Monday, December 17, 2007

Brett-barrel revisit

It's been a bit since I posted, and for good reason.
With the nights being as cold as they have been, it was perfect weather to shut down the vines, and therefore a perfect time to get out and prune all the vines before the start of the wet weather. Having just finished with that -actually I got lucky and finished on Sunday morning, as the rain was just starting- I can now relax (just a little) and get back to blogging, amongst other things around the cellar...

The weather is turning, and we should see around 2 inches of rain this week, and I'm glad not to be in a rush to get back in the vineyard for a few weeks.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand: Brett and barrels.

One of the points in my previous post was to point out that new barrels coming in from a cooper are probably not the source of Brett entry into the winery because of the high temperatures and the length of time that they are held at those temperatures. I still think that makes quite a bit of sense. But after talking with a friend of mine, I found he has examples of staves and barrels which have large cracks where Brett most certainly find refuge when the barrel was cleaned!

In the photo below, the areas circled in red are longitudinal cracks on the interior of the barrel from when the barrel was made (the whitish-pink deposits on the staves are tartrate crystals). The stave in the middle is intact, from the same barrel as the others, but doesn't have these flaws....
You might ask "so just how bad is this?"....
In a word, "unacceptable" fact this barrel should have been rejected and sent back to the cooper, never to be filled with wine. The flaw on the lower stave is about 7" long, and 1/2"deep.

Sawing the stave in half reveals what really is the problem: debris, lees, tartrate crystals, etc...
In other words, the perfect reservoir for molds and brett to hang about and reinfect any other wine ever put into it. Even with ozone, it's doubtful that this area ever was cleaned properly.

Cracking off the overhanging wood, you can look directly at the scum residing underneath it:
This is a problem when inspecting all barrels when they are coming into your cellar: looking through the bunghole, you only ever see half the barrel. And it's really not practical to take a head off of each barrel to inspect the interior before they're used.

Brett spores may have found their way 8mm into the staves in some instances, but the idea that there are barrels in your cellar which will be repositories for brett regardless of what you do to clean your cooperage is just damned scary.

For what it's worth, my friend said that this particular barrel was French oak from a French cooper, and had never contributed to any brett lot that he could remember. What a miracle that seems like when looking at what they were dealing with! Sure, every barrel is somewhat unique as they're made from wood, which by its nature is of variable density, grain, etc....
But this barrel never should have left the cooper to start with.

Perhaps Matt Thompson is onto something after all when he states that it isn't in the coopers interests to be looking for brett...or perhaps to overlook many things that they might think will go unnoticed upon arrival. Like cracked staves...

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Blogger Steve Shaffer said...

Sounds like buying an automotive inspection mirror and a bare bulb flashlight are in order. Place the bare bulb inside the barrel (with a string to get it back out) and lower the inspection mirror inside before accepting the barrel.
More work for the harvest intern....

January 22, 2008 4:20 PM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

Drop lights and inspection mirrors are common, but in my experience there's no guarantee you'd see that flaw if it wasn't positioned in the right place.

You're on the right track though...a couple of interns to run doubly through the barrels upon receipt and before first use would make a world of difference!

February 25, 2008 10:09 PM  

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