Home Winery Sanitation
Sanitation includes cleaning and sanitizing all surfaces that contact juice or wine. Sanitation in any winery is an ongoing effort, and much time and effort is expended to keep the equipment and cooperage clean.
Many proprietary cleaning materials have been developed specifically for the food and wine industry, and these products are used extensively by commercial wineries. However, most proprietary products are difficult to obtain in small quantities, so most home winemakers rely on readily available cleaning materials.
Liquid dish washing detergents are often used by home winemakers for general cleaning. Many of these liquid detergents do a good job in hot water, but their performance in cold water is often poor. Some dish washing detergents are strongly scented, and these products should be avoided. In general, any cleaning product with a strong perfume should not be used in the home winery because some porous materials like polyethylene containers can retain odors for some time. Unfortunately, odors can be transferred to the wine very easily.
Sodium phosphate is an excellent water softener and a good cleaning material. It is a principal ingredient in automatic dish washing detergents, and sodium phosphate is inexpensive and readily available in this form. Home winemakers often use phosphate-based detergents for cleaning equipment and wine storage containers. A cup of dishwasher powder in a sink of hot water does a good job of sanitizing used wine bottles.
TSP (tri sodium phosphate) is a work horse cleaning material in many home wineries. TSP is a powerful cleaner, and it rinses away reasonably well in cold water. Two tablespoons of TSP are often used in a gallon of hot water, and at useful concentrations, the solution feels soapy or slippery. TSP is hard on the hands when used at high concentrations so appropriate gloves should be worn.
Sodium hypochlorite (Clorox) is an effective material for sanitizing surfaces, hoses, containers and equipment. Unscented Clorox can be purchased at the local super market, and it is an inexpensive and effective sterilizing agent. Chlorine bleaches are all the same stuff, so buy the least expensive brand available. Although Clorox is a powerful and useful cleaning material, it has two major disadvantages. Clorox is difficult to remove completely from many surfaces, and it can generate poisonous chlorine gas under certain conditions.
Since Clorox is difficult to remove, home winemakers often rinse sanitized surfaces in the following way. First the surfaces are thoroughly rinsed with clean water. Next, the surfaces are rinsed with a solution made of one teaspoon each of sulfite powder and citric acid and a gallon of water. Then a final rinse is done with clean water to remove the sulfite solution. Rinsing is very important when any cleaning material is used on winemaking surfaces, and the home winemakers must make sure all of the cleaning material has been removed. If there is any doubt, the surface should be rinsed again.
"Wash everything just before use and then wash again when the job is finished" is a simple but effective rule used in all commercial wineries, and this rule is particularly good advice for home winemakers. Twice as much work seems to be implied. However, tremendous amounts of time and labor can be saved by following this rule. Wet grape residues rinse away easily, but dry residues are very difficult to remove. For example, rinsing out a piece of tubing after use is quick and simple operation, but cleaning the dried muck out of twenty feet of tubing is a difficult task.
An adjustable nozzle attached to a garden hose is the primary piece of cleaning equipment in home wineries. The nozzle should provide several spray patterns including a strong, high velocity stream, and the nozzle should not leak.
A square nose shovel, push broom and a long handled squeegee are standard equipment for cleaning crush areas and other winemaking spaces.
The long handled brushes designed for washing automobile hub caps are convenient for scrubbing equipment, small tanks and containers. An assortment of "bottle brushes" is needed to clean wine bottles, jugs and glass carboys.
A "jet" carboy washer is a great aid when washing old wine bottles. These little brass gadgets attache to a water faucet and deliver a powerful jet of water to the inside surfaces of any bottle or jug. The water starts flowing when a bottle is placed in position, and the water automatically turns off when the bottle is removed.
Equipment such as crushers and presses should be scrubbed with a TSP solution and carefully rinsed with clean water just before being used. Then the equipment should be washed again immediately after use before any residue has time to dry. Bottle fillers, filters, lines and pumps often harbor microbes, so these items should be cleaned with special care. A standard procedure is to assemble the pump, hoses, the filter, etc. The input and output hoses are inserted in a bucket filled with a TSP solution, and the pump is used to circulate the solution through the system. The TSP solution is drained, and the procedure is repeated with a week citric acid solution. The equipment is ready to use after the citric acid solution has been drained completely.
Hoses and Tubing
Hoses and tubing require special care because the inside surfaces are difficult to reach. Dirty hoses should always be cleaned while the residue is wet, and a TSP solution will do a good job if used promptly. The tubing should be rinsed several times with clean water so no TSP remains. Mold often grows when water is allowed to stand in hoses or tubing. Hoses should be hung on a wall with both ends pointing down, so water can drain completely.
Carboys and Tanks
Two types of tank residues are difficult to remove. A heavy brown residue often forms near the shoulder of glass carboys. Here, a bottle brush with a bent handle, TSP and lots of elbow grease is required. The second problem arises when a tank has been used for a long time and the inside surfaces have become covered with a heavy tartrate deposit. The tartrate will cause no harm if the coating does not contain trapped lees. In fact, a moderate tartrate coating will accelerate cold stabilization of new wine stored in the container. However, after a tank has been used for a few years, the tartrate layer becomes thick and contaminated with lees. Tartrate deposits are difficult to remove with cold water, but warm water and a small amount of sodium carbonate will dislodge the tartrates easily.
Maintaining empty barrels is difficult. More than two gallons of wine soak into the wood, and the wine in the wood turns to vinegar when empty, unprotected barrels are stored. Then the barrel becomes contaminated with vinegar bacteria, and sterilizing contaminated barrels is impossible. Large wineries keep their barrels full of wine. When aged wine is removed, the barrels are washed with clean water and immediately refilled with new wine. Many experienced home winemakers also keep their barrels filled with wine, but this technique requires bottling during the crush season.
Dirty bottles are usually soaked for a few days to loosen the dried sediment and the inevitable mold colonies. The bottles are then placed in very hot water containing a phosphate-based detergent. The inside surfaces are scrubbed with a bottle brush, and the outside surfaces are scrubbed with a course nylon pad. The bottles should then be thoroughly rinsed, drained and dried. When the bottles are dry, they should be placed points down in clean cardboard cases and stored in a clean, dry place.
Sanitary conditions are needed to prevent off tastes and off odors from developing in the wine, and much of the work in any winery consists of routine cleaning operations. Wine making space and equipment should be inspected and cleaned often using effective cleaning materials and procedures.