Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Water You Use

Many home wine makers use grape concentrate kits such as the Cellar Craft and WinExpert wine ingredient kits that are sold here at BlueStem Winery. As part of the process of making wine from concentrates, it is almost always necessary to add water to the kits to bring the juice back to the same brix (sugar concentration) as when the grapes were harvested and crushed.

The water you use can come from a variety of sources and have many varied characteristics and we at BlueStem Winery believe that the water you use can impact the quality of the wine you make.

The sources of water available to the home winemaking enthusiast (or home brewer for that matter) typically are the municipal water you get from your tap, the water from a well if you reside in a rural area, spring water, bottled water which has been purified (but not distilled) and distilled water.

Most municipal (what we call tap water) has been treated with chlorine to manage bacteria levels. You can contact the city clerk or the water works where you live to determine whether chlorine has been added to the water but you can usually smell or taste it in the water. This tap water can be used for your wine making but only after boiling the water to remove the chlorine. An alternative to boiling is to filter this water through an activated charcoal filter. Some communities treat their water with chloramines rather than with chlorine. Chloramines will not be removed by boiling and should be removed by filtering through an activated charcoal filter and then treating with sulfites at the rate of 10 parts per million. Again, talk to the city clerk or the water department where you live to find out how your local water is treated.

The use of water from a well presents a whole array of potential problems as rural water (especially in highly agricultural or industrial areas) can contain many types of bacteria, minerals, and other contaminants. Here in Iowa with our huge agricultural economy rural water has many sources of contamination. Have this water tested to see what is present in the water (a good idea even if you are not making wine!).

After testing, use an activated charcoal filter to remove many of the contaminants. A silver-impregnated charcoal filter does an even better job of removing bacteria. Keep in mind that you should change these filters regularly to prevent bacterial build up.

Rural water is many times also high in iron content. Water which has been softened to reduce iron content is high in sodium which, too, can affect the ultimate flavor of your wine.

My general recommendation for home wine making clients who have well water as their primary source of water is to purchase bottled spring water (it is cheap and you avoid the possibility of contamination in your wine).

Spring water is great for making wine at home as contains no chlorine, chloramines, flouride and yet has a few trace minerals that help give your wine must the nutrients it needs to make your yeast get off to a good start. If you don't have a ready natural source for pure spring water then your local grocery can be the answer. Bottled spring water is inexpensive but make sure that you read the label. Some spring water is nothing more than bottled tap water. Verify the source of the spring water you are purchasing. Codes like MTW on the container indicate that the water is nothing more than municipal tap water! The water should be great for wine making if you can verify that it is pure spring water and that it has been ozonated.

Bottled water is water that has been purified but not distilled. Although it can certainly be used for wine making it lacks many of the trace minerals found in spring water and is generally a little pricier than bottled spring water.

Distilled water is water which, through the distillation process, has had all trace minerals removed from the water. We recommend not using distilled water when making wine.

BlueStem Winery specializes in making limited quantities of very high quality wines. Our wines our marketed only through our store front in Parkersburg, Iowa and to a limited number of states which we have determined that we can ship to. We also operate both a retail and web based business marketing wine making ingredients, homebrewing equipment, home brew supplies, and both WinExpert and Cellar Craft wine kits.

For all of your home winemaking and home brewing supplies plus either WinExpert or Cellar Craft kits for making wine you can count on friendly, prompt and professional service from BlueStem Winery. If we don't have the brewing equipment or one of the WinExpert wine kits you need we will be happy to get the item you need quickly.

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