Wine Making...Tips & Tricks

This section describes equipment and techniques that members have found useful in either making their winemaking life easier and the wine better with some really clever techniques……. without spending a whole lot of money! What struck me as I was reading many of the tips and tricks articles is that maybe I was spared several years of making “vin very ordinaire” because it might have taken me that long to discover them for myself!

Written by Stan Gower
Friday, 20 November 2009 22:11

Breaking Skins after Pressing (Red wines only)
The photo below has some table grapes included only for size comparison purposes.
I ferment my grapes in 30 litre plastic beer fermenters.
After I crushed my Cab Sauv this year into a sterilized wheelie bin, I found only about 200mm of free juice at the bottom of the crush, compared to about 350mm in previous years. Perhaps the stems were thicker than usual, because the manual crusher handle was pretty hard to turn.

I contemplated how I could easily break more grapes without re-crushing.


Then an inspired idea came into my mind. (I think my brilliance is inherited).

I bashed in 25mm nails all around the head of my plunging tool, and filed the lower edge of each nail to a knife edge.

 Hey Presto! Every time I plunged, some more grapes got ripped open, and the fermenting wine became noticeably more liquid.


Sadly I will have to think up another brilliant idea for white wine grapes which of course don't need plunging. Drat!!

I believe I bought my crusher from George, so perhaps he nobbled the mechanism to reduce the competition. But, come to think of it, who needs to hinder the competition when you have kangaroos, foxes and birds? This makes George's viticulture and wine making a breeze, or should I say, a freeze?

Last Updated on Sunday, 03 January 2010 00:01

Clinitest Tablets Preservation  

Written by Stan Gower
Saturday, 08 May 2010 11:18

This year I used the last of my Clinitest tablets that I bought about eight years ago. They were packed in a vacuum packed aluminium strip, so had lasted well.

I have just bought 36 Clinitest Tablets from Cellar Plus. They are loose in a small bottle. A Guild member told me that the bottle that they bought last year had already spoiled. Now after paying $53-90, plus packaging and postage, this was not good news to me!!!
So I decided to do some tests to see if these tablets can be preserved better than just loose in the small bottle.
There are two lessons that I learned immediately: -

1. You have to be fanatically careful to exclude all moisture.

2. Because of that, it takes some time to repackage Clitest tablets successfully. Whether the time is worth it would depend on your disposable income. As a part pensioner, I am not attracted to the idea of paying $53-90 every year, just to test residual sugar, important as that is.
I don't know what the outcome will be, and may not know for years.
For those who might be interested, here is how I set up my tests.

  1. Clean and DRY.
I put a fan heater on the clean and dry kitchen bench, with - 12mm specimen tubes and lids that were clean and dried inside and out with clean tissues.
- Scissors
- Tweezers. (to handle tablets)
- Plastic gloves. (All work done with dry plastic gloves on.)
- Cleaned metal rod.- {One clear wine bottle. This part of the test, to use a (vacuum space) failed, and was scrapped, as I could not produce a dry vacuum in a large bottle.}
- A small jar and lid, (not shown here. See last photo)
IMPORTANT. Make sure all dried equipment has cooled before putting tablets in.

2. Working with 12mm specimen tubes.
- I measured down from the neck of the tube the length that equalled the thickness of 6 Clinitest tablets, and marked it on the outside of the tube.
- I then pushed pieced of aluminium foil into the tube with the steel rod, to exclude air, until the tube was tightly filled up to the mark.

  - I then put 6 Clinitest tablets into the tube, which came nicely to the top of the tube. I screwed on the cap and taped it on.
- The following photo shows the result of this stage. (Tablets near cap)

I made three tubes like this which used 18 out of my 36 tablets. In one of the tubes I puffed some CO2 before I sealed it, and labelled that tube as containing CO2.
3. Working with Alfoil.

I wrapped individual tablets in alfoil, twice wrapped, as in the photo.

I put four of these individually wrapped tablets together, and wrapped foil around the four of them, a bit like a sausage roll, as in the following photo. Three of these rolls took care of another 12 tablets, and were placed in a small jar;

  Again using two 12mm specimen tubes
I put one tablet into a tube with the existing air in it, and one tablet in another tube and filled it with CO2; and capped both tubes. (see on left of photo below.)



Photo bottom left
shows what I finished up with.


Last Updated on Sunday, 09 May 2010 00:05

 Co2 for white wine racking and bottling  

Written by Stan Gower
Friday, 20 November 2009 22:11

I think it was Spencer who told me that John Gaffney uses a Soda Stream unit (designed for making carbonated drinks), as a source of CO2.

I rang John, and he told me all about his experience with the Soda Stream.

I then bought a set. See photo below. The value starter Pack in the large box on the left contained the unit on the right, and one gas cylinder. This boxed set cost about $45 at Big W. My other single cylinder cost about me $40 at K Mart, and the cost of that single cylinder was the main hitch.


  (I should have bought two starter units). I can exchange each empty cylinder for a full one for about $10. The change over service I use is at the inquiry desk at K Mart in Greensborough, quick and easy.

With other options of a CO2 supply, the supply chain seemed to me, very inconvenient, or to require the renting of a B-Double truck to get the heavy cylinder home.

 Each cylinder contains 330g of CO2. One bottle would possibly get me through the total process of racking and bottling of 75 litres of wine if I didn't waste the gas experimenting with the unit; so it is quite practical

It is best to keep one full bottle in reserve, to save having to rush off to Big W or K Mart to get a refill when it may not be convenient, and they might be out of stock.

The unit has a hard plastic tube about 750mm long that would normally be inserted into a drink bottle. I just bought the right diameter plastic tubing from Bunnings and slipped it over that tube in the unit, and I could send CO2 anywhere I like. It works very well and the initial expense is spread over the years, plus having a light weight and easily handled unit, available from normal retailers.

Last Updated on Friday, 18 December 2009 09:41

Written by Stan Gower
Friday, 20 November 2009 22:11

I use a plastic hand corker because it was cheap to buy. They are a good idea in theory, but take quite a bit of pressure to insert a cork right home by hand, and not suitable for doing bulk corking. Also centring the plunger over the cork needs to be done with care. So I have built a wooden pantograph that I bolt onto the wall to help press the corks in.

  This makes the corking very easy, provided the corks are not too hard or too long.

I have found that with hard corks around 40mm or longer, they are hard to press home even with the pantograph, and if the bottle and the corker get out of alignment because of extra pressure that I have to apply, the top of the bottle will sometimes burst, leaving a hell of a mess of wine and glass to be thoroughly cleaned up.

I now use corks 37mm long, that are made of the slightly softer "agglomerated" cork, apparently made from the residue cork bark after the initial corks are cut or punched from the bark. I find these are very easy to cork the bottles with, however I do recognize that this may compromise the length of time that the wine can be safely kept in the bottle, and anyone using them should make their own enquiries about that.

Last Updated on Friday, 18 December 2009 10:19

Lifting and moving bulk wine  
Written by Stan Gower
Friday, 20 November 2009 22:11


Especially for an older person, lifting even a 25lt or 30lt container for racking and for bottling can risk injuring to a person's back.

For people with a pre-existing back weakness, this can be very harmful.

I have built a demountable bridge construction with a small block and tackle as shown in pic at left.

The platform is lowered to the floor, and a 25lt or 30lt container of wine is dragged onto the platform, and then by pulling the rope, the platform is raised high enough to allow me to slide under it a light but strong table that is placed ready,

..... see at the left of the photograph.

The top rail of the wooden bridge sits on a large steel pin on each side, and can be just lifted off,

...and then the three pieces of the structure and the platform are easily placed in storage, out of the way.

Last Updated on Friday, 18 December 2009 11:07

Mailing Samples for Analysis       
Written by Stan Gower
Thursday, 07 January 2010 08:19

Yet another Tip from the prolific Stan Gower. Make sure your samples arrive in one piece.
The following packaging has worked so far for me. It just “squeaks in” as a large letter, even though the thickness is a couple of mm over the 20mm allowed in that category.
1. I fill 5 X 12ml sample tubes with wine, (see empty tube at right), and I put those 5 “top to tail” with a tissue threaded under and over, so 2 tubes are between the visible ones, under the tissue. I bought 100 sample tubes for stock.

  I fold over the cardboard, generally made from an old manila folder, or back off a writing pad.

I staple this as shown while keeping the 5 tubes flat.

I then trim, leaving top flap wide enough to take 2 X 55c postage stamps. I cover the sharp ends of the staples with a strip of sticky tape to make them safe to handle. I trim the corners, then add a 2nd, broader sticky tape as shown, again covering the sharp ends of the staples.

Add postage stamps, write out an address label and stick it on the front, with a sender’s address on the back.



I then e-mail my testing laboratory service, advising that a sample is on the way, and I specify what analysis or tests I require. 60ml is large enough for most tests, and even for a quick, “taste and report”.

This is a very cost effective way to send 60ml of wine to your testing laboratory without having to drive there.

The laboratory then simply e-mails back the report, and advises you of the cost for the service.


Last Updated on Friday, 08 January 2010 09:28

Written by Stan Gower
Friday, 20 November 2009 22:11

I decided to make my own press, mainly for the convenience of having it available when I needed it. Because I only pick around 300 kg of grapes, I didn't see the value in buying a commercial press, and borrowing from the Guild or a supplier shop means, firstly locating the press, then arranging a time when others aren't using it, then a car trip to pick it up, and perhaps another trip to return it. There is also the risk that a pin or blocks are missing.

  I used a hardwood, possibly oak.
The basket is stood in a plastic tray with a hole in one corner, raised on a wooden platform high enough to allow a smaller plastic tray to catch the juice. After filling the basket with grapes, the square board is placed on top, and then the required number of blocks to fill the space up to the press lever arm.

One end of the press lever arm is placed under a bracket bolted onto a veranda post, and I press down by sitting on the outer end of the lever arm. I have found that I am able to exert all the pressure I need, sometimes taking it a bit easy for a gentler pressing. I have recorded a pressing of .53 litres per kg of grapes. Although the press appears very small it has a surprising capacity remembering that much of the pressing is free run juice.

After pressing each batch, it is easy to lift the basket and carry it over to a place where the skins are shaken out of the basket. With a bit of a push they fall out easily in a "brick" shape.
I have seen a photo of this type of press in a French winery where the press lever arm was about 40cm square and about 10 metres long. So it is a respectable idea.
The pulley sets and rope cord were bought from Bunnings, and were quite inexpensive.
I also have to move full containers between the house and the back veranda where there are several brick steps. Here I have simply fitted a few wooden cleats onto a thick chip board about 750mm wide, and 2 ½ metres long. When placed over the steps, it makes a sloping surface on which I can simply drag containers down or up as required; much easier than lifting.

Last Updated on Saturday, 19 December 2009 03:39

Written by Stan Gower
Friday, 20 November 2009 22:11

  It seems there is an infinite range of stopper diameters, and demijohn neck diameters, which seldom match. And when a solid stopper is pushed into a demijohn, it just pops right out again, expelled by the compressed air. So the use of solid stoppers seems a bit "bung". But a 'few' pieces of tape will hold them in.

Piece of cake...
Someone suggested draping a piece of string into the demijohn neck before pushing the stopper in, and then withdrawing the string which will release the air pressure. This seems to work, sort of, but leaves strands of hair at the top of the demijohn which is a bit messy. Perhaps thin plastic insulated wire can be used? Any suggestions?

  Don't push it too far...
Because of mismatched sizes, a holed stopper will often have to be pushed in so far that it is hard to get out. A solution to this is to screw a large screw into the hole, and pull it from side to side to wriggle the stopper out.

Don't damage the glass
It is safer to file the sharp point off the screw first, and don't let the screw protrude beyond the bottom of the stopper, or it may chip the glass into your wine, then you really do have a problem.
How to get a solid stopper out if it is pushed in too far is still a mystery to me, so it's best to not push it in too far.

Last Updated on Sunday, 10 April 2011 21:51

Storing Racking Tubes   
Written by Stan Gower
Friday, 20 November 2009 22:11

I have always found it a pest when my racking tubes were too coiled up to reach the bottom of the container, or kinked where they have been hung up; thoroughly strangled.

I bought a long piece of wood; and a 25mm and 12mm plastic tube. I taped these tubes nice and straight onto the wood. Now different size racking tubes can be easily stored, even one inside the other, without kinks or wrinkles. You might want to seal the ends of the racking tubes to keep them clean.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 November 2009 08:38

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