The Wine Pages: Homebrew winemaking
There are many shops and internet sites which sell us chemicals for winemaking. However, most of these are EXTREMELY overpriced - some are bordering on a con. If you only make a small amount of wine, then, ok, pay the price for the chemicals - however, if, like me, several hundred bottles per year, then you need to purchase in bulk - and the generally means avoiding the rip-off merchant homebrew shops. These places really make their margin in the chemicals - things like pre-packaged "Youngs Homebrew" products are paying margin to manufactures, distributers and shopkeepers all the way down the line. Wine making on the cheap requires a bit of hunting around for wine making chemical bargains, sometimes in places you wouldn't expect!
Avoid campden tablets. Campden tablets are the greatest winemaking rip off. My local homebrew shop sells 60 campden tablets for £1.99. This is 3.3p per tablet. On Ebay you can get 500g of sodium metabisulfite for about £3.00. Much more useful for general sterilising purposes. £6.00 will buy a set of 0.01g scales - and you now get your homemade homebrew campden tablets measures for about 0.8p per tablet - plus you don't need to keep searching for a pair of spoons to crush them. And you get a useful set of scales - handy for measuring other things mentioned below.
Second only to campden tablets for being a rip-off. For £6.00 you get a syringe, a tiny bottle of indicator and a tiny bottle of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) solution. It will do about 20 tests. That is 30p per test!
Sodium hydroxide is caustic soda, and you can buy a kilo from the hardware store for a couple of quid. Look on Ebay in the biodiesel section, and they will sell you 500g of lab grade sodium hydroxide for about £2.00. This can be used to make N/10 sodium hydroxide solution by adding 4.4g to 1 litre of water.
A pack of 10 syringes will cost about £1.50 and a 100ml bottle of 1% Phenolphthalein is probably about £2.00
Titrate 5ml of wine with a couple of drops of indicator and the N/10 sodium hydroxide solution until the end point is reached. Multipy the number of ml of NAOH used by 0.15 to get the TA (titratable acidity) as a percentage.
Test it is all working by carefully dissolving 42g of citric acid into 4.5 litres of water. This should give a TA of exactly 1% i.e. it will take about 6.5ml of N/10 sodium hydroxide solution to reach an end point.
The NaOH will last you more or less forever (1kg is 40,000-50,000 tests) - it is the indicator which will run out soon. We use 4 or 5 drops of indicator per test. Which means that 100ml bottle is good for 400 tests.
Even looking conservatively, this is not much more than a penny per test. Plus you have the luxury of taking as many tests as you fancy!
Note that sodium hydroxide is corrosive. It also dissolves aluminium, so don't keep it in anything made from aluminium. Glass is best.
Again, buy in bulk from Ebay. You can get it for about £3.00 per 500g. Some homebrew shops charge over £1.00 for 50g.
Used to reduce acidity in wine. Again, most shops charge over £1.00 for 50g. Go on Ebay and you will find it is a common additive in pet reptile food, an can be purchased for £3.50 per 500g.
The best ebay bargain. Retired wine makers often have a stash of 1 gallon glass jars and airlocks. These regularly crop up on Ebay - however, they are far to heavy to post - so setup an ebay search limited to your local area - it will then email you when suitable items come up. Last time around I purchased 25 glass demi-johns for £10.00. This came with a dozen airlocks. Most homebrew shops charge £4.95 for a glass demijohn, and a couple of quid for an airlock and bung.
Mind you, be prepared for some cleaning - second hand glassware that has been in the garden shed for 20 years isn't very savoury - but once it is clean, it is fine. Look in the local adverts in the local paper - never buy a new demijohn!
Bentonite clay is used for clearing wine. I always add a bit at the start as well, because it helps reduce the dissolved CO2 in the wine making process. THe homebrew shop will ask for about £1.00 per 100g. Back on Ebay we find that bentonite is used in the cosmetic and pyrotechnic industries. It can be had for as little as £3.00 per kilo. Just make sure it is genuine bentonite. And test it - use it to fine some naff wine, or just in water, and make sure it doesn't impart any off flavours.
Having a bulk of chemicals is easier on the mind - you can be a bit carefree about using things like metabisulfite for sterilising instead of campden tablets. Who cares if I use a teaspoon when a pinch would do - I've got a kilo of the stuff!
Most bulk chemicals come in plastic bags. This makes them cheap. Most wine making chemicals absorb water from the surroundings like a sponge and rapidly turn into a solid lump. Keep in them jam jars or plastic air tight tubs. Keep the air out. A pouch of desiccant from some packaging helps (always dried it out first by zapping in the microwave for a few seconds). Most desiccant is not food-safe, so double wrap it in an old bit of sock or something.
Keep everything well out of reach of children. Stick appropriate warning labels on things like corrosive sodium hydroxide. Good labelling is critical - you don't want to mix up the citric acid and sodium hydroxide (which is never, by the way, added to wine that you're going to drink!)