Wine bottling advice?

I will at some point need wine bottles. Apparently you can leave finished plum wine in the demijohn (after it’s all cleared) for a year before bottling but I have only two demijohns and many things to ferment. So I’ll need bottles.

Unfortunately all the bottles in the shops are already full of wine – not a problem, I can easily sort that out – but the big question is, should I buy wine with corks or screw caps?

Screw caps are easier but are there any issues with homebrew? Does it have to be pasteurised or treated in some way to be suitable for screw caps? If not, I will set about ‘disposing’ of wine from screw cap bottles.

If it has to be corks I will also have to get a corking device because the one I used to have has been lost in the mists of time. As I recall, it wasn’t hard to use. Local Hippie Shop is bound to have one – or be able to get one. They have some incredible stuff in there.

I wonder if they need any staff?

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32 thoughts on “Wine bottling advice?

  1. NEVER use screw tops! Even if you pasteurize your wine or add camden tabs (I think they were called) to kill any remaining yeasts there is always a risk of a secondary fermentation. Only a slight risk and it only needs to be the slightest fermentation to make an IDE.

    Just buy a couple more demi johns, they are cheap as chips at every car boot sale I have ever visited or ask your local pub for one of those huge 1/2 gallon whiskey optic bottles -if the EU hasn’t banned them long since and then put a rubber bung in it WITH an airlock.

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    • Aha, I hadn’t thought of that.

      Which is embarrassing because years ago, I did some work on a spoilage yeast called Brettanomyces. This swine can grow in pretty much anything, even tonic water, and develop enormous pressure.

      A shelf full of these contaminated bottles only needs one bottle with a flaw in the glass. That one goes bang, chips the ones around it, they go bang, and the whole shelf detonates in a shower of high-speed wet glass shards.

      The yeast itself is totally harmless if swallowed. Just goes to show, microbes can always find some way to get you.

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  2. Li, if you use screw caps you will have to seal them somehow. The ones on the bought stuff have a break-seal when you open them. I use tapered corks. You can push these in with your hand and I have found just as good as the ones you have to hammer or need a device to get in.

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  3. Another thought, if you want empty wine bottles, try your local restaurant. At one time they would give these away, but probably not now due to some barmy EU legislation.

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    • Local Shop throws away horrible amounts of perfectly good food. They aren’t allowed to even hand it out to the homeless. So it would not surprise me to find some legislation forbidding the giving-away of bottles.

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      • Already banned by EU regulation it caused a stink for the WI as they could no longer reuse jars for selling home made jam. Bottles jars etc aren’t allowed to be reused unless explicitly made and certified for reuse. Most jars and botles of course aren’t.

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        • XX Already banned by EU regulation XX

          FUCKING TOTAL BOLOCKS IT IS!

          Have a word with whichever lying twat told you THAT one!

          ALL over Germany, Nederland, Denmark, Sweden, etc, they are collecting “waste” food by the fucking TON every single night of the year, and giving it out at, what is know here as “Tafel”. Whereby Unemployed, low paid, homeless, can get enough basic shopping, and sometimes a few treats, totaly free of charge, or a VERY small fee… 1 or 2 Euro, to feed the whole family for the week.

          So do not come this “It is the E.U” crap here!

          I hate the bastards as much as any sane person, but do NOT go besmerching the “anti campaign” by spreading fucking TOTAL lies!

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  4. See if you can get hold of synthetic corks. Sulphite them before use. I have even used ‘used’ corks before now (real ones) but that was before I knew about Louis Pasteur. I used to seal bottles with candle wax. Capsules made of heat-shrink film should be available. So that’s a good bottle brush, a cork insertion device, corks (synthetic) and capsules. Oh yes, tip of the day. Run a loop of string down the inside of the bottle neck before inserting the cork. The phhwwwt you hear when you withdraw it after cork insertion is the compressed head gas escaping.

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  5. I’ve used screw cap bottles for wine without any problem, after all it’s good enough for fizzy pop. I actually use quite a few of those plastic pop bottles again seems to work well and have now stored wines over a year no problems – I also don’t use campden tablets as friends of mine react badly to sulphates, just make damn sure fermentation has finished and it’s dropped clear. I would say get a no-rinse sterilizer as it makes for a lot less hassle.

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    • Fizzy pop bottles are far tougher than ordinary wine bottles and are pressure tested to buggery and back before use/reuse (can you imagine the damages claim if Little Timmy lost an eye?). Also as a microbiologist Leggy probably knows already that is is almost impossible to kill every last bit of yeast in a wine. Yeasts are masters at surviving, they have been doing it longer than we’ve been on the planet.

      Plastic fizzy pop bottles probably work well, even if it’s a bit naff. But, as said by myself and others, proper bottles or demi johns are cheap or free so why take even the slightest risk?

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      • I never suggested that all the yeast got killed.

        The cheap/free all depends on situation I seem to not have much luck on that front and increasingly the wine bottles that come my way are of the screw top variety and so far none of them have given me any problems, but I’m mainly a beer brewer so my expereince with using that sort of bottle is limited to only about 9 gallons or so a year of wine

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    • They are sulphites (not sulphates), though I realise you may have made a typo.

      I’ve never known anyone have a bad reaction to home-made wines (or commercial ones) and all us wine-makers use sulphites – either in pure form (sodium metabisulphite for sterilising equipment) or in campden form (which is a mere 4% concentration of the former) in the fermented product.

      It may be that an odd person does indeed react to sulphite but that would be the first person ever that I have heard of. I would then question your assertion of friends (plural).

      However, the stuff you’re producing is a gas – this is the stuff that kills the bacteria. Within 24 hours it’s dissipated – all gone. The most you would use anyway is a full tablet (but preferably half) in a full gallon of wine. It’s only a 4% concentration. It will have long dissipated (and will escape anyway when you open the vessel to bottle the wine) and you don’t add campdens to the final bottle.

      The amount of sulphite in a mere 70cl bottle of aged wine (bottled minimum of 3 months, in reality longer) is somewhere around zero – or less.

      I’m sorry if you read this and think I’m having a go. I’m not. What I mean is I think your friends are blagging you and are using polite excuses not to drink your wine.

      I’ve never heard of ‘no rinse’ sterilisers and would be extremely wary of such a claim. I would always rinse any equipment treated (by Sodium Meta’, VWP or anything else) with clean cold water. It’s no hassle at all – it’s on tap, in everyone’s kitchen.

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      • Hi, sorry for the typo – updating in my coffee break.

        Quite a few people are sensitive to sulphites, glad you don’t know any of them. You can buy commercial sulphite free wine, check the bottles. Neither myself nor several of the other people I know who brew use sulphites in wine making at all. Don’t use campden tablets and use non-rinse sterlizer which is again sulphite free.

        My firends are more than happy to drink my wine, it’s commercial wines not labelled “sulphite free” that give them blinding headaches.

        No-rinse sterilisers are widely used in the commercial beer trade, I got put onto them by a couple of people I know in the trade. Water may be readily available but when you’re on a meter it’s a cost.

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        • Gonna have to back you up there. Daddy’s Little Cripple -as I lovingly refer to my 24 year old spastic kid- is highly sensitive to Sulph-whateverthefucks. Not just in wine but in all sorts of food stuffs. So much so that the wrong sort of sulphuriness used to (before they put him on medications) make him almost comatosed…which might not be such an issue when drinking wine but it made the break time snack at school interesting in a gastronomical russian roulette kinda way.

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  6. Demijohns abound at most car boot sales, or try freecycle as someone will have a stack they don’t want. Plastic pop bottles seem to be perfectly OK for short term storage. I can’t easily find corked bottles any more, I use the screw top ones and risk it, but if you do find some you can use the short corks with a plastic top(like most whisky bottles use) that need no tools to fit or open.

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  7. In my opinion (and I’ve been wine-making since 1997 – taking up where I left off in 1978) the best (easiest, least fuss) corks to use are the sherry-type corks. These are the ones with a plastic top (cap) and a proper cork body, only about 1 inch long (the cork part). They don’t have to be bashed in or inserted with extra pieces of kit, they will blow off if a secondary ferment begins and they can be re-used if suitably sterilised.

    Don’t leave wine sitting in a demijohn for a year if there is any more than the lightest dusting of sediment on the bottom. Sediment equals dead yeast cells and wine sitting on that too long can acquire a bad taste. When you rack off a d/j for the first time, rack it into another d/j and fit another airlock. Add half a crushed campden tablet. It can still bubble again, at least for a few days despite the tablet. It will almost certainly throw another sediment. Leave it three months and rack again – into another demijohn, with another half a tablet (crushed). Observe it each week or so and you will find it throws another sediment, but this time much less. Leave this three to six months. If – and only if – the sediment at this stage is a light dusting on the bottom, put it into clean bottles.

    There is no way at all that a wine, especially from fruit (as opposed to veg or flowers) will be ready for bottling after the first main ferment in an airlocked demijohn. It will need a period of time in another demijohn, probably twice and (in the case of red fruit like elderberries) maybe thrice. Only then can you bottle it. I would say a minimum of another year in another one or two demijohns before botling occurs. Each time you rack a whole gallon into another d/j, add half a crushed tablet and an airlock (for a few days then a bung). Don’t add campden tabs to the bottles though.

    Remember – you should only bottle when you are absolutely sure that no more than the lightest sediment is thrown by a gallon over several months.

    So – this gives you plenty of time to start collecting bottles. Family, friends, neighbours, etc.

    Oh – ask them to (please) rinse out the bottles more or less straightaway they are emptied – morning after is ok. Any bottles where the dregs have dried out in the bottle are useless – you will find it too much hassle to clean them – though see below*

    Also – fermenting demijohns in the warmth of indoors (but in the dark if possible); racked demijohns and bottles in a cool place and also in the dark.

    *Don’t be without a tub of VWP general cleaner and steriliser (Chempro was also a branded make of the same though possibly discontinued). This stuff will strip the filthiest old d/j clean in 24 hours. It can also be used for dirty bottles, though I find bottles so easy to come by (everyone knows several piss-heads – ahem) that I don’t bother fiddling with dirty ones.

    Also, before I forget: every time you rack into a new vessel you will lose a little. After 2 or 3 racks this could be as much as a pint of more. You need to keep topping up to the neck of the new vessel. So you did make a little extra for this purpose? Don’t worry if not. Use the contents of the 2nd (or 3rd, 4th, etc) d/j to top up the first (2nd and 3rd). Inevitably you will end up with a quantity that’s far less than a full gallon. You can get some neat 2 and 3 litre cider flagons (glass) if you hunt about enough. Alternatively, use a bottle or three, not as finally bottled wine, but for top-up purposes. Put a sherry cork in them and check now and then that this cork hasn’t blown off.

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    • I’ve seen scrumpy on sale in those flagons. They would need to be emptied but I’m sure that with a few smoky-drinkers, I can manage.

      I’ll also put the word out at Smoky-Drinky for empty whisky/sherry/etc bottles with the push-in corks.

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  8. If you’re planning to store the bottles upright, why can’t you just put your wine into well rinsed plastic pop bottles, put the screw top lid on, but pierce the lid a couple of times with say a darning needle?

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  9. I believe you can reuse screwtop for homemade wine, but it seems the old caps won’t last more than a few reuses – the people who’ve tried this say 3-4 times. IMO it’s better to get cork type bottles and buy the reusable plastic corks if you’d rather not pay for regular corks. Certainly get at least a two-handled corker if you buy one, rather than a flogger.

    Few more tips: One thing about sulphates is if the pH isn’t low enough, they won’t work very well. Citric acid is an extremely useful thing. Potassium sorbate is better than sulphates if you need to be sure of stopping fermentation. PET bottles are somewhat gas permeable. (which is why they don’t much sell beer in them any more) Most difficult of all, time to mature is one of the best things you can do to improve the wine.

    Cheers!

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  10. Hi Legiron,

    I live on the edge of commuter belt country where plenty of ‘champers’ is drunk. I go round the back of the local Sainsbury’s and take the bottles from the bank ( we have the old style dumpster ones with the big plastic lids) I use them for beer and wine, all you need are some plastic champagne corks and a rolling pin to hit them in with.

    Happy bottling.

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