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New World Wine Maker Blog


Q. When and where were you born ? 

“1974 in Somerset West”.

Q. Where did you study ?

“I did a BSc in Winemaking and Viticulture at the Stellenbosch University.”

Q. Your entry into wine was a bit different to others ?

“Yes, winemaking wasn’t something I dreamt about when I was younger.I happened to stumble onto it by chance. I studied Biophysics at US until it became boring. Winemaking sounded interesting. I had always loved chemistry and the idea of being outdoors in the vineyards would enable me to fulfil two passions.”

Q. Do you consider your approach to winemaking to be different to others ?

“I think every winemaker  has a different approach and it changes  through the years as you gain more experience and become more at ease with your own style.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

“Not as much as I would like. I run a 1100 ton winery without an assistant so that makes more than a full time job !!”

Q. Do you have any varieties you prefer to work with ?

“Yes. I have always loved to work with Cabernet sauvignon and Sauvignon blanc, but Chenin blanc is a real passion for me.”

Q. Have you been influenced by any particular winemaker or region ?

“No one in particular but many conversations with  many different winemakers tend to stick somewhere…”

Q. What would you consider your greatest achievement as a winemaker ? 

“There have been many wonderful awards  throughout the years, but I think through all my years at Uitkyk I proved that this place can produce unique and powerful wines throughout the spectrum. You need to get to know where to plant what.”

Q What “secrets” have you “developed” that make your wines different to others ? 

“I try not to fiddle too much ! There are so many different products and techniques on the market to enhance and “change” your wines, it is unbelieveable !! I try to respect the fruit and structure that come from our grapes themselves. At time of blending I have learnt not to make the perfect wine for now, but to see the wine in 4-5 years down the road, because that is the beauty of Uitkyk reds, their longevity.”

Q. How important is modern winemaking equipment in your winemaking ?

“It is always nice to have modern equipment, but budget constraints don’t always allow for that. I have learned to work with what I have. It is always interesting to hear conversations about techniques changing  to what we used to do in earlier years…”

Q. You joined Uitkyk in 2000. What happened before that ?

“In my final tear at Stellenbosch I received the award for the best student in oenology and viticulture. This encouraged me to travel and gain international experience. I visited New Zealand, Australia , Tasmania and the USA. I returned to South Africa 1997 and was first appointed as an assistant at Neethlingshof. My “boss’ was the legendary Schalk van Westhuizen. I then worked on two sister cellars before being given the keys to Uitkyk.”

Q. …and once at Uitkyk ?

“Soon after I settled in at Uitkyk I married Ian Lourens and we have two children. We enjoy hiking and the outdoors and we seldom venture into the city. Our love for nature is very apparent at Uitkyk where various sustainability initiatives and Uitkyk was recently awarded championship status with the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative (BWI)”

“Winemaking is certainly not a job but a lifestyle. One for which I am very grateful.”

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Why wait?

In popular music, there is group named the “27 Club”. This isn’t a vicious gang from the Cape Flats nor a new-and-improved version of S-Club 7, but it sort of involves elements of both. It is macabre selective of particular stars throughout history that burnt out; a membership that can only be awarded posthumously; think Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and the recent Amy Winehouse. All dead at 27, all with resounding legacy.

From the most complimentary, optimistic perspective, South African white wine seems to have it’s own 27 (Wine) Club membership. The general consensus is that it’s damn good, but doesn’t last long. One might say, the candle that burns twice as bright, lasts half as long.

What’s the problem? Is the soil pH too low? Is the wine pH too high? Well, South Africa does have low pH soils, and high pH white wines, but the answer to both of these questions is no. Many white wines across the country have the potential to age for more than 10 years, and are aged, and taste great. It’s just you and I don’t get to taste them. To deny their existence is a bit like saying the dinosaurs didn’t exist because you can’t see them. Thankfully, I cannot see a real dinosaur right now. The trick lies in the cellaring.

But, why do they even need to be aged?

Having read a great article by Tim James tackling this question my opinion has changed. It seems these days wine can be made to such a high standard, post production, that aging isn’t necessary – from a sensory-chemical point of view. Our understanding of oxygen-tannin binding allows for any red wine to be crafted to a soft drinkability a couple years after harvest; long, hot summers (in South Africa) give winemakers a choice of any picking date, allowing dissolution of enamel-stripping acids. James points out that perhaps in the cooler and very much romanticised, bleak past, summers in Europe were far shorter and perhaps meant grapes needed to be picked far less ripe than is possible today. Thus, that tart and harshness of younger vintages, and hence the need to age.

Of course half the appeal of buying a bottle of wine is the aging. Putting them in their little cellar cubby hole, knowing they are sitting there safe, and just checking on them when you need them. Even beer drinkers know that the older a wine, the better it is; right? Well, regardless, for the more wine literate of us, we know it’s a bit more selective than that, but it is a satisfying feeling, knowing everyday that wine we put down is improving.

But, is it improving?

Unequivocally yes, in many cases, but, also no. Yes, there are uncompromising red examples out there that undoubtedly reveal their complexity, and become softer in time; there are plenty white wines that caramelise into toffee and truffle flavours in time. However, in my experience, often age on wine – quality wine – simply is a change, and not necessarily an improvement. Do you want fresh, ester flavours on your merlot or tomato, savoury top notes? Probably neither, because it is merlot, but essentially the point can be reapplied to most cultivars. In aging, we look for softening in the mouth and complexity – this is frequently supplied in premium quality in wines only 1 or 2 years post vintage across South Africa. The flavour profile is apt to develop, moving from primary fruity flavours to the earthy tertiary. Question is, what do you feel like?

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The influence of malolactic fermentation on the colour of red wines

by Charl Theron

The conversion of malic acid to the weaker lactic acid during malolactic fermentation (MLF) is not the only important change that occurs during this process. Other intermediate and co-products are also formed, which will have a secondary influence on the wine composition. The decrease in the colour is one such product, but the reason for it is unknown.

Wine quality and its sensory description are determined by factors like flavour, taste and mouthfeel, but especially in the case of red wines the colour is also an important factor. This is especially applicable in the case of light coloured red wines like Pinot noir. Much research was consequently done to determine which viticultural and cellar practices will optimise the colour. The colour of red wines is not only determined by the anthocyanin concentration of the wine. After being extracted from the skins, the anthocyanins can react with different compounds in the wine to form more complex colour compounds. They may for example react with tannins to form polymeric pigments. This formation can be accelerated by reactions with acetaldehyde. Stable anthocyanin derivative products can also be formed by reactions with pyruvic acid. All these pigments are more resistant to oxidation and bleaching by sulphur dioxide (SO2), and also tend to increase during wine maturation.

It is known that winemaking factors like fermentation temperature and extended maceration influence the formation of polymeric pigments. Yeast can also influence the colour of red wines by the adsorption of anthocyanins to their cell walls or by the formation of acetaldehyde and pyruvic acid. Yeast strains differ regarding the acetaldehyde concentration which is formed and will consequently have different effects on the colour of red wines. Other micro-organisms can also influence the colour of red wines. It is for example known that Oenococcus oeni decomposes acetaldehyde and pyruvic acid during MLF …



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Danielle Le Roux – Winemaker at Asara

Q. When and where were you born ? 

“I  was born in Caledon (Overberg) in June 1977. A family of five siblings and 5th generation wheat and sheep farmers.”

Q. Where did you study ? 

“I did a Bsc in Viticulture and Oenology at the University of Stellenbosch and graduated in 1999. I also did my Cape Wine Master and managed to get that in 2009.”

Q. Do you consider your approach to winemaking to be different to others ?

“Winemaking is not a recipe. We might get fantastic guidelines from our lectors and mentors but after that it is a combination  of knowledge, gut feel, personality and phone a friend !” After some thought “There are times when it is sensible to contact a fellow winemaker.”

Q. How involved do you  get in the vineyard ?

“At Asara we have a fabulous viticulture team, Alan Cockcroft and William (alias Tokkie) Bussell and we have a common love for coffee and wine, so we make time to discuss ideas and strategies, often in the vineyard  under discussion. I try to get into the vineyards as often as I can during the growing season and obviously during the harvest.  I think every winemaker  has the ideal to be even more in the vineyard, but after every day winemaking, cellar hygiene, sawis*, ipw*, wieta*, workshops, bottling and tastings it is challenging !”

Q. Do you have any varieties you prefer to work with ?

“ I love to work with Chenin. The range of flavours and styles are just legion. Of course Pinotage. It is just out of the box and flamboyant. I guess my patriotic side shows here ! I also like merlot. Contrary to many views , I believe there are some fabulous  merlots in the Cape. I strive for a style of merlot that is plush, elegant and poised.”

Q. Have you been influenced by any particular or by a wine region ?

“I did a harvest in Tuscany and I was really  inspired by  the integration of the lifestyle, love for wine and food and the overall quality of life.  During my harvest in Sonoma at Verite, I was inspired by Pierre Seillan’s absolute focus on quality  and purity of the wine. In South Africa , every individual colleague taught me something different – apart from the day to day winemaking actions. Also decision making during all steps from making to bottling and marketing, to ethics in the industry, to appreciation and respect for all wines.”

Q. What would you consider your greatest achievement as a winemaker ?

“As every phase of my career has passed, it was accompanied by, what some might consider small achievements but for me have been major events. For example : completing my  BSc (Agric) was great and my Cape Wine Masters was a highlight and then being gifted  with a four yesr old that I am sure will love wine !” Then continues “Awards come and go but they but they are not the sole definition of success. I get greater value from the appreciation of my wines by consumers and fellow wine lovers.  In the end our wines can only be as good as the building blocks we are presented with but a little bit of ourselves goes into each bottle.”

Q. What “secrets” have you “developed” that make your wines different to others ?

“A difficult question, but real secret to making your wine unique is to : 1 LOVE WHAT YOU DO ! Love coming to work , it’s a privilege of having your job as your hobby. 2 Never stop reading/learning /asking . 3 A second opinion is very valuable but also trust your gut-feel.”

Q. How important is modern winemaking equipment in your winemaking ? 

“The quality of your wine  firstly starts with the quality of your building  blocks e.g. the grapes. However equipment does add quality . Just to mention a few factors like the cooling of your grapes, sorting, soft destemming, soft pressing, temperature control during fermentation. All these add to the final quality and finesse.”

Q.  What of the future ?

“Born as one of five siblings in a 5th generation farming family (Wheat and sheep) in the Overberg studying agriculture was just a natural extension of what I am and where my heart lies.  The decision to go oenology is another story. I did a few harvests abroad in Tuscany, Sonoma and Bergerac. The rest is history. After South African jobs at Fort Simon, Sentinel and Lyngrove, I started at Asara . Asara has fantastic terroir and an impressive history. Our aim is to build on the foundation and continue to make wines that mirror our unique terroir and style.”

* Sawis = SA Wine Industry Information and Systems

Ipw = Integrated Wine Production

Wieta = The Agricultural Ethical Trade Initiative  Of SA

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And the win(n)er is …

Winning an award is an honour- a prestigious and boast-worthy event. And winning an award for the production of a fine wine is even more special as it honours the meticulous planning and handling of so many variables that went into the production of this noteworthy wine. In addition to the shimmering new trophy and the oversized cheque, as a bonus the winemaker also gets to boost his or her wine sales by slapping a shiny sticker onto their prize-winning bottles of wine and just like that- triple the price per bottle. I mean, who doesn’t want to buy a wine that won double gold at the annual Veritas Awards- who cares about the cost?

Unfortunately, I have recently started to notice the “cheapening” effect that award stickers can have on a bottle of wine. These days there are so many wine competitions across the globe- too many to count and some winemaker’s and wine marketers believe that the more competitions you enter, the more awards you win and the better your wine is or the better your wine be perceived. Now I believe that there is a few issues with this way of thinking. The first problem is that a lot of these competitions are open for any and all to enter- therefore you can never be sure that your wine is weighing up against the best that the industry has to offer. For all you know, you might be competing against an old ‘oomie’ in the Northern Suburbs that is making wine (or should I say vinegar) out of his garage- it doesn’t mean much to win against him, does it? Secondly, the information regarding the judging of these awards are sometimes questionable. Depending on who the judges are, how many judges there are and what kind of scoring system they use, the results can be variable for the same wine that is judged under the same category in different competitions. And yes, like with all other competitions- the more you enter, the better your chances are of winning but this also may or may not lead to a false sense of bravado as well as your bottle of wine looking like a disco ball.

Sadly, it has been proven that marketing your wine as an “award winner” by licking some shimmering stamps and pasting them on your wine bottles will definitely help to get them off the shelves. But ultimately you as a winemaker have to decide if you want to use these awards and competitions as a way of marketing or if you actually want to compete with your wine and earn legitimate bragging rights that you and your team have earned and can be proud of. If you want to achieve the latter, less is often more when it comes to entering wine competitions- as long as you enter ones that have a standing, positive track record and is carefully curated.

People are different. Wines are different. How people react to and experience a bottle of wine that is covered in numerous award stickers, are different. It is up to you if you want to attract consumers to your wine like magpies with shiny stickers or if you want to stand proud above the rest with a wine that is honoured for the blood, sweat and tears that you and your team have put in to create it.

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Making Cleaning and Sanitation Practical for the Small Commercial Winery

While in the midst of harvest (and all the craziness that comes with it), I thought I’d take a week to remind people about proper cleaning techniques, improving sanitation, and why these two operations are essential for wineries.

I know many of you are ready to close this page now, but WAIT!

I have heard many excuses for short cutting on cleaning over the years.  Do any of the following sound familiar?

  1. There is not enough time in the day to properly sanitize.
  2. There are not enough employees to do all the work to properly clean. 
  3. Cleaning would take all night to complete properly.
  4. It’s not necessary to clean/sanitize with wine.
  5. The wine will sell anyway.
  6. Cleaning and sanitizing does not actually improve wine quality.
  7. Sanitation is not really important.
  8. Proper cleaning does not increase the price in which the wine can be sold.

If you or any of your employees have used at least one of these statements in the past, you could be suffering from poor cleaning and sanitation practices!

In all seriousness, having good cleaning and sanitation procedures can actually save the winery time and money in the long run.

In the height of harvest, I’m sure this is a tough sell.  But let’s consider some of these practical cleaning and sanitation suggestions for small, commercial wineries.

On the same page with cleaning vs. sanitizing

Let’s start with a review of definitions, as it can get very confusing.  Below are some general definitions taken from a series of sources (Fugelsang and Edwards 2007, Iland et al. 2007, Iland et al. 2012, Solis et al. 2013) to explain the differences between cleaning, sanitation, and sterilization.

  1. Cleaning – the physical removal of dirt, debris or unwanted material (solid or liquid) from a surface
  2. Sanitizing – a 99.9% (3 log) reduction of microorganisms
  3. Sterilizing – the complete removal or inactivation of microorganisms

The wine industry is primarily focused on cleaning and sanitation protocols, as there are not many sterile practices utilized in winery operations (unless you are one of the lucky few wineries bottling aseptically).  Even if processors are using sterile filtration to remove yeast and bacteria from the wine, once the wine exits the filter, it comes in contact with equipment that is only sanitized (hopefully!).

Additionally, wine bottles or packages are not sterile when being filled.  Even new bottles can contain yeast or bacteria that can potentially contaminate a finished wine.  Hopefully, proper sulfur dioxide levels should keep this microorganisms at bay.

For all of these reasons, as the wine has the opportunity to come in contact with existing microflora on processing equipment, wine is bottled in a sanitized environment.

Remember proper sanitation is primarily having good cleaning protocols.  Cleaning should always precede sanitation. Failure to physically remove all of the debris from equipment, results in an inability to properly conduct sanitation procedures.

There are several different detergents (cleaners) and sanitizers that wineries can use effectively.  Example sanitizers include quarternary ammonium compounds (QUATS), peroxyacetic acid, chlorine dioxide, hot water, and steam.  Additionally, wineries can find use in an acidulated (citric acid) sulfur dioxide mixture.  However, all sanitizers should be selected specifically for the job at hand (Iland et al., 2012) with consideration towards the microbes that one is trying to avoid.

Most commercial wineries can really focus on improving cleaning practices to provide a step in the right direction towards improving quality and sanitation practices inside the winery.

If you think you may need some help in obtaining winery sanitation basics, please refer to this Northern Grapes Webinar by Randy Worobo on YouTube.  Or check out this PodCast by Hans Walter-Peterson and Chris Gerling from Cornell: Winery Sanitation Presspad Podcast, which focuses on preparation for harvest and including sanitation in that prep.

Cleaning harvesting equipment

While this is usually one of the places winemakers feel most complacent about, I would argue that this can be one of the most important places to take care in your cleaning and sanitation practices.

  1. There is a lot of effort that goes into the growing season in order to adequately ripen wine grapes for many sensory nuances.  Additionally, the vineyard is the source of many microorganisms that enter the crush pad and cellar.  [For those that use mechanical harvesters, do not forget cleaning and sanitation of this vital piece of equipment (Pregler 2011).]  Giving the grapes a clean surface to encounter upon entering the winery ensures that all of that hard work is truly appreciated and preserved from the start of fermentation.
  2. Without proper cleaning and sanitation practices, you are likely increasing the microbial populations of your wine before it even gets a chance to ferment.  Think about it.  After crushing/destemming a lot of rotting Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, or botrysized Riesling, how many people spray down the equipment (lightly) and move onto crushing the next lot of fruit even if the second lot is cleaner than the first?  Sometimes, the order of grape crushing cannot be avoided.  But how it is handled upon receiving can be altered.  If this is the case for your winery, and you are avoiding good cleaning and sanitation steps in between lots of fruit, you are cross contaminating your juice with, not only yeast and bacteria present in the rotted fruit, but also residual enzymes, proteins, and other by products that can alter wine chemistry in the clean fruit that follows.  Think about the potential production problems this can cause later on down the road: laccase browning, acetic acid development, off-flavor development, etc.  If such problems arise, it can cause labor and financial investment at a later time.
  3. Residual foodstuffs (e.g., old grape skins, rice hulls, pulp) can contribute to off flavors within the finished wine.  Recent research has shown that there is potential for aromatically-intense varieties (i.e., Niagara, Concord, or Noiret) to leach their flavor compounds into more neutral varieties through absorption and diffusion of equipment-based plastic components that come in contact with the juice and wine (Smith 2014).  It is also possible for alien material (i.e., green matter, old rice hulls, and stuck fruit) to contribute to flavors in the final product that may be undesirable or challenging to fix.
  4. Remember that rice hulls are a pressing aid primarily used for A) hard-to-press varieties to increase yield or B) bulk operations in which pressing time is of the essence.  Previous studies, such as the one found here, have shown a detriment in flavor and quality of wines pressed with rice hulls for certain varieties.  Additionally, rice hulls can be difficult to remove from the wine press and create potential microbial infection sites for later grapes/juice/wine.  It is recommended that the use of rice hulls be on aromatically intense or difficult-to-press varieties (e.g., many native varieties).  Use of rice hulls in grapes that have a lot of rot will not only help increase yield of the fruit, but also increase extraction and retention of rot byproducts, which can contribute to off-flavor development.
  5. Proper cleaning can help maintain your equipment longer.  Over time, plant material can slowly degrade equipment.  Doing a little scrubbing and properly sanitizing repeatedly can help keep your equipment in relatively good condition.  Additionally, the longer debris is left on equipment, the harder it is to remove.

Figure 1: Preparing a small solution of acidulate sulfur dioxide to sanitize processing equipment before crushing/destemming and pressing operations. Photo by: Denise M. Gardner

Figure 1: Preparing a small solution of acidulate sulfur dioxide to sanitize processing equipment before crushing/destemming and pressing operations. Photo by: Denise M. Gardner

Properly maintaining harvest equipment also leads a good example for all of the other equipment in the winery.

Tanks, Barrels and Bottles

These are places in the cellar where it can get easy to take short cuts as opposed to properly cleaning or sanitizing equipment.

These are places in the cellar where it can get easy to take short cuts as opposed to properly cleaning or sanitizing equipment.

  1. Remember that tartrate build up in tanks and barrels can make it difficult to properly sanitize the covered portion of the tank/barrel.  Make sure to first dissolve large tartrate deposits with hot water before going through a cleaning and sanitation cycle.  Without dissolving tartrates, the equipment is not going to get properly cleaned or sanitized.
  2. When getting ready to fill a tank, remember to run a sanitizer through the tank first to minimize microbial populations on the interior surfaces that come in contact with the wine.  This helps ensure varietal flavor nuance and minimizes the risk for spoilage.  [Note: Some sanitizers are no-rinse sanitizers and do not require a rinse after the sanitation chemical is applied.  Other sanitizers may require a rinse following application.  Always check the directions pertaining to your sanitizer carefully before use to ensure it is being used properly for best efficacy, and always use proper protective clothing when handling sanitizer agents.]
  3. Minimize harboring sites for insects and microbes within the cellar are a practice that can be done at the end of every shift.  During harvest, one big problem I see is dripping, dried juice or wine on the exterior of tanks or fermentation bins.  While this doesn’t seem like a big deal, it’s an attractive site for fruit flies, which also makes them attractive deposits for spoilage yeast and bacteria.  The objective of removing these places of dried juice/wine is to minimize insect infestation in the winery and avoid potential contamination of clean wines.
  4. Barrels need cleaned prior to sanitation regimes like other pieces of equipment.  Many barrel cleaning systems are automatic and can be an efficient way to clean the interior of barrels.
  5. Barrels are porous and have a lot of grooves inside of them, which can make it difficult to properly clean and sanitize.  It is important to note that due to the nature of the barrel, it cannot be sanitized in a way that a stainless steel tank can be sanitized.  However, there are many different cleaning and sanitation options for barrels out there, some of which are explored in this Appellation Cornell newsletter from 2013.  This study evaluated natural barrel microflora (yeast, including Zygosaccharomyces and Brettanomyces) before and after a sanitation regime was conducted.
  6. Sulfur wicks are a good way to treat the interior surface of the barrel, but this practice does not penetrate into the interior of the wooden staves (Iland et al. 2007).  Also, ensure that the wick is not submerged below any left over water at the bottom of the barrel, as it may extinguish the wick (Iland et al. 2007).  Make sure the bung is tightly sealed for best efficacy of a sulfur wick (Rieger 2015).
  7. Bottling lines are not immune to cleaning.  In the food industry, it is commonly noted that most contamination comes from the environment in which the food is processed.  This can happen in wine processing, as well.  Dust on the bottling line can harbor yeast and bacteria that can be disturbed or moved into the air during large movements, like when bottling a finished wine.  Keeping the bottling line clean is a good way to help minimize contamination during bottling operations.

Small Steps That a Commercial Winery Can Take to Improve Cleaning and Sanitation

Being a smaller or boutique sized winery can definitely have its advantages in the cleaning and sanitation world.  It’s easy to get creative in terms of improving efficiency, use of, and efficacy of cleaning and sanitation practices.  Below are some practical solutions for wineries struggling to incorporate cleaning and sanitation practices in the winery.

Use brushes, like Perfex brushes, to properly scrub equipment during cleaning operations.  These are especially helpful when getting that pesky debris off of processing equipment.

Color code brushes or cleaning materials to emphasize their use and make it easier on your employees.  By keeping the necessary supplies handy and easy to use, efficiency is likely to improve, which can actually help improve the quality of cleaning operations.  Typically, white brushes are reserved for food-contact surfaces (the part of the equipment that actually comes in touch with food) during sanitation steps.  Yellow brushes can be used for environmental cleaning (non-food-contact surfaces like the exterior of tanks).  Other colors can be purchased for additional specific purposes: detergent only, sanitizer only, etc. Keep the brushes handy during all processing operations.

Figure 2: Perfex Brushes that are great for cleaning and minimize bacteria retention.

Figure 2: Perfex Brushes that are great for cleaning and minimize bacteria retention.

There is a great article from Food Engineering on the power of color coordination in the food industry, which you can read here.

Consider keeping your cleaning and sanitation system on wheels.  While in Oregon, I found it clever how larger wineries kept their fittings on mobile units to aid in availability, cleaning, and organization (Figure 3).  While this concept may be helpful to some wineries, I think it can also be applied to cleaning materials.  Keeping cleaning materials isolated to a mobile until allows for quick use and organization throughout the entire production facility and minimizes needless travel time to walk back and forth towards where supplies may be kept.  Examples, below, for how to improve mobility of your cleaning supplies are given in Figure 4.

Figure 3: Mobile unit for holding cellar fittings is a great idea for easy organization, cleaning, storage, and use of fittings throughout a cellar. (Looking at mobile stand from the top) Photo by: Denise M. Gardner

Figure 3: Mobile unit for holding cellar fittings is a great idea for easy organization, cleaning, storage, and use of fittings throughout a cellar. (Looking at mobile stand from the top) Photo by: Denise M. Gardner


Figure 4: Utility carts like this plastic one from School Outfitters or the metal one from Grainger can be easy additions to hold necessary cleaning supplies like citric acid/sulfur dioxide and pH strips, as well as hang spray bottles or hold gloves for cleaning. Carts can be easily moved and stored in the cellar for convenience.

Figure 4: Utility carts like this plastic one from School Outfitters or the metal one from Grainger can be easy additions to hold necessary cleaning supplies like citric acid/sulfur dioxide and pH strips, as well as hang spray bottles or hold gloves for cleaning. Carts can be easily moved and stored in the cellar for convenience.

You do not need to use fancy (or expensive!) cleaners or sanitizers all of the time in the winery.  For quick clean ups, use warm water mixed with potassium carbonate to get stuck or sticky material off of equipment.  Use with caution as it can get slippery!

Follow a potassium carbonate rinse with a warm water rinse to remove the solution from equipment and environmental surfaces.

Acidulated sulfur dioxide (Figure 5) can act as a quick sanitizer as well, and is easy to make up and use in the winery.  Plus, citric acid, sulfur dioxide, and water are found in wine and will not have an effect on wine quality or flavor.

Figure 5: Keeping acidulated sulfur dioxide handy can be a quick sanitation solution during processing days. Photo by: Dr. Rob Crassweller

Figure 5: Keeping acidulated sulfur dioxide handy can be a quick sanitation solution during processing days. Photo by: Dr. Rob Crassweller

Finally, I always recommend wineries keep a supply of 70% ethanol in a spray bottle handy for quick cleaning solutions.  Ethanol can be used to clean up small spills, quickly rinse sampling valves before and after sampling, or act as an exterior sanitizer towards things like wine thieves, sampling pipettes, and lab benches where one is running analysis.  This is an easy chemical to keep on a mobile cart or scattered throughout the winery.  However, be sure to purchase food grade ethanol from a chemical supplier and dilute down to ~70% with non-chlorinated water.

Cleaning up at the end of a processing day makes the start up for the next processing day a lot easier.  If the equipment is clean to start, then all you have to do is run a quick sanitizer through the equipment before the start of processing operations.

Use hot water to rinse your equipment and make sure your hose has good pressure.  Cold water is definitely energy efficient, however, hot water can help remove a lot of debris quicker and make any potential scrubbing easier.  Be cautious of the metal on equipment heating up with use of hot water.  Also, increasing hose pressure can help dislodge any debris from equipment, which can save time during cleaning operations.

On large processing days (those days when 3 or 4 varieties are being crushed at the winery), designate the day to processing and wait until the next day to complete other operations that can be delayed.  Now, some flexibility needs to be made for things like punch downs or pump overs.  However, teamwork is key: punch down time can be reduced if there is more than one punch down tool available for employees to use.  Juice analysis (pH, TA, Brix, and YAN) is time sensitive, because if the juice starts going through spontaneous fermentation, the results of these chemical indices will change.  However, obtaining all of the juice samples from all lots of incoming fruit before starting analysis can save your employees time and avoid splitting up duties during a processing day.  With 3 employees, one person could run analyses while the remaining 2 finish cleaning up at the end of a processing day.  Reserve racking or moving wines for days when a little less is going on in the cellar unless it is absolutely necessary to open up space in tanks for incoming fruit.

Minimize barrel-to-barrel or tank-to-tank contamination by having small sanitation vessels/buckets (filled with sanitizer) handy and isolated for cleaning/sanitation use.  Use a bucket filled with acidulated sulfur dioxide solution to submerge (and fill) your wine thief in prior and after each barrel sample.  For smaller samples, consider using one-time-use or disposable pipettes (Figure 6).  If you have a 70% ethanol solution in a spray bottle, the metal fittings at the end of hoses can be quickly sprayed in between barrels when transferring barreled wine into a tank or transferring wine from a tank into barrels to help minimize cross contamination (Illand et al. 2007).

Figure 6: Serological or disposable pipettes are a great way to avoid cross contamination when smaller samples are needed. Photos from BioVentures.

Figure 6: Serological or disposable pipettes are a great way to avoid cross contamination when smaller samples are needed. Photos from BioVentures.

Check to see how clean your equipment is with quick testing strips like Pro-Clean Protein Residual testing strip by Hygiena.  These testing strips are a good indicator on how well your cellar crew is cleaning equipment.  The problem with protein test strips, like the one shown, is that it will detect all organic matter (Iland et al., 2007).  It does not represent live or viable microorganisms; there are rapid tests available that may be more representative of microorganism populations.

The video below indicates the ease in which these are to use:

Other options include luminometers like Hygiena’s SystemSURE Plus or 3M Clean-Trace (Rieger 2015), which are also non-specific, but can indicate the cleanliness of a contact surface that is swabbed properly.

While cleaning and sanitation may seem arduous, most wine quality problems I encounter – including funky off-flavors that are challenging to identify, presence of VA, large quantities of wine affected by cork taint, and lack of varietal character – could be primarily avoided with more routine and better cleaning operations.  Improving cleaning and sanitation operations can be a step in the right direction for wineries to improve quality associated with their business.


Iland, P., N. Bruer, A. Ewart, A. Markides, and J. Sitters. 2012. Monitoring the winemaking process from grapes to wine: techniques and concepts. 2ndEd. Patrick Iland Wine Promotions Pty Ltd. Campbelltown, Australia. ISBN: 978-0-9581605-6-8.

Iland, P., P. Grbin, M. Grinbergs, L. Schmidtke, and A. Soden. 2007. Microbiological analysis of grapes and wine: techniques and concepts. Patrick Iland Wine Promotions Pty Ltd. Campbelltown, Australia. ISBN: 978-0-9581605-3-7.

Pregler, B. Nov 2011. Industry Roundtable: Cellar Sanitation. Wine Business Monthly.

Rieger, T. Oct 2015. Microbial Monitoring and Winery Sanitation Practices for Quality Control. Wine Business Monthly.

Smith, JC. 2014. Investigating the Inadvertent Transfer of Vitis labrusca Associated Odors to Vitis vinifera Wines. Retrieved from Electronic Theses and Dissertations for Graduate School: Penn State:

Solis, M.L.A.A., C. Gerling, and R. Worobo. 2013. Sanitation of Wine Cooperage using Five Different Treatment Methods: an In Vivo Study. Appellation Cornell. 2013-3.

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