, cleaning wine making equipment is to remove dirt and debris. This can be done by using warm water and your hands or a sponge to remove the big stuff. You don’t want to use soaps or detergents as these can leave behind a residue of their own. What cleaning does not do is remove any micro-organisms. Cleaning by itself is not enough to ensure that you won’t have any undesirable tastes due to rogue micro-organisms. Sanitizing Wine making requires clean and sanitary tools and vessels (carboys and fermenters). Sanitizing, often done using chemicals, removes most micro-organisms from your equipment. “Most” being the key word. Chemicals such as potassium metabisulfite have been used to accomplish this. However, as today there are much more effective chemicals on the market. Star San is one of the best sanitizing agents available. It’s the one I use and recommend. To sanitize your equipment you merely dip it into a sanitizing solution. That’s it. Many do not require you to rinse the sanitizer off before using it. However, chemicals that are not generally used in making wine should be rinsed off so that you don’t affect the fermentation or the taste of your finished wine. Sterilizing Sterilizing goes one step further than sanitizing. This is a process used to remove all micro-organisms. Nothing survives sterilization. Not yeast, bacteria, or fungus. Generally speaking winemakers do not sterilize their equipment. It takes special machines and or very harsh chemicals to accomplish complete annihilation of all micro-organisms. Chemiclas such as chlorine and hydrogen peroxide can be used to sterilize equipment, however, they must be used at concentrations many times more potent than what’s available to the public. Clean and Sanitized Wine making equipment needs to be clean and sanitized. A quick dip of a dirty hydrometer in a sanitizing solution will sanitize the hydrometer…and the dirt that’s on it. It’s not enough for your equipment to be merely clean either. While some micro-organisms contribute to a wine others turn it into vinegar or worse. How to Effectively Clean and Sanitize Your Wine Making Equipment 1. In warm water use a soft sponge or your hand wipe down all surfaces. Carboys and bottles will require a brush. Do not use dish soap or detergents as these will leave a residue behind. 2. Rinse off your clean equipment to ensure all the dirt has been washed away. 3. Dip equipment into a sanitizing solution such as potassium metabisulfite or Star San (affiliate). 4. Rinse off the sanitizing solution in warm water. 5. Allow your equipment to dry before using. It helps to have a sanitized surface to work on. Setting clean and sanitary equipment down on a dirty surface will undo all the hard work you just put into your equipment. Of course carboys and fermenters may sit on surfaces that have not been sanitized as long as the inside of these vessels remains clean. I recommend cleaning and sanitizing your work surface completely. It’s just good practice. Cleaning and sanitizing equipment is not fun nor is it the sexy...

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