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Winemaking Product Reviews

If you are a manufacturer or distributor of a home winemaking product -- any product, such as equipment, additives, wine yeasts, etc. -- and would like to submit a product for Daniel Pambianchi to perform an independent product test and review, and post results to this page, please email me at dan...@techniquesinhomewinemaking.com. And please let us know if you will be featuring a new product at upcoming home winemaking events.

Please note that this is an independent review, i.e., it is not paid advertizement, and results are the exclusive property of Daniel Pambianchi and this site. Results will be posted along with an image of the product and contact or purchase information.

If you are interested in advertizing on this site, please email me at dan...@techniquesinhomewinemaking.com.




 


All in One Wine Pump Makes Racking and Bottling Wine Simple and Quick Tasks

I had heard great things from fellow winemakers about the All in One Wine Pump. It’s certainly a bold name for a product. The product’s marketing literature claims that it can be used for racking, degassing, filtering and bottling wine. So I decided to give it a try and see how well it performed for racking and bottling – the two most-common operations I perform in my cellar. I was particularly interested in this product as I’m moving more and more of my winemaking operations to equipment and methods that handle wine more gently and minimize oxygen uptake.

The Standard All in One Wine Pump includes a vacuum pump mounted in a portable plastic housing with a carrying handle, and all the necessary tubing and fittings for racking, degassing, filtering and bottling wine from standard-sized carboys, for example, 20 and 23 L (5 and 6 gal); it should never be used with
demijohns because the thin glass cannot withstand the vacuum pressure. All you need to supply is two 3/8-inch racking canes and an empty bottle for creating the vacuum and pull.

The first thing I noticed when I received and opened my package was that tubings are color-coded. Simple yet very clever! It makes the setup easy to remember. Just attach tubings to matching colors and, voilà, you ready to go.

My first try with the All in One Wine Pump was to rack wine from one carboy to another. The setup involves creating a vacuum in the receiving carboy (and empty bottle) to pull wine from the full carboy or primary fermentor (e.g. pail). Once I sanitized the receiving carboy, racking canes and tubing, the actual racking took 4 minutes to transfer 20 L (5 gal) of wine.

Next up was bottling. Here too the setup was simple and quick. On the first try, it takes a few bottles to get the hang of it but it’s smooth sailing from thereon. The bottle used to create the vacuum now doubles as the overflow bottle. To fill bottles, you simply insert the bottling attachment into a bottle, let it fill up, and then proceed to the next bottle. It takes approximately 15 seconds per bottle once you get the hang of it. And every bottle is filled consistently to the same fill level; this can be adjusted as needed. It took me under 15 minutes to bottle 20 L (27 bottles) on my first try. The vacuum line includes an in-line vacuum release to control the fill level and fill speed – this minimizes foaming during bottling. Just remember to keep your carboy full of wine at a lower level than bottles for bottling to work properly.

The Deluxe All in One Wine Pump includes a flex racking cane for degassing, and filter barbs and extra tubing for filtering. I never degas my wines because they degas naturally during normal processing, i.e. rackings, and aging. But if you are in a rush to bottle and the wine needs to be degassed, I would expect this vacuum pump to perform as well as any other good vacuum pump for degassing. For more information on degassing wine, you can read my report on the Characterization of Degassing Equipment and Its Impact on Wine Chemistry. And if you want to filter your wine before bottling, it is simply a matter of placing a filter system, i.e. filter housing and cartridge, in line between the wine and receiving carboys and then bottling.

The Standard package retails for US$199.95 and the Deluxe package is US$219.95.

For more information, check out the All in One Wine Pump website or watch the video.




The Master Vintner Cannonball® Wine Keg System is just perfect for pouring wine at parties or on demand

I remember as a kid my dad brought out his mini glass demijohn, some 15 L (4 gal) of wine, and conveniently poured wine for guests from the spigot. Unfortunately, this little guy -- the demi, not my dad -- would soon break, and then my dad went out and bought a second one and, again, the glass shattered. The metal spigot on glass was simply not a good design idea. As I came to enjoy wine and serving it at parties, I wish I had some small container, smaller than the mini demijohn, that I could use to pour wine to a large number of guests. Sure, I could always use a Cornelius keg, but its 19-L (5-gal) size made it too bulky for storing it in the fridge for chilling white wine. Even my 12-L (3-gal) baby Cornelius would be too bulky.

Enter the Master Vintner Cannonball Wine Keg System. This is the perfect solution to my party needs.

The Cannonball Wine Keg System is a complete system for pouring wine on demand. It includes a 6.6-L (1.75-gal) mini keg, a Wine Snap Tap with ball lock disconnect for pouring wine, a nitrogen regulator with gas ball lock disconnect, an 18-g nitrogen cartridge, and complete assembly, operating and care instructions. The cartridge can be used to pour up to 3 full kegs of wine if used carefully.

Once assembled and the tank filled with wine and sealed, you simply need to attach the regulator assembly to the IN side of the keg and the Wine Snap Tap to the OUT side. The dial on the regulator is used to pressurize and seal the tank to 5-10 psi -- that's all the pressure that's needed. The tank is purged of air and is then ready to use to enjoy wine. Simply pull on the Wine Snap Tap to pour wine and push back to stop the flow. The cartridge/regulator and Wine Snap Tap assemblies can be removed for storing the keg in the fridge. But NEVER remove the cartridge from the regulator until it is COMPLETELY empty.

I have tested the system pouring white wine over a 6-day period and the wine tasted fresh with every single pour, as would be expected because the wine is well protected under inert nitrogen gas.

Retail price for the complete system is US$199.99.

Extra nitrogen cartridges are US$19.99. That works out to approximately $0.20 per Pambianchi pour, something like 200 mL.

For more information, visit Master Vintner's Cannonball Wine Keg System webpage.




Blichmann Engineering's QuickCarb can be used for quickly carbonating wine into fine bubbly

I came across the QuickCarb while perusing Blichmann Engineering's website as I was curious to see if there were any new products. I'm very fond of their products, such as the WineEasy system (a wine press system integrated into a stainless steel fermenting tank), because of their outstanding German engineering quality.

The QuickCarb was designed for their primary market -- beermaking. Being the wine guy I am, I wondered if the QuickCarb couldn't be used for carbonating wine. This would be a great opportunity to test it out as I had a small batch of Moscato just wanting to be turned into an Asti Spumante-style wine. Asti Spumante is to Piemonte what Prosecco is to Veneto and Friuli regions of Northern Italy. I was doubly excited having just returned from a short vacation in Barolo in Piemonte, having imbibed some of the finest Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Barbera and Moscato wines.

Asti Spumante is a semi-sweet, fully sparkling wine with about 9% alcohol and 4 bars (60 psi) or more of pressure. There is also a Moscato d'Asti with 4-5% alcohol but with only a slight fizz at about 1 bar of pressure.

The QuickCarb comprises a small pump and a carbonating stone that delivers the finest bubbles, an important aspect of sparkling wine quality. The unit comes equipped with all the tubing and connectors to carbonate wine (or beer) straight out of a Cornelius-type keg in approximately 30-45 minutes. The whole system comes in a Blichmann Engineering-branded carrying case. Nice!

So ... I first chilled my 12-liter (3-gallon) keg of Moscato wine overnight in a refrigerator. Then, I immersed the keg in an ice bath to get the temperature down as low as possible. Carbon dioxide (CO2) gas dissolves more readily at colder temperatures. I was able to get the wine chilled down to about 5C (41F). I setup my CO2 tank, regulator and QuickCarb to deliver about 4 bars (60 psi) of pressure. First I sanitized the entire system as per Blichmann Engineering's instructional video, and then proceeded with carbonation. After about 45 minutes, carbonation subsided and so I shut everything off. I placed a gauge on the keg to confirm that the QuickCarb did its job ... deliver 4 bars of CO2. The whole process was simple and quick.

But the real test would be the taste test. I let the wine settle overnight in a refrigerator and then bottled it using a counterpressure bottler. The wine tasted fresh with fine bubbles that tingled my tongue and charmed my palate.

Voila!! Asti Spumante in a cinch.

Suggested retail price for the complete QuickCarb unit is US$179.99. The keg, CO2 tank and regulator are not included.

For more information, visit Blichmann Engineering's website.





The Enolmatic vacuum bottle filler makes bottling simple and fast

I had heard many great things about the Enolmatic vacuum bottle filler but I never had the opportunity to try one. My winemaking has been mainly large scale and so, I typically bottled large volumes using a 3- or 6-spout filler. But I now make smaller volumes and of more varieties and types of wines, including fruit wines. So I called up my friend Flora over at Bosagrape Winery & Brew Supplies and ordered a unit along with a Tandem wine filter and 0.5 micron cartridge that I would use for a final filtration.

The Enolmatic vacuum bottle filler and Tandem wine filter are geared to home winemakers. These are manufactured in Italy by Tenco who also manufactures sophisticated machinery for the packaging of food products and specific equipment for bottling commercial wine, liquor and oil.

The Enolmatic bottle filler uses a small electrical pump to create a vacuum to pull wine from a carboy and fill bottles. The wine does not pass through the pump and air uptake is therefore much reduced. It fills one bottle at a time but it is deceptively fast, in under 5 seconds, which is faster than the 250 bottles/hour rate stated in Tenco's specifications. It could give my 3-spout bottler a run for its money. The bottling speed on the Enolmatic can be adjusted to minimize foaming depending on the amount of carbon dioxide in the wine.

The unit has an adjustable arm that can be moved up or down to accommodate different size bottles, and comes equipped with a racking cane and all the tubing necessary to get you going right out of the box. The spout assembly can be adjusted up or down to a desired fill level. A clamp is also included to secure the unit on a tabletop.

To begin the filling operation, a bottle is inserted under the spout and the unit turned on. A vacuum is created and the bottle is filled. When full, the bottle is removed and another bottle to be filled is placed under the spout. Overflow wine (when the bottle is full) goes into an overflow bowl. The unit does not need to be turned off/on. I really liked how easy it is to insert and remove bottles from under the spout. And what I really like is that there is absolutely no dripping from the spout.

I strongly recommend that you practice with clean water to get acquainted with the operations and to make adjustments on fill level and flow rate. You should following a proper sanitizing regimen in any case. This would involve rinsing the unit by running water, plenty of clean, fresh water, through all the parts, followed by a sulfite run, and finally another water rinse. When done filling, simply rinse the unit and parts by running plenty of fresh water through in, disassemble parts, and let dry.

The Enolmatic vacuum bottle filler can also be used with one or more Tandem wine filters placed in series to filter a batch sequentially from coarse to polish to fine grade and into bottles in a single run. In my own trial I had filtered a small batch of Moscato with my Buon Vino Mini Jet to 5 microns (#1 pads) and then to 1.8 microns (#2 pads). For bottling, I used a Tandem filter with a 0.5 micron cartridge (equivalent to #3 Buon Vino pads). These cartridges are washable and reusable. They are available in 5, 1, 0.5 and 0.25 micron.

Typical retail (Canadian) prices are as follows:

Enolmatic Bottle Filler - $485

Enolmatic Tandem Filter Housing - $235

Enolmatic Cartridge 0.45 micron - $145

For more information, visit Bosagrape Winery & Brew Supplies or Tenco's website.




FastFerment™ makes winemaking easy

While chatting with exhibitors at the WineMaker Conference in Portland, Oregon in May 2015, one vendor’s product caught my eye—the FastFerment, a fermentation vessel that looks like an inverted teardrop and what looked like the original V Vessel from John Piazza.

As I approached the booth, I spoke with Casey Binkley of FastBrewing and Winemaking who has indeed acquired the rights for the V Vessel from John Piazza and improved on the original design.

The FastFerment is a 30-L (7.9-gal) conical food-grade HDPE plastic fermentor meant for making 20-L (5-gal) and 23-L (6-gal) batches of wine from kits or fresh grape juice—it is not intended for macerating grapes as in red winemaking. The extra volume is to allow for foaming and expansion during fermentation.

The FastFerment includes a bottom valve and collection capsule assembly to collect lees and other residues during fermentation, stabilization and clarification to facilitate racking. The juice can be fermented, and the wine “racked” and bottled all from this same container without ever really racking the wine into a separate container. And so, the wine always remains in a single container thus minimizing oxygen uptake and risks of oxidation from traditional racking operations. Separating the lees from the wine could not have been made simpler. For more information on its operation, you can read my blog or watch the video.

Although the name (FastFerment) can confuse some into thinking that the vessel accelerates fermentation, it does no such thing. But there are several enhancements, which along with optional equipment, greatly simplifies the winemaking process.

The major enhancements include a larger (6-inch) access hole at the top to ease pouring water or juice in, stirring the contents, and cleaning, a 1-inch ball valve for increased flow rate, a flat-bottom-shaped collection ball that can be set on a flat surface without rolling away, and a very detailed user guide. Standard equipment also includes a lid equipped with a 3-piece fermentation lock, brackets for wall-mounting the unit, and a tube and adaptor for bottling wine directly from the vessel. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price is US$100.

Add-ons and optional equipment can be purchased separately; these include a thermometer, a temperature-control jacket, a sampling port (with drill bit to make the hole), a stand, a carrying strap, and extra collection balls.

Important: The thermometer well is made of brass, probably a carry-over from beermaking. Metals will leach into the acidic medium of wine to cause oxidative and casse-type problems. The well should be of stainless steel for winemaking. I have replaced mine with an inexpensive off-the-shelf thermometer. I discussed this issue with the manufacturer and I trust that they will change the thermometer/well in new units.

The FastFerment is meant for wine to be processed and bottled relatively quicklynot for agingdue to the large headspace above the wine. Extended exposure to oxygen can negatively impact the quality of the wine. One could always purge the air out after fermentation and protect the wine with an inert gas, such as nitrogen, argon, or beer-gas (a combo of CO2 and nitrogen). During fermentation this is not an issue since CO2 gas protects the wine.

I have tested the FastFerment using a 20-L (5-gal) batch of California Sauvignon Blanc. I conducted the entire process from fermentation to fining plus 3 months of aging in the vessel by purging the headspace with CO2. I was very pleased with the ease of use of it all.

All in all I like the FastFerment with its enhancements and new options. My only suggestion for improvement to the manufacturer is to reduce the volume of the collection ball. It is rather large and was likely designed with beermaking in mind where deposits are more voluminous. If no wine is to be wasted—and the potential loss is not insignificantone can carefully pour back some wine from the collection ball into the vessel being careful not to re-introduce lees back into the wine. The procedure would require opening the lid, which would allow precious CO2 gas to escape and air to enter the vessel. Yes, a smaller collection ball is definitely a "must" as a future enhancement.

For more information, visit FastBrewing and Winemaking.





Vinmetrica now makes DO management easy and affordable

Oxygen management in wine is key to making great wine, and avoiding spoilage. Dissolved oxygen (DO)—in very small amounts—can quickly turn white wine to an unappealing brownish color and devoid it gradually of aromas and flavors. But in reds, aerating and splashing are used to increase oxygen uptake to allow the wine components, such as tannins and anthocyanins (color pigments), to integrate and deliver a superior wine, a superior wine that can also age gracefully.

But unfortunately, oxygen management is still mainly regarded as the art in the science of winemaking. Seldom are oxygen levels measured to determine how wine is evolving, or if there is too much oxygen at bottling, too much oxygen that could potentially cut back on the wine’s aging potential.

Winemakers may have been shying away from looking at oxygen management from a more rigorous, scientific standpoint perhaps because of the complexity of measuring oxygen and the cost of instrumentation.

But now, Vinmetrica (Carlsbad, CA) offers a DO probe that makes oxygen management easy and affordable—even for home winemakers. The galvanic-sensor probe connects to an SC-200 or SC-300 analyzer and measures voltage or apparent “pH” value in wine, which is then used to calculate the amount of DO as % saturation, which can be converted into a concentration measurement in mg/L. The calculations are done by comparing measurements in wine with those for calibration, i.e. 0% saturated DO and 100% saturated DO.




I tested the DO probe with my SC-300 and benchmarked it against other instruments spanning the price spectrum. The probe was easy to calibrate, simple to use, and the calculations were straightforward. I highly recommend this add-on to your Vinmetrica analyzer. At the current discounted price of $140, it is one of the best investments you’ll make towards making better wine. This includes sodium sulfite powder to prepare the 0% saturated DO calibration solution, an electrolyte solution, and a test vial.

For more information, visit Vinmetrica’s website.









Buon Vino Releases an Updated Version of the Mini Jet

Buon Vino Manufacturing (Cambridge, ON) has released a new and improved version of its very successful Mini Jet filter for home winemakers and wine labs. This updated and lighter model was developed to house a new, true self-priming pump that runs superbly quiet. And it comes with slightly larger hoses for a throughput of about ½ gallon (2 liters) per minute and which can now accommodate a pre-screen filter that can be purchased separately. The pre-screen filter comes in handy; it protects the pumps when filtering wine containing, for example, oak chips or elderberries.

This new version of the Mini Jet operates exactly as its predecessor; just saturate the pads with water, install in the filter assembly, and start filtering wine. It doesn’t get any easier. It still uses 3 pads, and you have the same choice of 3 grades: #1 (5 microns) for a coarse filtration, #2 (1.8 microns) for a clarifying filtration, and #3 (0.5 microns) for a fine filtration. Be sure to choose the right filter pad grade to adapt to the wine to be filtered to get maximum filtering efficiency. The filtering operation will be quicker and the wine will be better filtered. That means that, for example, you should filter a young red wine with #1 pads followed by a second pass with #2 pads. And never mix pads of different grades, such as #1 and #2 for the same run—filtering efficiency will be compromised.

I tested the Mini Jet on a 6-gallon (23-liter) batch of Pinot Noir and it ran flawlessly. All in all, a great little filter ideal for 5- and 6-gallon (20- and 23-liter) batches.

Buon Vino also manufactures a Super Jet filter for larger batches. For more information, contact your local wine making shop or visit http://www.buonvino.com/.










Sterilock

The Sterilock might just well replace your typical fermentation lock. Richard Cook, the inventor, certainly seems to believe so, claiming "No contamination, no odours, no valves, no water and no worries." The device looks simple enough. But does it work?

The Sterilock is a simple one-way fermentation lock that lets CO2 gas out through a "patented nanoseal" while keeping air and spoilage micro-organisms out. The seal will only vent gas through it if the pressure is greater than that of the external environment, as during fermentation. After fermentation, the air pressure outside the carboy and the CO2 pressure in the fermentation equalize and nothing passes through the seal.

Just insert the Sterilock in the bung as any fermentation lock and, voila, you're all set. There is no need to add water, sulfite solution or vodka. And if you don't like the fermentation smell to permeate through your basement or cellar area, just remove the lock-top and insert the odor-absorbing capsule right into the lock. The capsule contains compounds that absorb odor molecules, and each capsule is said to remove fermentation odors over a typical 5-day fermentation.

I tried the Sterilock on an active fermentation and it performed well by letting CO2 gas without obstructions. But, sure, you don't get that bubbling sound telling you everything is fine. A visual indicator that, like the odour capsule, can be fitted to the Sterilock should be available early in the New Year. As for fermentation odors, well, we winemakers love that smell, so that may not be as useful for us.

But it's biggest value might be in long-term aging. There is no need to replace water or replenish with vodka or whatever, and you don't need to worry about volume expansion and contraction causing contanimated solution to enter the carboy and contaminate the wine.

All in all, it seems to work very well based on by limited testing.

The lock and capsule are sold as a package. A package of four (4) capsules can be purchased separately.

For more information, visit sterilock.co.uk.











eDrometer by STM Instruments, Inc.

If you are like me and look for accuracy and precision when measuring winemaking parameters, you've probably become frustrated with your hydrometer. Sure! It's relatively easy to use and does the job relatively well. But I'm sure that you often fuss trying to take a reading, not sure where or what the meniscus is. And thankfully, they are cheap as I have had to replace a few I've broken over the years. Toss in a high-accuracy hydrometer -- those that read, for example, from -5 to +5 Brix to test for end of fermentation -- and a high-range one for testing very sweet juices, such as for making ice wine, and the cost quickly mushrooms. Then you need to figure out sample temperature and whether you need to make adjustments, and perhaps even convert between units if your various hydrometers don't include "all" the scales we winemakers use.

So when I saw the eDrometer advertized in WineMaker magazine, I knew this new piece of test equipment could solve my hydrometer woes.

I purchased a unit just in time for winemaking season and started testing all kinds of juice and wine samples. I was very impressed.

The eDrometer measure density, specific gravity (SG), Brix (and Baume), potential alcohol (PA), temperature AND -- big bonus for me -- sugar content in g/L. And oh! If you are a (beer) brewer, you also get Plato readings. For distillers, you can measure the actual % alcohol by volume in spirits.

All numbers are derived from a density reading accurate to 0.0015 following calibration with distilled water. Measurements are taken using the unit's two U-shaped stainless steel tubes which are made to vibrate at their natural frequency, much like a tuning fork. When the tubes are empty, they vibrate at a specific frequency, then when the tubes are filled with water they vibrate at another frequency, then when they are filled with juice, wine or any sugar solution, the tubes vibrate at a different frequency. This information is used by the unit's brain to calculate density and then translated into other units that you can pick at the press of a button. The measurements are displayed on a high-contrast LCD screen.

A syringe (supplied) is used to load the eDrometer tubes for taking a measurement, you wait a few seconds to let the temperature stabilize, and then record your reading and you're done.

I found the eDrometer very simple to use but, more important, very easy to clean. No more breakage, no more hydrometer rolling off the lab table.

The eDrometer operates on a 9V battery or with an optional adapter.

For more information, consult STM Intstruments' website.






AmBrew Cleanser by LOGIC, Inc.

In late 2013 I tested and rated the performance of several cleaning agents used in preparing home winemaking equipment. Click here for the report.

As a long-time home winemakers, I have used most of the cleaning agents and developed my own preferences based on my needs and product performance. But there was a new kid on the block, or at least, new to home winemakers. The product is called AmBrew Cleanser from LOGIC, Inc. (the makers of Straight A and One-Step). Though mainly marketed to (beer) brewers, AmBrew Cleanser is well suited to many types of materials and equipment used in winemaking. It contains carbonates and alkaline silicates, giving it superior cleansing performance.

In my testing, the solution lifted stains immediately on a stained bottle; it was spotless after a 5-min soak period and water rinse. No scrubbing or shaking was required. It lifted very tough stains with some some scrubbing. It performed exceptionally well and I rated it A+.

I have since adopted AmBrew Cleanser in my cleaning routine when making wine. I highly recommend it.





Kamil Juices Make Great Wines

If you are like me, you may have heard of Kamil Juices but never tried their products. Well, I finally did.

Kamil Juices sources vinifera juices from prime vineyards across Italy, France and Germany. The juices are flash pasteurized and lightly sulfited, packaged in 11.4-L (2.5-gal) food-grade plastic canisters, then stored cool/cold, and so, they are available all year round. Italian varietals include Pinot Grigio, Garganega, Trebbiano, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Barbera, Pinot Noir, Corvina and Sangiovese. French varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, a blend of Syrah and Carignan, and Chardonnay while German varietals include Gewürztraminer and Riesling. The juices can be ordered with all necessary additives (EC-1118 yeast, clarifying agent, stabilizer and oak).

Package labels provide useful information including must analysis data (Brix, TA, free SO2 and pH).

I finally decided to try these out and see how good the wines would be. I set out to ferment four juices in October 2012, but I also wanted to give the wines at least 12 months of aging before I would offer any opinion. For whites, I chose a French Chardonnay and a German Gewürztraminer, and for reds, an Italian Pinot Noir and French Syrah/Carignan blend.

My first reaction when I opened the canisters and started pouring the juices was the aromatic intensity and deeper-than-usual color in all of them. The Pinot Noir was a deep, inky purple; not typical for a Pinot but this was from Northern Italy. I thought this was interesting and exciting, so I was keen to fast-forward a year and taste the wine. The Gewürz was a deep golden color -- very attractive, and surely promising. The juices also seemed to have naturally cold stabilized evidenced by the large, heavy tartrate "rocks" formed at the bottom.

I fermented the Pinot with an RC-212 yeast along with some MT+ French Oak Bouquet of my own. I also did a malo using an MBR 31 culture. The wine was fined gently, then bottled without filtering. The same was done for the Syrah/Carignan blend though I used an ICV GRE yeast. The Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer were fermented with a CY3079 and Fermol Arome+ yeast, respectively, then treated with bentonite and cold stabilized (though I don't think that was needed). The whites were filtered before bottling.

All the wines turned out superb. The Pinot Noir is lighter but still atypically dark with tons of fruit and just a hint of oak complementing the aromas. The Syrah/Carignan is jammy, fruity and rich. Both wines were excellent as made but I added some gum arabic to give them more mouthfeel, not that they needed it, but it's a preference of mine. I think these wines will only get better with some more aging and will probably last many, many years -- I just need to show restraint and be patient now.

The color in the Gewürz became much lighter as expected and now displays very nicely in the bottle. The nose and bouquet are definitely Gewürz -- very aromatic with a hint of spiciness. The Chardonnay was a very nice surprise only because it's one of the rare times I make a Chard without any oak. The wine exhibits such beautiful, fresh citrusy aromas with refreshing acidity. I typically like to up acidity, especially that this one came in at 5.7 g/L, but I did not want to alter anything in the spirit of making the wine the way it was intended. Any adjustments would come at bottling time, but there was no need for any.

All in all, very impressive wines.

You can find more information from Kamil Juices' website. Contact one of their retailers to get pricing and availability information.





Vinmetrica SC-300 SO2 & pH/TA Analyzer Kit

I had heard great things about this unit, and specifically for measuring free SO2—an important winemaking parameter that ensures that wine is adequately protected against oxidative and microbial effects. Home winemakers have increasingly become aware of the need to monitor and control free SO2 in wine, and this unit seems to have become the de facto standard.

The SC-300 unit measures free SO2, pH and total acidity (TA); it can also measure total SO2 with the optional 1N sodium hydroxide (NaOH) solution. Retail price is $350-$370. The kit includes the analyzer unit, one electrode for measuring free/total SO2 and one for pH/TA, all the necessary equipment (syringes, beaker, etc.) and reagants (titrants, acid solution, pH buffer solutions, etc.), and a detailed user manual. An SC-100A unit for SO2 measurements only and an SC-200 unit for ph/TA measurements only are also available. You can find more information from Vinmetrica's website.

Free SO2 determination uses Ripper-method titration and is calculated based on the amount of titrant used using the formula provided in the instructions. And so, the accuracy of results (+/- 4 mg/L or ppm based on the reagents provided) is a function of the 5-mL titration syringe supplied. A syringe with 0.1-mL increments can improve the accuracy to +/- 2 mg/L, if you really care.

For measuring pH/TA, be sure to properly calibrate the electrode and analyzer using the buffer solutions. TA determination is done by titration until a pH endpoint of 8.2 is reached. The amount of titrant used is then used to calculate TA; results are accurate to +/- 0.4 g/L, or 0.04%. pH measurements are displayed with a resolution of +/-0.01 unit.

I found the procedure very easy to perform and the results quite accurate. Be sure that you work with fresh solutions; otherwise your results will be off. Vinmetrica states that the shelf-life of the solutions is 6 months after receipt, but I wish they would include the actual date the solutions were prepared and bottled.

I like the fact that the analyzer unit is portable and is not fragile like aeration-oxidation (AO) method labware; it is small enough to carry around and it operates on two AA batteries (not included). I wish the battery cover was designed so that it would snap in/out to replace batteries as I don't like to leave batteries in when not using the unit. Having to unscrew two screws is a bit of a hassle and simply wears the threads—a small point, but I know it will become an irritant down the road.

With this easy-to-use, affordable unit (or the SC-100A), you have no more excuse not to monitor free SO2 levels in your wines.

NOTE: I would like to acknowledge the generous support of MoreWine.





From Fruit to Wine

Were you considering getting into home winemaking but shied away thinking it was too much trouble, too difficult, too expensive, and too prone to error?

Varietal Hobbies, d.b.a. From Fruit to Wine, has assembled a kit that makes winemaking fun, inexpensive, and as simple as it gets. You can make about 10 bottles of wine for roughly $4 per bottle in about 7 weeks. All you need to source are clean bottles and corks, and borrow/buy/rent a corker.

The starter kit ($99) includes a can of wine juice concentrate (choice of 6 varietals), two food-grade fermentation pails with one lid and two spigots, airlock and stopper, a siphon hose with clamp, ingredient packets (yeast nutrients, acid blend, pectic enzyme and tannins for red wines), yeast, sanitizer, blank computer-printable peel-off labels, a step-by-step instruction booklet, and Your Wine Book “written to help you enjoy the process.” The wine booklet gives a short history of winemaking, a layman’s overview of winemaking chemistry, pointers on how to conduct a wine tasting and wine party, all peppered with interesting factoids.

There are currently 6 varietals to choose from—3 reds and 3 whites: Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Merlot, Pinot Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Johannisberg Reisling (yes, that’s how they spelled “Riesling”). You can order any wine juice concentrate as part of a Restock Set ($39) that includes ingredient packets, yeast, sanitizer, blank peel-off labels, and an instruction booklet.

I recently tested this kit with Cabernet Sauvignon concentrate.

The winemaking could not get any easier. The instruction booklet does a good at advising you on cleaning and sanitizing your winemaking environment. Make sure you are absolutely diligent here as the wine is left in a covered pail but with headspace. This would normally be cause for concern, and microbial spoilage but if you follow instructions to the letter, you will not have any problems.

The instructions call for 6 cans of water plus about 3 cups of sugar to be added to the concentrate, but I felt that the wine was too weak for my personal taste. The alcohol level comes in at just under 10% v/v. I would recommend adding another 2 cups of sugar to bring the alcohol level to the 12.5–13 % level for more body and better balance. I would also have preferred a bit more bite, so you may want to find wine-grade tannins and add in some before bottling.

As the intent of the kit was to keep the winemaking as simple as possible, there is no fining (clarification) or filtering—it’s all done naturally by precipitation. So you’ll need to be extra careful when racking and bottling wine to keep sediments behind as much as possible. You have to expect some sedimentation in the bottle, particularly with reds, but these wines are meant for quick consumption.

All in all this kit makes good wine; it absolutely cannot get any easier. But follow my advice and add the extra sugar.

For ordering information, please visit http://www.fromfruittowine.com/.

Happy Winemaking!





The FERMENATORTM by Blichmann Engineering

This 2012 winemaking season seems to have come and gone so quickly, without a hitch in fact, that I had to look back and wonder why. Sure, being organized helps process wine efficiently. But then I looked again, and there it was, the Fermenator—Blichmann Engineering's conical fermentor.

The Fermenator was really designed for brewing—brewing beer, that is. But I gave the 42-gal (160-L) model a shot for making Sauvignon Blanc. Why? Well, aside from another great stainless steel toy to play with, I had been looking for a home winemaking-sized tank featuring a conical racking bottom. And having tested Blichmann Engineering’s WineEasy winemaking system with exciting results, I said, “Why not?”

The Fermenator is manufactured 100% from heavy gauge stainless steel. It is equipped with Tri-Clover fittings and clamps for ball valves, and comes optionally with casters for easy moving around the home winery. It has Blichmann Engineering quality written all over it.

The bottom valve can drain wine and sediments right down to the last drop. But the most useful feature is the rotating racking arm; no more need for a siphon and an extra pair of hands to help you rack. The racking valve allowed me to transfer the wine by gravity from the garage down to my basement, and down to the last drop thanks to the rotating racking arm, which can be rotated to the desired level just above the lees. It made the whole operation so simple and problem-free—I even had time to make more coffee while racking.

There were absolutely no leaks from valves, rotating racking arm, or the joint between the top and bottom halves of the tank (42-gal model only). Leaky valves have been an ongoing frustration with many other types of tanks on the market.

And the cleanup? It could not be any easier. Being all stainless steel and equipped with a bottom valve, cleanup was a cinch. The 42-gal tank also comes apart in two sections for easy cleaning and storage.

My suggested improvements to the manufacturer: 1) a bigger access hole at the top of the tank for introducing and stirring additives into the wine, and 2) make a variable-capacity model as keeping the tank exactly full for long wine aging is always a challenge.

Now I'm just waiting for the cold days of winter to come so I can transfer the wine back into the tank for cold stabilization.

For more information visit Blichmann Engineering.










RJ SPAGNOLS Wine Kits

I had not made wine from a kit in many, many years, mainly because results had been quite disappointing. But as I was judging amateur wine competitions over the years, the quality of kit wines seemed to have shot up exponentially. In many cases, wines from fresh juice or grapes were indistinguishable from kit wines. Many kit wines showed amazing body, structure, depth and balance, and far surpassed the quality of other wines. Needless to say that I was astounded and pleasantly surprised when my personal favorite turned out to be a full-bodied Syrah from a kit.

Certainly kit manufacturers have gotten serious about wine kit production. If you have ever visited one of their facilities and looked at the capital investment in state-of-the-art processing technology, you'll appreciate how serious and big this business has become.

And so it is that I decided to give kit winemaking a try again and experiment to see what modern technology has brought in easy winemaking.

I chose 3 "high-end" RJ Spagnols kits comprising top-quality concentrate sourced from vineyards around the world and which include grape skins, both wet and dry, in the red wine kits. I picked the following kits — all produce 23 liters (6 gallons) or 30 bottles.

  • Cellar Classic Winery Series Australian Meritage
  • En Primeur GenuWine Woodbridge Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Cru Select Gewürztraminer

Cellar Classic Winery Series 6-week kits contain 16 L of concentrate plus 2 L of crushed winery grape skins. Although the concentrates contain all the desired color, tannins, aromas and flavors, grape skins will add a little more, however, their real action is in stabilizing color to give the wine better aging potential. Aside from all the necessary additives and processing aids, the kits also include oak chips and spiral to give wine more (softer) tannins and more aroma and flavor complexity.









En Primeur GenuWine 8-week kits contain 18 L of concentrate but with 250 g of winery dried grape skins, which become rehydrated once placed in the reconstituted juice, and oak powder and chips.










Cru Select 6-week kits contain 16 L of concentrate along with various additives depending on the style. My Gewürztraminer kit contains elderflowers and a Süss Reserve for back-sweetening.










You can see day-by-day action on by blog while I crafted these wines.

I prefer my wines a little older than most people -- I simply like the wine to develop its full potential of aroma and flavor complexities and tannin integration so that it expresses all its wonderful characteristics that the winemaker intended. It's only been three months since I made these and I just bottled them in Sept 2012, but the wines are simply exquisite now and I know they will offer so much more in 6-12 months for the white and 12-24 months for the reds.

I'm particularly impressed by the Cellar Classic Winery Series Australian Meritage. The wine is full-bodied with tremendous depth of color. There's great balance between tannins and acidity though some aging will round out those tannins a tad more. And the oak is definitely present but does not donimate and hide the fruit.

All in all, these kits wine are simply fabulous. And the great thing about kit wines is that you can make them year-round, whenever you want. They don't get any easier. And at just a little more than $4/bottle, this is an amazing bargain when you compare the quality to a $25, $50 or $100 commercial Meritage. And you can say that YOU made it! Your friends will be impressed.

Cheers!






THE HOMEBUILT WINERY by Steve Hughes (Storey Publishing, 2012)

Winemaking hobbyists are a crafty bunch!

We are passionate about making wine because we derive immense pride and satisfaction from creating something with our own hands using raw materials. Winemaking allows us to express our artistic talent and proudly share the rewards with our family and friends, and that’s why we prefer to build rather than buy. But in our pursuit of self-sufficiency, we build all kinds of contraptions—what some call “toys,” but we prefer to call them “the tools of the trade”—to simplify our winemaking or to solve specific process problems or needs.

In addition to building a cellar from the ground up, literally, from foundation to framing to wall finishing and installing cooling units, I’ve been known to build a few contraptions of my own: punchdown tools, barrel racks and disgorging freezer. I’ve even taken barrels apart for reconditioning to get extra oak mileage. Although I researched my projects extensively, most were created from mental plans developed from all the ideas I had gathered. Many were ill-conceived, and so I’ve made a few mistakes along the way. I paid dearly in wasted energy and material.

My biggest frustration was the huge void in the literature—even on the internet, for that matter. There have been countless books written on the art of winemaking, but there are no comprehensive books or internet resources on wine-related projects, that is, until now. Steve Hughes’ The Homebuilt Winery fills that void. As he states, “This book … is not about making wine … [it] is about making your winery …,” and delivers on his objective “… to provide very effective solutions for the dilemma of obtaining the necessary equipment and maximizing the use of it.” And that’s Steve’s motto: Every problem has a solution, and every solution is the result of thorough, careful consideration of alternatives.

Steve brings his craftsmanship as a talented woodworker and hobbyist together with his passion for winemaking and flair for writing in an easy-to-use, practical guide to help you build 40 of the most useful, tried and true projects. From the simple to the more elaborate, from building a crusher-destemmer and press to home wine laboratory equipment, and bottling equipment to building a cool cellar with bottle racks and bins that would make the envy of any wine enthusiast, you’ll find it all here, all meticulously detailed with step-by-step instructions, plans and diagrams.

Even if you are already a craftsperson who has built wine-related projects, you’ll definitely find some gems in this book, such as the “topping up” devices for eliminating ullage and the four-spout bottle filler. I know I’ll be building and adapting the transfer gun (used with a vacuum pump) for racking wine between barrels, and making my own silicone bungs from all those leftover tubes of silicone caulking. Why had I not thought of that? And Steve has thought of everything for aspiring and advanced winemakers alike—he even tells you how to build a simple yet effective fruit fly trap, guaranteed to come in handy when these pests start invading your fermenting grape juice. You’ll also find a very useful, well laid out wine log sheet to help you keep track of your winemaking and cellar activities. If you are a vineyardist, Steve has some handy projects for you too. He shows you how to set up a cutting propagation bed and a vineyard trellis with drip irrigation. And for when you are all done making great wine, Steve has included some projects, such as the “winedirondak” garden chair and classy winery stool both built from oak barrel staves, to help you relax and enjoy the fruit of your labor.

Being a professional building and construction consultant, you can be sure that Steve’s projects are well thought out and cleverly designed for simplicity, usability, efficiency and durability. How clever? Check out the design on the chromatography chamber or rinser-sparger. Rest assured though that you need not be a master carpenter or expert craftsperson; you only need some woodworking skills, a few power tools, material that’s readily available at any good hardware store, and a desire to accomplish fun projects.

If you needed any motivation to dust off those power tools and put them to good use, Steve Hughes’ The Homebuilt Winery provides the inspiration to energize you and guide you through building some of the most exciting wine-related projects. And with the high cost of winemaking equipment, you’ll save a bundle in the process and quickly realize how smart an investment this book is.

I just wish I had such a resource when I first started building my home winery; it would have saved me a lot of headaches and aggravation, not to mention wasted time, material and money. With The Homebuilt Winery now, I’m equipped to address old winemaking equipment problems that I never got around to fixing and to build new projects that are sure to simplify my work … and impress my friends and family.







The Traceable® SpatulaBalanceTM

If you are like me, you probably like to keep your laboratory (and lab equipment) separate from your home winery. You certainly don't want caustic chemicals, humidity, and the likes to damage your precious equipment. So it is with my lab scale. I end up running back and forth between the "winery" and lab to weigh solids. If only I had a smaller, portable balance?

Well, I did find one that fits the bill just perfectly -- it's the Traceable SpatulaBalance (Model No. 3475) from Control Company and it sells for around $40.

As the product name implies, this is a balance incorporated into a spatula. It looks like an oversized soup spoon. You simply scoop up whatever powder you need and get a quick reading on the LCD display. Capacity is 0.0 to 300.0 grams with 0.1 gram resolution. It also displays weight in ounces, and has a tare function plus a clever accumulation feature that cumulatively adds the weight from consecutive weighings.

The scoop also has volume markings, i.e. 5mL, 10mL, etc. but, given the shape of the scoop, I did not find this useful as the error is too large.








WineEasyTM Home Winemaking System by Blichmann Engineering

If you have been shying away from making wine from grapes because it seemed too messy or complicated, the folks at Blichmann Engineering — the same company that brought you other brewing and winemaking equipment, such as the conical fermentor — have developed the WineEasyTM system that makes winemaking from grapes a piece of cake (no pun intended). Fermentation and pressing is all done in the SAME vessel without the need to transfer grape solids to a separate press, and the wine is transferred to a carboy under the action of a vacuum pump. It couldn't get any easier.

The system comes fully equipped with all the components shown in the figure on the left, except the carboy, although tanks are sold separately from the pump and racking kit, which can be used with any tank volume. All you need to supply are grapes, and you're on your way to making great wine the easy way.

The system includes a stainless steel fermentation tank, available in volumes of 20/30/55 gallons (76/114/209 liters), tank lid, piston assembly that acts as the pressing mechanism, tank stand, tank racking fittings (7/8"), ball valve and tri-clover clamps and a 1/2" barb fitting, 1/6-hp vacuum pump, plastic tubing for wine transfer to carboy, and miscellaneous parts for completing the vacuum racking system (stainless steel racking tube, check valve and tube, 2-hole bung, and piston bung).

The tank is designed with a false bottom and screen to allow wine to be racked free of seeds and other grape particles.

Operation is very simple. You can either crush grapes using your crusher and transfer the pomace and juice to the fermentation tank, or transfer a portion of whole-grape clusters to the tank and crush the grapes using, for example, a potato masher and then continuing adding and mashing grapes. Remove the stems, inoculate the must, place the lid on the tank, and proceed with fermentation as usual making sure to punch down the pomace daily. When fermentation is complete, wine is partly transferred by gravity to a carboy. The piston assembly and vacuum pump kit are then used to press the pomace and transfer the wine to a carboy. How easy is that! As a bonus, the vacuum pump can be used to degas the wine prior to bottling.

The manufacturer's suggested retail prices in US$ are listed below. Note that the same vacuum press and degas kits can be used on the different volume fermentors. The leg extension kit is only available on the 20- and 30-gallon models.


Gallons
20
30
55
549.99
649.99
849.99
209.99
234.99
264.99
224.99
199.99
Leg Extension kit (20/30 only)
99.99
N/A

I have never quite been this excited about a new piece of winemaking equipment particularly that it has all the quality and precision attributes of German engineering.

I have conducted a thorough, independent testing of the system; I was very impressed. Read the product review. You can also read a more detailed product review I had posted previously, or get more info from Blichman Engineering's website or watch the promo video.





Home SO2 Test Kit

I easily get excited when there is a new winemaking product or wine analysis laboratory equipment that makes my winemaking (and life) easier. And it's a bonus if it saves me money. So you can understand my excitement when I found out about the new Home SO2 Test Kit from MoreWine!.

Until now, home winemakers relied on Titrets for testing free SO2 in wine. Titrets worked fine for whites, but polyphenols in reds skewed measurements making free SO2 determination a guessing game. The alternative was expensive laboratory equipment, costing several hundreds of dollars, not easily accessible to home winemakers.

The Home SO2 Test Kit now replicates the Aeration-Oxidation (AO) method used in enological laboratories but at a fraction of the cost. At US$99.95, you get all the paraphernalia, reagents and detailed instructions to accurately test for free SO2 in white and red wines.

I tested the new kit and was impressed with the ease of use and accuracy of results. Actually, there were no concerns with test accuracy since the method is identical to what is used in commercial laboratories; it is simply a matter of the equipment being simplified for affordability.

Check it out where you can download instructions and view instructional videos.






INTRODUCTION TO WINEMAKING Instructional Video (DVD)

Joel Sommer is no stranger to home winemaking; he is the owner and founder of WinePress.US, one of the largest winemaking and grape growing discussion forum on the internet. And now, he has just released a new instructional video in DVD format for new winemakers that teaches all the basics from equipment needed to making wine and filtering and bottling. It includes how to make wine from a kit, fruit wine from cherries, and wine from grapes.

Joel hosts this video that only runs 1hr 50 mins and so it's an easy watch with a bottle of wine by your side. And be sure to watch the Outtakes ... after the bottle of wine!

The DVD sells for US$55.95 (plus taxes) plus $4.99 shipping. You can watch a sample trailer or order directly from the WinePress.US website.

I highly recommend this instructional video for any amateur getting into home winemaking.














Carbonated Beverage Filler

I receive a lot of queries about purchasing the counter-pressure bottler (carbonating system) featured in my book on page 404 of the 2008 edition. The unit has limited distribution; however, I just came across another unit advertized in Vineyard & Winery Management. I have not had a chance to perform a product review, but I thought I'd make you aware of it in the meantime. It retails for US$695; it's not cheap, but if you belong to a club, you can share the cost. The unit is the creation of Mr. Alvin Cohodas, who has extensive experience in industrial gas applications as a food processing consultant, food technologist, and professional winemaker. I'll provide more information soon; in the meantime, take a look at it.
















FERRARI Automatic Filler Tap

Ferrari has developed a new gravity-fed, easy to use, single-bottle filler for home winemakers: the Automatic Filler Tap.

Simply attach a 5/16, 3/8, or 1/2-inch racking hose, insert the filler into a bottle, insert the racking hose in the carboy, and start the wine flowing by suction. The filler will stop automatically at the adjustable preset level. Transfer the filler to another bottle, press on the flow tap to start the wine flowing again.

And as a bonus, the Automatic Filler Tap comes with an anti-foam attachment that replaces the tap cap at the top of the filler for bottling carbonated wine.

A great investment for $15.99 for small-batch winemakers.

Available at The Wine Maker's Toy Store.






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