Winemaking Sanitation

As with making good beer, sanitation and cleanliness is key when making wine as well. Cleanliness will minimize and eliminate contamination and spoilage. This will save time, money and heartache. Below are the main steps and areas where clean and sanitized environments are crucial to avoid an infection in your wine.

Your Winemaking Space

Make sure the area that you are working in is clean, this includes the floor and any surfaces you are working on. Detergent or domestic cleaner and hot water are effective for this space. It's important to clean your winemaking production area after you're done. Any leftover grape or sugar material are hotbeds for bacteria and mold growth, which are both things you don't want in your finished product.

Equipment, Including Fermenters and Storage

winemaking sanitation and cleaning

All equipment should be thoroughly cleaned with an alkaline cleaner. A water solution of Napisan or comparable product will serve this purpose. Clean thoroughly with a cloth or brush, especially your fermenter to remove any residue from previous fermentations. Use a soft sponge or cloth to avoid scratches if your fermenter is plastic. Scratches are harder to clean and can harbor spoilage organisms.

There are products that you can buy from your local homebrew/winemaking store, such as PBW that will work in the same way. The alkaline now needs to be neutralised by acidity, a white vinegar and water solution works if you don't have any star-san handy. Rinse the equipment and fermenter with this solution. Finally, rinse with clean water to remove the acid based product. Continue to rinse it until there is no trace of aroma in the fermenter. Any piece of equipment touching your must or wine should be cleaned this way to ensure that everything is good to go. Since wine musts aren't boiled, there are more opportunities for spoilage in the winemaking process than in a beer making one.

During fermentation

When monitoring fermentation it is key to make sure the fermenter, the area around the fermenter and any equipment you may be using e.g. thermometer and hydrometer are cleaned and sanitized prior to using to help prevent undesirable microbes such as Brettanomyces coming into contact with your wine. If you've had issues with infections in the past, after taking your sample for readings, don't return it to the fermenter. If the infection came from your wine thief, it should be replaced to stop the infection from spreading from batch to batch.

wine making sanitation in progress fruit wine

During storage/aging

As with fermentation it is advised that you keep your storage or aging area cleaned well. If you are aging wine in oak barrels and intend on ‘topping’ the barrel with wine make sure all the transfer equipment you are using is cleaned using the alkaline/acid/water method outlined above. If you think the wine that you are using to ‘top’ your barrels has spoiled in anyway DO NOT risk using it to top your barrels. Spoilage organisms such as Brettanomyces infection can easily be detected by smelling the wine before topping up.

If you're aging in a carboy or other bulk vessel, make sure to keep the airlock topped up so keep it from drying out. A dry airlock can let fruit flies in, which may carry acetobacter (which will turn your wine to vinegar), and several other spoilage organisms will have easier access to your wine.


As with the above points it is essential that the area you are using for bottling is cleaned well, then sanitized shortly before bottling. Even if you are using brand new bottles they should be washed before beginning the bottling process.cleansers-sanitizers-banner

The key points to remember

Keep your winemaking area clean - This will reduce the amount of potential spoilage organisms residing around your winemaking space
Clean all of your equipment with the alkaline/acid/water technique - This is the most effective method at completely cleaning your equipment. You use a low PH in combination with a high PH (at separate times) because some things are more resistant to acid, and some are more resistant to alkaline.
If you’re not sure if it’s clean or sanitary it’s best to clean it again - You can't be too careful.

Remember that in winemaking, you don't have a boil like you do in beer. This means your mixing pot (and all equipment touch your must) should also be cleaned and sanitized prior to it coming in contact with the wine must.

If you haven't brewed any wine yet, Homebrew Supply has you covered with our wine recipe and equipment kits.

About the Author

Jack has 12 years worth of experience in the wine industry and is an avid home brewer.

written by Jack Davis

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2 comments on “Winemaking Sanitation”

  • The directions in my Vintners Merlot kit says that if I'm going to age more than 6 months, I need to add sulfite. What is the best source of sulfite.

    • David Doucette

      Camden Tabs. The reason you re-add sulfite at bottling time is to block oxygenation from occurring. Free SO2 will remove oxygen, but over time it binds to the wine becoming in-effective, so it gets re-added. Check out Secrets to wine bottling for more details.

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