– Part Five –
Prepping the bottles
Getting ready for bottling requires some planning. You will need to decide ahead of time where you will get your wine bottles. You can clean and sanitize your empty wine bottles (which is most time consuming) or buy brand new ones. New wine bottles can be purchased online and are priced at about $20 for a case of 12 bottles. This is probably the easiest way to go and saves time. You will still need to sanitize the bottles once you receive them.
I loved the idea of reusing my old wine bottles for my garagiste wine. It saved me some money and is eco-friendly. But cleaning your old bottles takes some work depending on how dirty they are. Sanitizing is key so you won’t have any funky stuff or bacteria lurking in the bottle which could throw off your wine which you’ve now worked so hard to make.
You need to make sure that your old bottles are super clean and you need to have close to three cases of them. Of course it wasn’t hard for me to find 30 empty wine bottles in my house. In fact, I found three times as many that I had been keeping for repurposing.
I soaked them in soapy hot water to remove the labels. Following a through scrubbing with a bottle brush, I used Goo Gone which is an orange-based cleaning product that took off all of the adhesive gunk left behind by the labels. This left perfectly clean surfaces for me to put my own wine labels on later.
For convenience, there are jet bottle-washing devices that are sold through home winemaking and beer brewing stores for about 11 bucks. They force water into the bottles and can even be mounted to your faucet. I chose to forgo the fancy device, washing and sanitizing each of my carefully selected bottles by hand.
I ran them all through the dishwasher. After sanitizing, I let the bottles air dry placing them upside down in those six-pack bottle carriers I had saved from the grocery store.
When selecting the bottles from my collection for repurposing, I chose the green and darker-colored bottles. Since I was making Pinot Noir, I wanted darker bottles to prevent light from passing through the glass and discoloring the wine. Red wines are in darker colored bottles as they help prevent discoloration and some may say taste. For the sake of tradition, I selected bottles with sloping shoulders since this bottle shape and the dark green colors are traditional for Burgundy wines which are known for Pinot Noir.
After all that washing, my fingers were wrinkled and pruney for a day, but I felt good about using those old bottles again.
Passing the test
It had been about 45 days since I last saw my Pinot Noir. Before bottling, I wanted to make sure that the wine was clear. I took a sample from the carboy using my wine thief and put a small amount into a clean wine glass. I shined a flashlight through the glass to look for any cloudiness or unwanted particles. The light would reflect this if the wine was not clear.
The wine was very clear, brilliant, gorgeous in fact. I was impressed by my wine made from beakers, buckets and boxes. It looked like Pinot, smelled like Pinot. Holy winemaking, this stuff could be drinkable! I gave it a taste test.
It wasn’t perfect yet. After all, it was only a couple of months old. Some of the acidity and tannins would need to mellow in the bottle for a few months before I would “tip it,” but it did gave me a preview for what the wine could become after aging in the bottle. I performed one more test for specific gravity.
The SG measurement of the finished wine was 0.997. Recalling my SG measurement before fermentation pictured above (when the sugars weren’t converted to alcohol), and doing a little math equation with the SG of my finished wine, I estimated that my Pinot Noir was about 12.6% alcohol by volume; perfect for preserving wine and not too “hot” with high alcohol. Passing this test, my wine was now ready for bottling.
…Coming up next: bottling day
This article is a Green Thumb AdventureTM series – a collection of documentary articles about finding your inner gardener and winemaker. If you have any similar experiences, thoughts or comments, chime in! Share with us. We hope you enjoy.
— Heidi Butzine
Senior Editor, Wineopolis Press