Vapor Steam Cleaning Part of The Science of Safe Wine and Barrel Sanitation

Vapor Steam Cleaner

GVC-18000 industrial dry vapor steam cleaner

Americans love wine. According to the Wine Institute, reds and whites consumed across the United States totaled 893 million gallons in 2014 — that’s an average of 2.80 gallons per person, per year. But it takes more than good grapes and a skilled vintner to ensure both traditional and cutting-edge wine blends are safe for human consumption: Here’s a quick look at the science of safe wine.

Risky Business

There are a number of factors which may impact the enjoyment and safety of wine. Yeast — specifically brettanomyces — is a common problem, since the production and bottling of wine creates the ideal growth environment. While some “brett” characteristics are desirable and can make wines seem older than they are, growth is hard to control and too much of this year’s creates an undesirable “wine fault”. Volatile acidity (VA) is also a problem; if the concentration of steam distillable compounds such as acetic, lactic, formic or propionic acids exceeds 1.2g/l for red wine or 1.1g/l for white they cannot legally be sold in the United States and will develop a unique — and unpleasant — smell.


To ensure wine is both safe to drink and contains only the desired characteristics, one key area of concern for winemakers is barrel sanitation. This applies to unused barrels, those being stored after fermentation is complete and those being re-used for a new batch of wine. While there’s no standard barrel cleaning procedure, most vintners use similar techniques. As noted by Wines and Vines, for example, Jean Hoefliger of Alpha Omega winery starts with a high-pressure hot water rinse followed by a combination of cold and ozonated water. Dave Ramey of Matanzas Creek, meanwhile, is moving toward an overnight, cold-water soak followed by 2 seconds of SO2 gas. Unused barrels are then re-sulfured every six weeks.

There’s also emerging interest in techniques such as steam cleaning, which provide the same kind of high heat as hot water rinses along with the potential for high-pressure if the barrel’s bunghole is plugged during the process. Once the steam dislodged sticky tartrates and other biological films, winemakers can follow up with a cold water or ozone rinse.

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The process of bottling also comes with the risk of contamination. With approximately half of all bottles leaving the line with yeast still present Brett blooms can occur after just six months of storage. To limit the chance of microbial contamination it’s essential for winemakers to make any chemical additions such as sulfur dioxide, potassium sorbate, gums or sugar at least 24 hours before bottling to give these compounds time to stabilize. Physical cleaning of each bottle is critical, as is regular removal and steam-cleaning of valves and hose lines to limit biofilm growth. In addition, regular maintenance of the surrounding area — such as floors, walls, and drains — helps maintain an aseptic and hygienic bottling environment.

Wineries are becoming commonplace in the United States as Americans tip back both robust reds and sparkling whites. This growing industry, however, comes with a growing need: Effective barrel and bottle maintenance to deliver a high-quality quaff every time.

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