Preparing Your Corks When Bottling Homemade Wine

Wine corks waiting to be prepared for bottling wine.Correctly preparing corks for bottling wine is important. Not only should the wine corks be sanitary, but they should be softened just enough to allow your corker to put them in the wine bottle with ease.

There are two basic ways to go about sterilizing and softening wine corks: This first involves submerging the corks in a solution of sodium metabisulfite and cold water. The second, involves steaming the corks in water.

 

Cold Soaking The Wine Corks:

Sodium metabisulfite and cold water makes a solution that will sanitize the corks. This solution can also soften the corks if they are allowed to soak long enough, usually over night, and it’s very simple to do.

Mix 1/8 teaspoon of sodium metabisulfite to each pint of water and submerge the wine corks in the solution. Corks like to float. So I have found that using a container with a lid of some type will help you to get this accomplished. Use the lid to push down the corks into the solution.Shop Sodium Metabisulfite

Let the wine corks soak long enough to make them slightly soft. You do not want the them to be spongy. You want them to be firm, but still give just a little. Remove the wine corks from the sanitizing solution and allow them to drain for a few minutes in a colander, strainer or something similar.

 

Steaming The Wine Corks:

Preparing corks for bottling by steaming them is much quicker than just soaking them, but it does take some care. It is very easy to over-steam the wine corks making them very spongy and hard to press into the wine bottle without mangling them.

Also, too much heat on the wine corks for too long will cause them to become brittle and crumble later on when they are pulled from the wine bottle.  Excessive heat denatures the wine cork causing it to deteriorate while in the bottle.

Bring a pot of water to a boil then turn the burner off. Put the corks on the steaming water and place a lid over them. In just a matter of 2 or 3 minutes the corks should show some signs of softening. Once you feel the corks firmness start to give – just a little – rinse them in cold water to cool them down. They are then ready to be used.

Under no circumstances would I recommend preparing the wine corks by steaming them for longer than 5 minutes.Shop Wine Bottle Corkers

Which method you use for preparing corks for bottling is up to you. I feel the preferred method is to cold soak them, but if you forget to start that the day before bottling the wine, I can understand you wanting to steam the wine corks instead.
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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

24 thoughts on “Preparing Your Corks When Bottling Homemade Wine

  1. I mix my sanitizer then place it and my corks in a ziplock bag then squeeze out the air and seal. I leave this overnight, the corks stay moist and go in and out of the bottle with out aproblem.
    I

  2. Do you have an old coffee maker? I pour about two cups of solution into water storage of coffee maker and the corks [22] into the receiving pitcher. Turn on the maker and in less than ten minutes your corks are soft and sterilized.

  3. Why do you always recommend sodium metabisulphite instead of potassium metabisulphite like everyone else. Why would I want to add sodium to my wine?

    • Richard, there has been a lot of discussion on this topic over the years. Some will indicate that it will leave a slight metallic taste or some other off-flavor in the wine. Others, will bring up the point of adding sodium – in general – to the wine… more sodium is not good. I have used sodium metabisulfite many, many times in my wine with no negative effects. Many other home winemakers have done the same, as well, with no problems, whatsoever. I have researched the amount of sodium it adds to the wine and after doing the math, it comes out to be about the same as the amount of sodium in two pickle slices per case of wine. Sodium metabisulfite is much less expensive than potassium metabisulfite. The reason I have put it in recipes and other places in the past is out of convenience. Home winemakers are much more likely to have sodium metabisulfite on hand than potassium metabisulfite. But having said all of this, it should be understood that either of these two can be used interchangeable in a recipe, sanitation or elsewhere, regardless of where your read it.

  4. I used to soak the corks in sanitizer solution, but later learned that this can cause the corks to become brittle and fall apart when using some cork screws. This was especially true of the composite type of corks. As a result I now use a lite sanitizing, rather than a soaking and have had no problems. I also keep unused corks in an airtight container with a little bit of sulphite crystal’s in a cloth bag at the bottom.

    • Bob, synthetic corks do not need to be soaked or steamed, etc. They need to be quickly sanitized with a sulfite solutions. Just put the corks in a seal-able container, like Tuperware bowl or similar and add water/sulfite solution to the bowl and seal up air-tight for a half-hour or so. The solution can be made by mixing 1/4 teaspoon of sodium metabisulfite with a quart of water. The synthetic corks do not need to be submerged. The gas from the solution will sanitize the corks as well. You do not need to rinse the corks off, you can take them right out of the solution and put them into the corker.

  5. How do you feel about using a humidor or some other method of exposing the corks to metabisulfite and then eliminating any soaking? My floor corker will handle a cork that hasn’t been softened, but the sanitizing solution seems to end up gunking up the mechanism and can mean more clean-up.

  6. I’m just getting started in making my own wine. I have noticed that the size of the corks can be different. What size do I need?

  7. I just let ‘em sit submerged for 5-10 minutes in sanitizer. Goes in without a problem with a floor corker. Didn’t steam ‘em or let ‘em soak overnight. Guy a brewery store gave me these instructions.

    • This is also how I do it with a “hand corker.” I use one that has two levers you push down on to drive the cork through a smaller diameter throat and then into the bottle.

  8. So is the soaking or steaming just for the ease of inserting the cork? I ask because although I have heard and read about it I have never done it. I just give a quick 15 min in sanitizer and cork. Have not had any problems yet. Been doing this about a year.

  9. I mix a standard solution of potassium metabisulfite/citric acid and put about 2-inches of the solution in a food grade 2-gal bucket. I place my corks in a plastic colander and then put the colander on top of the bucket (not touching the solution) with the bucket lid on top of the colander for about 30 minutes. This exposes the corks to the metabisulfite solution for sanitizing without wetting the corks.

  10. I have been making wine—mostly my own grape for over 10 years. This year my grape crop was not real good and I am having trouble getting it to ferment. I was just about ready too throw it out one morning and found a real good fermentation. My batch is only about 4 gallons. temptation is 85 +. I started with 110 and now it is down to 70 and stays there. I have added yeast and sugar twice. I suppose my problem is something real simple. anybody want too give me boost???? Thanks.

  11. I guess the wine gods are with me. I’ve been making my wine for 7 years now and have gone through 200+ corks. I have never sterilized the corks. Some of my bottles are over one year old. Neither have any (real) corks deteriorated nor have any bottles spoiled.

  12. I usually use the corks right out of the bags when new as they are supposedly packed sanitized with gas. Once opened i usually use the humidor method. I would be afraid to soak them over night in a sulfite solution in my thinking that what is absorbed in the cork may over sulfite the wine.

  13. Hi folks,
    I’m new to all of this and am going to be bottling wine for the first time tonight! I bought a bag of natural corks and I’m wondering if I should throw a little b-brite in the steam solution to make sure the corks are clean before inserting them in the bottles? If I do use b-brite, would I want to rinse the corks off before inserting them? Your advice is most welcome!!

    • Vic, we do not recommend using B-Brite to sanitize the corks. Other than steaming the corks, the only sanitizing solution we recommend using is a sulfite solution.

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