Utensils and Equipment For Making Wine At Home
The choice of wine-making utensils is of far greater importance than is generally realized. Years ago, wine and beer-makers were simply not catered for, so they had to use whatever they could lay their hands on. Very few of them realized that they were using utensils that caused spoilage in wines or that could turn out poisonous wines.
Today wine-makers have a wide choice of equipment. But that need not make it expensive; indeed, the initial outlay for making 5 or 10 ltr (1 or 2 gall) lots is quite small. Bear in mind that several 10 ltr (2 gall) batches a year add up to a nice amount of wine. If, like many, you drink your wines soon after they are made, then 25 ltr (5 gall) lots are more sensible. If you want to, you can make 50 or 100 ltr (10 or 20 gall) at a time. It is sound advice, however, to make 5 or 10 ltr (1 or 2 gall) batches to start with until you really get the feel of things. The initial outlay for the smaller batches is also more attractive.
Metals must, of course, be used when water, fruits or fruit juices are boiled. And they should be used for this purpose only. On no account should any metal be used for fermentation purposes. Also the fruits should be left in contact with metal for the shortest possible time. This is because fruit acids will attack any metal if they are in contact with it long enough. The result of this is ‘Spoilage’.
The most suitable metals to use for boiling water and for fruits or juices are Monet metal, stainless steel, high-grade aluminium and, provided it is designed for cooking purposes, unchipped enamel. Enamel pails and similar utensils are not designed for cooking.
Fermentation should always be carried out in non-toxic polythene, glass or new stoneware. Barrels are suitable of course, provided that they are new or have been used for nothing except wine-making and that they are easily cleaned and sterilized. One of the greatest mistakes (and one I have myself been forced to make owing to shortages years ago) is to use jars and barrels from other than a reliable dealer. How often has a wine-maker had an acquaintance tell him that if he likes to collect them there are half a dozen old stone jars ‘up the end of the garden’. And how many unsuspecting wine-makers have gone after them like a shot.
Thank heaven we know better today. Even so, almost every week letters reach me from readers of my other books and of my magazine articles asking my opinion of the usefulness of certain vessels they have been given. Amongst these are old vinegar barrels, barrels that have contained vegetable oils or fruit juices and the like. Others write that they have acquired large plastic vessels of various shapes that have contained mild acids or other substances. Others confess that they have not the slightest idea what the vessels once contained. In every case, for safety’s sake I have advised throwing them away.
Containers that have held fruit juices, syrups or vegetable or cooking oils might be suitable if the nature of the plastic could be determined, and the containers cleaned so that they are safe. But as this is nigh on impossible, it is best not to use them. As for those that have contained acids of any sort, these should be destroyed. Many dangerous acids or deadly poisons are now available in plastic containers. Whether these could be safely cleaned and whether the plastic itself is suitable for our purposes is doubtful.
Glass containers that have contained fruit cordials or the larger vessels of distilled water are quite safe as these are easily sterilized. So if you know of a cheap source of supply of such vessels, take advantage of it.
Many hardware stores supply plastic vessels that might be considered suitable, but the assistant might not be able to tell you precisely the type of plastic used in its manufacture, and this is important. Alcohol produced during fermentation may attack the plasticizers used in plasticized PVC and similar vessels, so that the wine may become contaminated. Polythene, PVC (in which the plasticizer has not been used), teryiene and nylon are quite suitable. But plastic vessels are not necessarily labelled as to what they are made of, and the assistant in the hardware store will often sell you anything without knowing what you want it for. In any case, he would not know whether it was suitable or not.
The straight-from-the-shoulder advice must therefore be, obtain your supplies from reliable firms dealing in your requirements. A list of these appears at the end of the book. Dealers in home wine-making and brewing ingredients and utensils hold large supplies of the utensils most suitable for our needs. Since they know precisely the type of vessel and the materials they should be made from, it goes without saying that these are the best people to go to. A wide range of sizes of all containers is available. All the wine-maker has to do is to decide in the light of the quantities he produces what size and type of vessel he needs.
A person setting out to make 5 ltr (1 gall) lots will need a 10 ltr (2 gall) polythene (or other suitable plastic) fermentation vessel, such as a pail, and a few one-gallon size glass jars for the secondary fermentation and for storage. Vessels for boiling the fruits or juices (where this is done) or for boiling the water will most likely already be in his kitchen. So he will need very little, apart from straining cloths, funnels of suitable plastic and fermentation locks. The more adventurous will need larger vessels of which there are plenty in the price lists of suppliers of home wine-making equipment.
There is no doubt that glass vessels are most popular for the secondary fermentation stage, and even for storage where red wines can be kept in the dark. Glass allows the operator to see what is going on.
For the home brewer, there are polythene dustbins for mashing and fermenting purposes. Being lightweight and unbreakable, they are very popular. (Those making draught beers will have to use stone tap-hole jars for storage. They are rather expensive but need only be bought once. And you will need only two or three because they are emptied a week or two after being filled.)
Although in my view it is an insult to wines to put them into vessels shaped like a jerry-can, there is no doubt that this type of plastic vessel is becoming increasingly popular for the secondary fermentation stage and for storage purposes. They are unbreakable, light, and easy to carry about.
So, before you buy new utensils or replace old ones, have a good look through several price lists, or better still visit your nearest supplier to see just what is available; you will be surprised, I am sure.
While on the subject of utensils, a word about measuring is timely. It is well worthwhile making sure that jugs or other vessels are graduated in litres or pints, up to near the rim. Small liquid measures are usually marked for teaspoons and tablespoons. And bear in mind that these are recognized measures. So do not use a teaspoon or tablespoon from the cutlery drawer because they are likely to be wide of the true measure. How often one reads in recipes of the need for a level teaspoonful or tablespoonful of such and such. Yet there are a dozen different sizes of teaspoons and tablespoons.
Therefore use a proper measure and work more safely — especially when you are measuring acid or some constituent that will have a very marked effect upon the flavour of the wine.
Most of you will use the pound and ounces figures as you have always done. Those using the metric equivalents, as the younger readers will, will find that all utensils for wine- and beer-making today are marked in the various measures tables.
Smaller vessels are marked in fluid ounce-tablespoons and cubic centimetres, so that they may be used for whichever measures scale you prefer. So do bear in mind that a tablespoon is an accurate measure (but use the proper tablespoon-fluid ounce measuring vessel and not a tablespoon from the cutlery drawer). I make this point because there are several different sized tablespoons in that cutlery drawer. In the articles on flower wines it was decided to leave the pint and quart measures to stand, simply because these measures have been used for centuries and nobody to date has ever bothered to weigh a quart of dandelion heads Or whatever it is. But jugs with quarts measures together with the metric equivalents will be available for years to come — so that nobody should experience any difficulty.
Metric Conversion Table
1 gall 5ltr 1 lb 450g
1 pt 6 dl ½ lb 225g
½ p t 3 dl ¼1b 100 g
¼ pt 1.5 dl 2 oz 50 g
6 tbs 1 dl 1 oz 25 g
Just let me say that I have never yet found the need to use a corking machine. This is because I always used the flanged (flat-topped, mushroom-shaped) corks with a plastic seal. They are quite cheap and are best bought by the gross. The seals are slipped over the top of the cork at bottling time, pressed down all round and allowed to dry out. As they do so in an hour or so, they shrink to form an airtight seal and become very, very tight after a while. They are easily removed when the wine is required.
A word about storing these seals. They come in airtight cans filled with fluid. Once the can has been Opened, I like to turn the lot into a small Kilner jar or other screwtop jar of about 450 g (1 lb) size. Some instant coffee jars are ideal, but bear in mind that the jar must be kept airtight, otherwise the fluid that keeps the seals expanded will evaporate, and the seals shrink and become useless.
I have covered all the essential equipment in this section. If you are pressed into buying non-essentials, your wine- and beer-making will become expensive. So get the bare essentials to start with, and you will see then that you have everything you need.