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

Making Wine at Home: Getting Started

Making your own wine at home might seem daunting at first, but once you have purchased all the equipment and have gained a firm understanding of the wine-making process you will quickly begin to embrace something that began almost 8000 years ago.

I will separate the process into 8 stages, today being the first.

The first critical step is to find a reputable supplier for all your wine-making needs. In Westchester County, New York, there’s a family run institution where everyone goes to for all their wine-making supplies…Prospero Winery!

Here’s a list of all the equipment you will need:

1. Table Top De-Stemmer
2. Fermentation Vat with Lid
I opted to NOT use the de-stemmer and chose to de-stem the grapes by hand. I will give a detailed explanation about that when we get there.
4. Stainless Steel Puncher
5. Press
Here are the nutrients, chemicals & additives you will need:

Citric Acid and Sodium Carbonate are used for sanitizing EVERYTHING!

You MUST use yeast…never rely on natural yeast!
Metabisulfate is used to:
1. Create sulfur dioxide gas
2. Inhibit bacteria and wild yeasts
3. Increase the aging
4. Protect color and flavor
5. Sterilize equipment
DAP (Dimaonium Phosphate) and Fermaid are foods which the yeast will feed on…It helps the wine to ferment.
MicrosEssentials Oenos and Viniflora are nutrients which contain a mixture of organic proteins that help induce Malolactic Fermentation.
This is a hydrometer. It’s used to measure the amount of sugar in the wine and it will tell you when you should press the grapes into juice.
You will need Demijohns (carboys) to store the wine while it ferments.
They come in different shapes and sizes but I recommend the standard 5 gallon water-cooler type…just make sure you use glass and not plastic.


You will also need additional bottle sizes for later in the wine-making process when you will have odd amounts of wine.


You will need rubber corks (bungs) and airlocks for each bottle.


Get yourself a syphon kit for transferring wine from jar to jar.



Other items:

     Pails / Buckets

Measuring Cups and Spoons


Clear Packing Tape


And of course…


Check back soon for the next stage in Wine-Making when we’ll discuss the grapes and how to choose the right one for you!

Thanks for stopping by!



© Giovanni Cucullo 2010

Jack, Jill and a Pail Full of Memories


Every year on the East Coast, summer comes to an end and everyone breaks out their soft blanket of sadness in preparation for colder weather. It’s a strange numbing feeling that I can never get used to, and by early September summer feels like a distant cousin we tearfully escorted to the airport, perhaps to never see again. 

There is one thing though, that I love about those last days in August…
Jack and Jill’s End of Summer Pool Party. 

Jack and Jill live on a hill (yes, they really do), not far from Bill and Hillary, (yes, that Bill and Hillary), and every summer they invite a dozen of their closest friends to their home to share in a relaxed afternoon of food and wine. 

Jack and Jill (like the Murphy’s) are another couple who understand the importance of a shared experience, and very few people can throw it down with the palpable passion and generosity as they do.  


Our first half of the day always begins with Jack shuttling guests from the train station to his home while Jill does some finishing touches around the house. The swimming pool is just the right temperature and as guests arrive, the white Burgundies and German Rieslings begin to make their way poolside. The usual hugs, kisses and smiles are punctuated by the anticipation of the wonderful food and extraordinary wines we expect to taste and imbibe. 



It’s no coincidence that I have many male friends who easily navigate their way through a kitchen, and Jack is no exception. His great taste is evident in his home, but also with regards to fine wine and culinary exploration. Once everyone settles in, Jack appears poolside with platters of shellfish and house-made dips and salsa which pair perfectly with the white wines. The whole lobsters with truffle mayo were a huge hit and never had a chance with this decadent crowd. 

Everyone made their way in and out of the pool while discussing the years past events as my camera snapped away, but it’s always the children who seem to capture so much. 


After a refreshing few hours by the pool we make our way up the hill to the house, leaving our pails of water poolside; excited about the rib eye steaks we traditionally eat each year. The second half of the day is underway. 

Despite my many years of culinary experience, each year I am merely a sous-chef to Jack. This is his show, and knowing all-too-well the amount of effort which goes into hosting such an event, I gladly try to make his day a little smoother by helping him make farm-fresh salads, cutting vegetables and by helping Jill set the table, allowing Jack time to focus on grilling to perfection the gargantuan rib-eye steaks which his butcher double cut just for him.  

The wine aficionados begin to gather around the wine table to survey the prizes of the evening. The showing of wines each year is always astonishing; four decades of classic wines, predominantly Bordeaux. I’m certain I caught a few of the “geeks” grunting and banging their chests in approval. 


The salads are made, the corn has been steamed and the steaks have rested their allotted time. Nothing left to do but enjoy the fruits of Jack and Jill’s labor. 



We cap off the day by polishing off any remaining wine with some artisanal cheese and fresh picked figs. After tasting a few wines from the 197o’s, Jack decides to sneak down to his wine cellar and surprise us by pulling a bottle of 1970 d’Yquem from his collection. Wow! 



I always talk about the importance of sharing the experience, but every year, somehow, Jack and Jill manage to teach me how to fill that pail with cherished memories. 

Grazie Mille!

Red Wine Descriptions




Cabernet Sauvignon
{CAB-er-nay SO-vin-nyon}
Medium-bodied: Ruby colored wine with berry aromas and a round finish.
Full-bodied: Dark, rich garnet color with jam & oak aromas & full, dry finish.
Also look for these flavors: blackberry, currant (cassis), bell pepper, eucalyptus, mint, black olive, green olive, earth, mushroom, chocolate, cocoa, smoke, plum, cedar, tobacco, licorice, graphite (pencil).


Black cherry aromas & flavors; medium-body & soft tannins on the finish.
A softer version of Cabernet.  


Pinot Noir
(It’s the grape used for all red French Burgundies)
Medium-bodied with a hint of earthy aromas balanced by fruit flavors and a silky finish.
Also look for: Raspberry, strawberry, cherry, prune, plum, pomegranate, coffee, spice, coriander, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, earth, smoke, mushroom, “barnyard”, caramel, allspice, violets, lavendar, jasmine, cocoa, sausage, citrus, soy, teriyaki.


Bright ruby color; spicy aromas & flavors; it’s dry & medium to full-bodied.
Also look for: Blackberry, raspberry, jam, cherry, port, plum, chocolate, olive, bell pepper, cloves, black pepper, spice.


(or Beaujolais-Villages, Gamay Beaujolais}
Purplish color with grapey aromas and flavors; light to medium-bodied.
Also look for: Raspberry, strawberry, cinnamon, clovbes, rose petal, jasmine, violets, cranberry, mineral.


Dry, full-bodied, hint of spice and oak on the nose, velvety finish.
Also look for: cherry, cinnamon, herbs, dried flowers, pepper, coffee.


Superb Italian red wine, medium to full-bodied with spice, raspberry, cherry and anise flavors.
Also look for: cinnamon, vanilla, herbs, tar, dried flowers, truffle, smoke, pepper, coffee, chamomile, rose petal.


Smooth, supple texture with pepper, spice and black cherry flavors.
Also look for: dark fruit, pepper, cinnamon, anise, prune, oak, soy, chocolate, smoke, toast, violets.