There are some moments, in the making of a wine kit, when you could find yourself reconsidering what you're doing and wishing you hadn't started. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but you might want to lift a few weights or get your arms and lower back in shape before starting your first kit. Because you're going to be doing quite a bit of stirring, and this doesn't mean a slow, dreamy figure eight through the liquid a couple of times. Before you're done, you'll have to stir till your teeth rattle....
I'm cheap, so rather than buy bottles I try to recycle and clean as many as I can. That means a lot of work on my part, but I see the expense of time as a small price to pay when you consider how costly bottles can be. That said, I have bought bottles several times in the en years I have been making beer & wine at home, but typically only when I've needed specialty bottles or weren't seeing the ones I needed in the loads of bottles my family and friends were dropping off in the garage.
I'm cheap and I'm also not much into appearances, but clean bottles are a must. I might affix a simple print-at-home Avery label on many of my bottles, but the bottles are clean. Clean bottles to those you serve your homemade creations to are akin to the cleanliness of your sink for house guests. It lets them know that you care about the sanitation of the food and drink you serve and what you serve it on and in. I most often see partially de-labeled bottles, or bottles with dirty exteriors, in a competition setting, and it always makes me feel apprehensive about what is in the bottle. If the person who bottled their creation didn't take the time to clean the outside of the bottle, did they clean the inside? Was the wine, beer, cider or mead that went into the bottle a playground for who-knows-what in a dirty bottle? This is a situation that must be avoided. And it really is pretty simple to clean recycled bottles.
As I was cleaning bottles recently it occurred to me that the process I've finally honed in on might be worth sharing. It's a simple process, and I've adopted a low threshold for whether I think I can get a label cleanly off a bottle. If the label comes away and leaves a solid layer of glue that doesn't want to move, the bottle goes in the recycling bin. Fighting with bottles isn't the business I am in, cleaning as many as I can is....
Remember your aunt or your friend's grandmother, who could make a perfect cake or dinner dish without ever following a recipe? In making wine kits, of course that is NOT how you should approach things. Kit instructions are very important, and every small step is there to make sure the wine turns out beautifully. But those great cooks and their pioneer predecessors can still be a smart object lesson for us home winemakers. They weren't born knowing their recipes, after all, but learned by trial and error until they discovered what worked.
And after all those trials, how did they remember whether the cake worked better with a half cup of sugar or a quarter cup? They wrote it down. Many of these early settlers used notebooks for keeping track of experiments they made with each meal, recording what the results were. If something went wrong, they'd know for sure what not to do again. And if something turned out very well, they could reproduce the same result next time or tweak it to taste even better.
One of my earliest blog posts for WineMaker Magazine was entitled "Competing For The Feedback" in July of 2011. In that post I put the opportunity for learning more about one's wines in hopes of further improving or enhancing them from constructive feedback as a leading reason to enter competitions.
In the nearly year-and-a-half since I wrote that article I've had a number of additional competition experiences that have affirmed this notion and validated my past efforts to learn from such feedback, all while having learned a good deal more about what I am doing that is working, and what isn't.
(Grapes yes, but for pyment not traditional wine. Just another crazy day for me! )...
Staphylococcus biofilm. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Cleanliness is next to goodliness in home winemaking. I’m not sure who said this, but the crashing bore was completely correct: nothing can spoil a batch faster than bacteria or wild yeast living on the remains of a previous effort. That’s why winemakers are always vigilant with rinsing bottles after they’re empty, and slosh sulphite around their equipment with great abandon. Keep your equipment and bottles free of debris and treated with a bacterial suppressor like sulphite solution and it will always be ready to go, right?
Sadly, not always—in fact this regimen can leave your equipment a cause of failure, rather than a source of success. Simple rinsing may remove visible residues from surfaces, but after repeated exposures to batch after batch of wine even the ultra-smooth surfaces of glass carboys will develop an invisible layer of colloids and proteins, sometimes described as a bio-film.
This film is analogous to the film that develops on your teeth. And, just as in keeping carboys clean, if you only rinsed your mouth after eating, and perhaps took a swish of mouthwash, you would, in a very short period, find yourself with a serious oral hygiene issue.
Even soaking equipment in quite powerful oxidising cleansers (chlorine-based powders, peroxides or bleach) or powerful reductive agents (sodium hydroxide/caustic soda) won’t completely remove biofilms. This requires the mechanical action of scrubbing to remove the film. Again, we can go back to teeth: even if you rinsed with very strong mouthwash, you still need the mechanical action of brushing to remove the debris from tooth surfaces to be kissing fresh....