Making Wine at Home: Sanitizing

We have already covered:

Step 1: The Equipment: Getting Started

Step 2: Grape Selection

Today we’ll discuss SANITIZING.

It is MOST IMPORTANT to keep everything that comes in contact with your wine EXTREMELY CLEAN. This single point cannot be stressed enough. This is especially critical when cleaning the fermenting vessels. You don’t need to sterilize, as it is impossible to keep things sterile.

Clean first, and then sanitize the press, crusher, fermentation vats, carboys, destemmer, and anything that will come in contact with the grapes, must, or wine during all phases of the wine making process. It cannot be stressed enough how important cleanliness and sanitation are. Taking shortcuts here will undoubtedly, sooner or later, ruin an entire batch of wine. All of the time, money and labor you’ve invested up to that point will have been wasted.


Here are some basic rules for maintaining a sanitized winery.

  1. Keep the winery clean and free of refuse both inside and out.
  2. Inspect the winery premises, the equipment and the cooperage at least once each month.
  3. Keep all equipment clean and in good working condition. Equipment should be arranged in an orderly way and the work areas kept free of clutter.
  4. Use plenty of clean hot water, sterilizing materials and cleaning agents, and the winery should be cleaned on a regular basis.
  5. Get rid of harmful bacteria, yeast, mold, insects and rodents. Then take any measures necessary to prevent a recurrence of these pests.


The first step in the process is ensuring that the equipment is clean. All new equipment should always be cleaned prior to sanitizing. It should also be cleaned up after each use. Simply rinsing out equipment after use does not always remove all the organic material. If you don’t clean your equipment after using it, you will likely find mold growing in it the next time you pull it out to make a batch of wine.


Cleaning instructions using Soda Ash and Citric Acid:

Step 1: Soda Ash
Use 3 tablespoons Soda Ash dissolved in 1 gallon of HOT water to clean everything. Run the same solution through all of your carboys (from container to container). Brush clean and then discard the solution and rinse with plain water.

Step 2: Citric Acid
Follow the same instructions as used for Soda Ash.

Step 3: META (Kills bacteria)
Finally, dissolve 4 tablespoons of META in 1 gallon of water. Swirl this solution through all of your carboys, bottles etc. and rinse thoroughly.

Check back soon for the next stage in Wine-Making when the real fun begins…We’ll sort through the grapes and give you an old school demonstration on stomping!

Thanks for stopping by!



© Giovanni Cucullo 2011

Making Wine at Home: Grape Selection

This is Part 2 of the Wine Making series.

Which Grape Should I Use?

One of the most common questions with regards to making homemade wine is which grape (varietal) to use. After a lot of research, dozens of questions and many conversations with friends and experts in the field, I learned that there are certain varietals which are better suited to make homemade wine. Everyone agreed that using a blend of grapes would produce the best results at home and most people agreed that Zinfandel and Syrah were the best choices due to their intense fruit flavor and especially for their resilient nature; those two grapes can withstand the rougher handling and simple equipment associated with homemade wine. They also suggested adding some Tempranillo, Malbec or Cabernet Franc to give the wine more structure.

For the final blend I decided to use:

  • 45% Zinfandel (Sonoma)
  • 45% Syrah (Sonoma)
  • 10% Cabernet Franc (Napa)


Purchasing Grapes / Finding a Supplier:

I am lucky to live near one of the most reputable grape suppliers on the East Coast – Prospero Wines, and they are extremely helpful to all novice wine makers. From October to November, they carry an outstanding selection of grapes from all over the world, most coming from Napa and Sonoma.

** Grapes average $35 to $45 per case, and one case of grapes will produce 12 bottles of wine.


During those two months, shipments arrive every day at Prospero and you are free to stroll around the warehouse sampling all the super-ripe grapes. This is the only way to determine quality. Taste the grapes, examine them and look for bruises, impurities and insects…it’s pretty logical…if the grapes taste good and look healthy, you’re good to go! Grapes are perishable, especially late in the season when they are most ripe, so make sure you begin the wine making process within 2 days of getting the grapes home.

Here’s a picture of my wine-making partner surveying the raw product.

I think it’s important for me to note that you’re not going to produce a world-class wine here. Don’t expect Tignanello or Screaming Eagle or even a simple bottle of Mondavi. You will, however, be able to produce a wine that you can be proud of and have an enriching and fun time in the process.



Stop back next time when I’ll discuss the importance of cleaning and sanitizing.

Part 1 can be found here: Getting Started


© Giovanni Cucullo 2010