Mainbrew's Bottling Wine Procedures

OK, these are Main Street's procedures for bottling wine - although by no means the only way to accomplish the job, we find that the following works very well. Feel free to improvise it all in any way that you see fit...

First, the bottles. You will need five (5) 750 milliliter (standard) wine bottles for every gallon of wine that you are bottling. This comes to twenty-five standard wine bottles for each five gallons of wine. If you are collecting your own bottles, BE SURE TO RINSE THEM AFTER DRINKING FROM THEM. If you allow old wine to crust up inside, and grow mold, and turn nasty, you will have to invest in very aggressive cleaning chemicals (use Straight-A or TSP) and/or a bottle washer AND many hours of your time to clean them. De-labelling the bottles is a personal preference; some people do not care; I believe in having a nice clean glass unlabelled bottle for my wine, but this is pure aesthetics.

Once you have your totally clean, organic-free, glass bottles, you will want to "sterilize" them before filling them with wine. There are several ways to do this. Wine, as opposed to beer, does NOT need the intense sterilization that beermaking requires. Many winemakers keep their equipment "kitchen clean" and then count on sulphites, and the wines natural anti-bacterial properties to do the rest. There is nothing wrong with this. Many beermakers, who have turned to winemaking, continue their intensive sterilization practices: there is nothing wrong with this, either.

Your three options are:

  • soak your bottles in an Iodophor or bleach solution for 15 minutes, or 45 minutes, respectively. Rinse well and then cover (or invert, upside down) until ready to fill.
  • run your bottles (upside down) through a dishwasher rinse cycle, without soap or detergent, and then leave the dishwasher on heat dry. This will pasteurize the bottles. Pull them out, one at a time, when filling them.
  • rinse your bottles with a sulphite rinse, and then invert them to drip out any excess. Fill when ready. (Note: although we rarely recommend equipment hardware purchases, I, personally, love having a bottle tree and a sulphite sprayer for my wine bottling sessions. It is an extremely efficient and enjoyable way to do this entire process with a minimum of fuss. Ask to see how they work next time you are in the store...)

At the same time that you are sterilizing, or sulphiting, your clean bottles, prepare your corks. Depending on the size of the cork and the type of corker that you have, you will need to soak your corks for "x" amount of time. Take as many corks as you will need, and add a few in for emergency spares. Fill a large bowl with warm water and add either one crushed Campden tablet OR one teaspoon of your strong sulphite liquid solution. Mix well. Float your corks into this bowl and lay a plate over the top of them. Put some soup cans on top of the plate and submerge the corks into this warm water. If you are using a hand corker, let sit for about 15 minutes. If you are using a floor corker (very highly recommended!), you only need to soak the corks for a minute or two. (#8 corks go in easier than #9 corks, and floor corkers insert corks much easier than hand corkers - practice on one or two to make sure they have softened up enough, but do not allow them to become "mushy." The first time that you cork, you will need to experiment, the next time you will know how long to soak them...)

Now take your wine. If your wine is DEFINITELY in a sediment free carboy, you can bottle directly from that container. Most often it is not, and so you run thel risk of sucking sediment into your bottles if you do that. It is better to carefully siphon your wine into a clean bucket, leaving all the sediment behind, and then bottling from that new container. So, we recommend, sterilizing a clean bucket (usually with Iodophor) and, at the same time, soaking your siphon starter, your siphon tubing and your bottle filler in there as well. This allows everything to sterilize at once. (It is your choice as to whether you need to transfer at this point or not, but remember: sediment in wine bottles is MUCH more unpleasant to have than sediment in beer bottles - try to have sediment free bottles of wine at all costs....)

OK, bring everything into the kitchen, and hook up your siphoning equipment - but leave your bottle filler off for a few minutes. Start your siphon and carefully transfer your wine down to the bucket, splashing it as little as possible. DO NOT RUN THE WINE DOWN THE WALL OF THE FERMENTER. See our page of racking if you have any questions. Siphon without agitation. If you plan on keeping your wine for more than six months, I recommend adding in some sulphites right about now. This is the best time to do it, (as you are siphoning into your clean bucket). The standard dose is 1/4 teaspoon of metabisulfite powder per five gallons of wine, but you can see the page of sulphites for various options. Under no circumstances should you add Campden tablets at this point - they will throw a white haze and chalky sediment layer into your nice clear product.

If you plan on sweetening your wine, and have not done so yet, you will NEED to add Sorbistat-K AND metabisulfite prior to adding the sweetness. This keeps your wine from coming back to life and blowing all your corks out. Do not think this won't happen- it will, and it makes quite a mess. If your wine is naturally sweet, but not fermenting anymore, you still must put these in. As a matter of fact, even for dry wines, it is not a bad idea to have both of these additions in there. You should add the Sorbistat in at this same time. Please see our page on Sorbistat and stabilizing for more on this...

OK. Your stabilized wine is fully transferred into a clean bucket, your corks are wet down, your bottles are clean and/or sterile. Lift your bucket full of wine onto the counter. Get a bowl out of the cupboard and plunge you siphon starter, now transferring your wine out of the bucket into this bowl The bowl is there to keep your wine from spewing all over the floor. Once you have a siphon flowing, clamp off the tubing (with a hose clamp, or with your fingers) and hook on your spring-loaded bottle filler. Unclamp the tubing and nothing will happen - you've dead-ended the bottom.

At this point here. It REALLY helps to have assistance, for the next twenty minutes. Bottling and corking wine bottles is really a two person job. Promise a few bottles in return for help, or enlist the wife or kids, and you will be much happier. Trust me.

Pull out a bottle and stand it up. Using the open door of your dishwasher as a table keeps you from having to mop the floor later, but anyplace will work great.If you have a bottle tree, you can just take a bottle off the tree one at a time. Push the bottle filler into the bottom of the bottle. Wine will fill the bottle. Fill to the very brim, and then lift up. The flow will stop; lift out the bottle filler and the liquid level will drop (by displacement) just enough space for the cork to go in. Pass that bottle to the person corking.

He or she takes a cork and drops it into the shaft of the corker. If you are using a hand corker, place the bottle on the floor (for leverage - do not try to cork on a table, you need body weight behind the corker in order to shove it fully in) and position the corker over the bottle neck. Shove down with a good push. You need to push with your shoulders. The corker is more of an aiming device, while your body weight does the actual insertion. The cork should funnel itself right into the neck. Lift up the corker and place the bottle UPRIGHT in a box, or safe location.

Continue the chain reaction of filling and corking until all the bottles are filled.

Rinse out all your equipment IMMEDIATELY before the wine dries inside of it, and put it all away till next needed.

Let your bottles stand upright for 1 to 3 days. If the corks ooze back out, push them back down with the heel of your hand, or with a blunt object. Some may rise out again. This is due to the high pressure that was squashed beneath them. Within a few days this should equalize and the corks will remain down in the bottle necks.

If you are going to shrink wrap hoods over the tops of the bottles, now is the time. These not only look great and give the wine a more professional appearance, but they do have function: they keep the corks in place when atmospheric air pressure changes occur, AND they keep dust and grime from collecting in the lip of the bottle. But, by no means are they necessary.

After three days or so, put the bottles upside down in the boxes that they came in, or lay them on their side. Wine corks MUST be kept moist for long-term storage. If corks are not kept wet, they will dry out and allow air into the wine and it will spoil rapidly.

That's it. Pretty easy, but call or email me with any questions...