Friday, February 8, 2013

Wine Additives - Part 1 of a Multipart Series.

Wine making is fun and rewarding.

Welcome back to my blog on Italian cooking and wine making.   I have been asked a lot of questions on the additives that are used when making wine.

UPDATE: Please check my new wine making website for more detail on wine making.   How To Make Homemade Wine

This is the first in a multipart series on wine making additives that a home wine maker would use.    Many of these things are included in wine kits.   If you are making wine from juice, or other fresh fruit, you will need to get these things separately.

In this first part, I will be focusing on Metabisulfite and Sorbate.   Future parts will involve other additives, such as clearing agents, and enzymes that break down pectin that is found in many fruits.


There are two types of metabisulfite that is used for the same purpose   The two types are Potassium or Sodium metabisulfite.   Some people call it K-Meta.   

Metabisulfite is used for two main purposes in wine making:

  • As a sanitizer:  When metabisulfite is mixed with water in a high concentration, the water based solution becomes a great sanitizer.   This sanitizer is used to sanitize all of your equipment and bottles, in essence anything that touches the wine.
  • As an additive to wine:  In a weaker concentration, it is added to wine at different stages.   At the beginning of the wine making process, it may be added to kill unwanted wild yeasts and bacteria.   At the end of a fermentation, it can be added to stop fermentation before clearing and bottling. It also acts to minimize the effects of oxygen on the wine.

Metabisulfite as a Sanitizing Solution

To make a good sanitizing solution, dissolve 2 oz metabisulfite powder for each gallon of clean water.   Store this is a tightly sealed one gallon glass jug.  The sanitizing solution can be reused over and over again and will last for about 2 months.   The fumes of the metibisulfite sanitizing solution are intense, so make sure to keep the area that you are working in well ventilated.  People who have asthma or other breathing conditions may find the fumes can trigger an asthmatic attack.

Sanitizing is not the same as cleansing.   The process of getting your equipment ready to work with winemaking involves first cleansing with a cleanser and rinsing well.   Then, sanitizing your equipment with the metabisulfite solution.

After I sanitize my equipment with the metabisulfite solution, I rinse it well.    The exception is after fermentation is complete.  When racking to a carboy for clearing, bulk aging, or when bottling, I use the solution to sanitize and I don’t rinse afterward.   Instead, I leave the bottles or carboy upside down, and allow all excess solution to drain out.    This will leave a thin film of the sulfite on the inner wall of the bottle or carboy.    When filling with wine, the dried sulfite on the walls of the bottle react with the wine and become a sanitizing gas that aids in killing bacteria and assists in preventing oxidation.

Many people are concerned that this will add a lot of sulfites to the wine.   Homemade wines made in this way have about a ¼ of the sulfites that commercial wines, yet still offer the protection that the sulfites proved against bacteria, re-fermentation, and oxidation.

Metabisulfite to Kill Wild Yeast and Bacteria
If you are NOT making wine from a kit and instead using a juice from fresh fruit, before putting your winemaking yeast into the wine, you may want to kill off the wild yeast and bacteria in your juice.    For 6 gallons of wine, ¼ teaspoon of metabisulfite powder can be added and stirred in.   After doing so, you will need to wait 24 hours to add your yeast.   If you add the yeast too soon, the metabisulfite will kill they yeast you are adding.  

To make things easier, metabisulfite is also sold in a tablet form, called Camden tablets.   All you would need to do is crush one Camden tablet per gallon of wine.   For example, you would crush 6 tablets for your standard 6 gallons of wine that will eventually fill a six gallon carboy.

This whole process of adding metabisulfite is often repeated after fermentation is complete, many times prior to de-gassing and clearing.

Potassium Sorbate

After your wine is finished and prior to bottling, Potassium Sorbate, also called wine stabilizer, is sometimes added reduce the possibility of re-fermentation.  This is very important if you have a wine that is sweet in any way.   If you don’t add sorbate, you run a great probability that the wine will re start fermenting while it is in the bottle.   When this happens, the wine will get more gas, and in some cases the corks will shoot out with the added pressure being built up in the bottles.   Since you will be storing your bottles on their sides, your wine will pour out all over the floor, and you will most definitely cry.

To prevent this nightmare, it is strongly recommended that you use Potassium Sorbate in any wine you are back sweetening or any wine that is still sweet after the fermentation is complete.   In a nutshell, anything that is not completely dry, I would recommend the use of sorbate.   You work hard to make your wine! To have to remove all of your wine from the bottles, de gas, sulfite, sorbate and rebottle is a lot of unnecessary work that could have been prevented if you used the sorbate in the first place. 

Prior to bottling, add the sorbate to your wine by first dissolving it a cup of wine.   After it is dissolved, add the cup to the rest of your wine and stir the mixture thoroughly.   If the wine is sweet, I would recommend ½ teaspoon for each gallon of wine.   If you choose to use it in a dry wine, you would use half that amount.  Do not exceed ½ teaspoon per gallon of wine.

This is the end of part one of my mulitpart series on winemaking additives.    Please stays tuned for more updates and feel free to ask any questions.    I hope this information is helpful to you, and I am delighted to be part of your home winemaking success story!

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