Updated: Jan 26, 2020
Aside from the winemaking equipment that would come in a starter kit, there are a handful of useful accessories that I use all the time. These are the items that make winemaking a little easier, more enjoyable and in many cases will help improve the quality of your wine. Most of the items on this list won't break the bank like some of the shiny stainless steel gizmos that us winemakers dream about. I have chose not to include things like carboys and hydrometers that you would get in any winemaking starter kit, because you probably already have these if you are browsing this website. This list is about the everyday items that help streamline my workflow and that I think will help you out as a home winemaker. If you have any useful items that might help me out or anyone reading, please mention in the comments! I narrowed my list to the ten items that I feel are my most commonly used. I also made an accompanying video on my YouTube channel which can be seen here. So here we go, starting at number 10!
10: Laser Thermometer
Of course we all know, lasers are cool as heck, but in this case they are also quite useful. I use this little gadget all the time. The beauty of a laser thermometer is that it is non-contact, so there is no sanitizing necessary. During primary fermentation, temperature is one of the most important parameters. Ferment too warm, and you can end up with cooked tastes and stress the yeast. Ferment too cold and you can stall out and have weak color and tannin extraction. Stay a little cool for that fruit forward wine that will please the crowds. Let your red wine spike to around 86°F or 88°F for that age-able, full bodied red wine. What you do with the temperature during the first couple weeks is a game changer, but don't forget to keep an eye on cellar temps during MLF and aging too.
Here is a link to the laser thermometer that I use (https://amzn.to/2TjbgYW). It gets the job done without hurting the pocket book too bad. If you want to really keep an eye on temperature, consider a data logger. I use a temperature and light data logger in the wine must, in the cellar, and during the growing season in the vineyard. Because of the seasonality of winemaking, I can use one data logger for all of these activities. The Onset Pendant Loggers work great for this and communicate via bluetooth to your phone for a running graph of the temperature and light.
9: Carboy Dryer
I never thought I needed a carboy dryer until I smashed a carboy by leaning it upside down against the wall. A gentle tip-over was all it took to shatter into a frustrating pile of expensive, razor sharp pieces. You can always just leave your carboys upright after washing, but this is a recipe for mold and future cleaning headaches. Every time I finish using a carboy, I rinse it out good, and I put it on a carboy dryer. If you have scrap wood laying around you can make one. Here are some simple instructions for a homemade carboy dryer (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TcpS4W-H4w). You can also buy a few carboy dryers if you don't have woodworking tools. I have both, and they work about the same. The store bought dryers take up a little less space but are a little more expensive than the raw materials of the home built dryers. Either way you choose, you will not regret having a couple carboy dryers!
8: Portuguese Floor Corker
This is my go-to corker. Hand corkers leave big dents in the cork and Italian floor corkers are about twice the cost for just a little more leverage. The Portuguese Floor Corker fits right in the sweet spot from a cost/benefit perspective, and it still doesn't take up a lot of space. If you are planning on sticking with winemaking, I would definitely recommend adding one to your collection.
Left: Dented Cork from Hand Corker
7: Twin Bubble Airlocks
Your airlock is the one thing between your precious wine and that nasty air trying to turn your wine to vinegar or nail-polish remover. Airlocks come in all shapes and sizes but the twin bubble is by far my favorite of all of them. The twin bubble remains effective even if most of the water has evaporated (which can happen!). The twin bubble style also makes it very obvious if the bung is well sealed. With a good seal, the water is always pushed towards one side or the other. There is a reason that this design has been around for so long and is still being used! I always keep a few extra around for any overflow that I might store in a growler or one gallon jug. Here is a link to a two pack of airlocks with bungs (https://amzn.to/2Wn053i).
6: Bottle Dryer
I don't like mold in my bottles! Whenever you finish a wine or are in the process of cleaning bottles, always let them drip out. A bottle dryer makes this a lot easier. I use a homemade bottle dryer that is simply a series of 1.5 inch holes drilled in a piece of plywood, with a wood leg on each corner. This works great and is very easy to make. If you don't want to make your own, the Christmas tree style is the go-to and works just as well.
5: Notebook/Winemaking Journal
I am a historically terrible note-taker, except when it comes to winemaking! I write down every step that I take, because the time between steps can be way longer than my memory is capable of remembering. Trying to remember how many oz of who knows what kind of oak that you put in one of your dozen carboys is just about impossible six months after it happened. I like keeping paper notes, but digital will also work just fine. Having a full notebook or two of winemaking notes can be a pretty nice souvenir to show all your winemaking accomplishments though.
4: Wine Thief
Whenever you need to steal some wine, grab the wine thief! I have a small home-sized glass wine thief that I use for sampling from carboys. Not only does the wine thief work great, it makes you look like you know what you are doing to onlookers! Prior to having a wine thief, I would use a turkey baster. The function was basically the same, I just haven't been able to find a turkey baster that doesn't drip aggressively when trying to make the transfer from the carboy to the sampling glass. The wine thief that I use is the economy thief from more wine. If you can't be trusted with fragile glass products, maybe consider one of the plastic versions...
3: 500g Scale
This size covers most additions that you would make to a wine, including any water that you might use to for mixing the goods. I use a little scale for just about every addition I make to the wine, from yeast to oak to tannin to sulfites. With any powdered products it is always better to add by weight instead of using the measuring spoons. The scale that I use is nothing fancy, but more than accurate enough for home winemaking (https://amzn.to/2B4h55q).
2: pH Meter
A good pH meter can be a game changer with the quality of your wine. Because the pH scale is logarithmic, it is important to get a meter that measures accurately to two decimal places. I like the portable meter from Apera Instruments. I have yet to find a better meter for the price. The icing on the cake is that the Apera meter includes a replaceable electrode, so if you damage it, you can just thread on a new one. It is very important to also invest in a pH buffer solution set to calibrate your meter and check calibration. I use my pH meter just about every time I come in contact with the wine, which is why it is #2 on my list!
1: Spray Bottles
Okay... You were hoping for something way more exciting at number one. I know, but; The spray bottle is by far the most used item in my cellar, and it makes my life much easier. I keep one full of Starsan, and one full of a homemade sulfite and citric acid solution. Anytime you want to use a tool, give it a spritz with some sanitizer. If you pull a sample of wine, make sure to top up the carboy and give a spritz with the sulfite solution to suck out any oxygen. Any household spray bottle should do the trick. Just make sure it is new and doesn't contain any chemical residue.
Hopefully this list will help you in some way. The process of winemaking should be easy and enjoyable. If you have any simple products that help you in the wine cellar be sure to mention in the comments. If you haven't yet checked out my youtube channel, be sure to stop by at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCukfI_LTN8MqOLZq96ACbjA.