Sep 06

Repurposing Barrels: Utility or Futility?

I am usually not a big fan, but here’s some stuff I’ve seen that I like. Let’ start with furniture.

Restored barrel chair and stools, c. 1465, in a recreated scene; at the archeological site of Walraversijde, near Oostende, Belgium

Ok, so I did not actually see this one, I found it doing a little online research. It looks like previous generations had the same problems we do. What to do with an old barrel? The next two photos were taken at Mount Baker Vineyards. These tables and benches, made by a friend of theirs, Andy Webster, are a more elegant option, but are they functional?

The answer is a qualified “yes”. These stools and tables look great and they provide a practical way to re-use the barrel staves. This is really the Achilles heel of re-purposing barrels, because the staves are bent. It can be hard to find a good way to re-use them.  Since the stool legs are made from the barrel staves, they are the right height for a bar. The seats are also made of those same staves, which is the problem. The edges of the seat curve up, so they only give you about twenty minutes of comfort, then your butt hurts. So they are perfect for a wine tasting bar, but not for sitting in a restaurant or in a bar for any length of time. Maybe they would be more comfortable if the stool seat was flipped, curving down?

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Aug 09

10 Point Check: Sample Bottles for Events, Clients & Customers

Text on the label is fuzzed out to protect the innocent. However, if you could read it, you would see a lot number, the vintage, the variety and the appellation, probably the minimum you want on the label.

How do you ensure that a sample bottle of wine successfully arrives at an event or in a customer’s or client’s hand?

Sealing screwcaps with electrical tape and clearly labeling the bottles are key, labelmakers help those who are challenged by penmanship.

It is very frustrating to take the time to pull barrel samples and make a bench top blend to send to an event, only to have the sample not impress upon arrival. I am not talking about the actual shipping and transport, I think we all know the importance of using shippers for wine and trying to ensure that the wine stays cool during transport. I am thinking about issues involved in making a positive impression on the other end, or at least not contributing to any negative ones. I have been doing this for years, I have seen or made all these mistakes myself, and recently forgot to make a sulfur add and the wine tasted aldehydic at the event. The following is a list to keep in mind when filling bottles in the lab.

  1. Use clean bottles and caps – doesn’t look good if there are floaters in the bottle, dirt on the cap or grime on the bottle.
  2. Try to send visually clear wine. Buon Vino Mini Jet FilterTake the samples carefully and if there was not time for the wine to settle, you might consider filtration. There are various options out there including 20×20 and 10×10 bench top pad filters available at home wine and beermaking stores.
  3. Fill bottles sufficiently full, excessive ullage fails to impress and overfilling leads to leaking and pushing corks.
  4. Use sound, good quality corks. Consider whether it is import to use a particular cork over another (real vs technical vs synthetic) also consider whether the cork should be branded or not. Do not use sample corks from the supplier, they are uncoated and nearly impossible to remove.
  5. Label the bottles clearly, as to exactly what it is, and include supplementary information. In certain situations the addition of wine chemistry, total volume, or other esoteric information might be beneficial. If handwriting is an issue, consider a label maker or printing the label on a computer. Also, sometimes printing label templates is helpful as it can prompt you to fill in the blanks and include all the necessary information.
  6. Add about 20 ppm of SO2 to the bottle. It is almost always a good idea, unless you are absolutely certain that it is sufficient or high. Always disappointing to find that the wine has oxidized in the bottle.
  7. If using screw cap sample bottles, not a commercial screw cap it is a good idea to secure the caps with electrical tape as in the photo above.
  8. ???
I guess I can’t count to ten, I only have seven items on my list. What did I forget?



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Aug 08

Treating a Barrel of Corked Wine

The Initial Problem

I came across a barrel of wine contaminated with TCA recently. Not a terrible case, but it was present in the wine. Oddly enough, it was one barrel in a five barrel lot, all of which were new barrels. I have heard of barrel contamination before, but never seen it myself. I looked into TCA reducing pads that Gusmer used to sell, but they are no longer available. There is a company in California, Heyes Filtration which sells another brand of pads, but they are very expensive, about $350 for a pack of 10, If I remember correctly. So I tried another route.

The Investigation

Supposedly TCA is fat soluble, so whole milk is apparently effective at removal. The TTB limits the addition of milk to a maximum of 2mL/L (2000ppm), which is a pretty big addition.I have used milk before to fine wines before (not for TCA), usually in about a 250ppm range, so for this moderate TCA level I decided to start with 500 and 1000ppm whole milk additions.

Also, though it is not officially allowed by the TTB, polyethelene (plastic wrap) is effective at adsorbing TCA. I have heard that you must use large amounts (“a pallet of plastic wrap slipped off the forklift and fell in the tank”). But how much is a lot, and how would I actually perform the trial. One roll from the local grocery store contains 100 feet of wrap. With the roll being 1 foot wide, that means that 1 box contains 100 feet^2 of wrap. 10 feet^2 in per gallon would result in using 6 rolls of wrap to treat this barrel. So I decided to try 10 (6 rolls), 20 (12 rolls) and 40 feet^2 per gallon (24 rolls) for my initial fining trial.

10 feet^2 per gallon of wrap = 10 feet per 3.785 L = 1 foot per 378.5 mls, and 378.5 is pretty damn close to 375mls, a half bottle. That’s great, because I wanted to use a 375 for the trial bottles, however I realized that that volume of wine and that amount of wrap would not fit in the same bottle, so I decided to keep it simple, and use half that volume, 190mls.

I took the correct amount of wrap and cut it into roughly 1 inch strips and pushed each strip into the bottle. I let the wine sit in the bottle for about an hour and then tasted. Surprisingly, even the 40 feet^2/gallon rate still showed a large amount of cork taint. This was 24 rolls in one barrel! So i decided to look at higher rates, 50 and 100 feet^2/gallon, 1/2 and one roll per gallon! Talk about needing to use a very high rate.

10 feet^2/gal = 0.5 feet^2/190mls = 6 rolls/barrel 20 feet^2/gal = 1 feet^2/190mls = 12 rolls/barrel 40 feet^2/gal = 2 feet^2/190mls = 24 rolls/barrel 50 feet^2/gal = 2.5 feet^2/190mls = 30 rolls/barrel 100 feet^2/gal = 5 feet^2/190mls = 60 rolls/barrel

The Results of the Final Tastings

For the final tasting we looked at a control, 500 and 1000ppm of whole milk, and 1/2 and 1 roll of plastic wrap per gallon of wine. Consensus was that both milk levels lessened the sensory effect of TCA but did not eliminate it. At the 1000ppm level it definitely stripped all positive qualities too. We felt similarly about the plastic wrap, at the higher level seemed to eliminate all traces of TCA, however both rates stripped all positive characteristics from the wine. Additionally, the cost on the high rate of 1 roll per gallon would probably be over $100, making the cost of the TCA removal filter pads look much more attractive. Hopefully removing most of the taint will be sufficient, hopefully it beats the alternative.

In the end we decided to treat the wine with the 500ppm milk and use about 18 rolls of plastic wrap after racking the wine off the milk lees. If I were to do this again, I would definitely look at half and half or cream to see if a higher ratio of fat to protein would improve its effectiveness. I will give an update when I taste the treated wine.

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