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Cleaning Wine Barrels with Dry Ice

Mark Lyon, Winemaker Sebastiani Vineyards
Mark Lyon, winemaker at Sebastiani Vineyards
"It doesn't give a new barrel flavor, but seems to give older barrels the flavors of a 2-year-old barrel, it's re-exposing the surfaces. What I like is that it cleans the tartrates and stains you find in older barrels. It's like going to the dentist (to have teeth cleaned). You clean out the barrels, and it's more hygienic."

Most winemakers that we've talked with have stated that approximately 60-70% of a barrel's flavor is extracted during the first season leaving about 30% of a barrel's flavor intact. With our process, we blast away a slight layer of old, wine saturated wood revealing fresh, toasted oak and flavors. By opening the grain, we double the surface area of the wood allowing the wine to come in contact with more oak. In essence, what would have been only 30% of the original flavor remaining has now been increased (2X) to approximately 60% of the barrel's original flavor.

The Results

In order to provide empirical evidence of our claim that we can bring back oak flavors in wine barrels using our dry ice blasting method, we engaged a winery to perform an independent test. The winery is in no way affiliated with Barrel Blasting. They are a customer who uses our service, and as such offered to allow us to sample the wines aged in barrels which we've cleaned. The tests were completed in March, 2008. The results are shown below. Here is the explanation of what is shown.

One of our customers, an ultra-premium wine producer in Napa, performed the experiment. They selected 100 identical French oak barrels (same manufacturer, same provenance, same toast level, same history of 2 prior cycles of aging), and randomly separated the 100 into two sets of 50. One set was used as the control for the experiment and was prepared in their standard way with a hot water, high pressure barrel washer, then ozone rinse. The other 50 were cleaned by Barrel Blasting's dry ice method. All were filled on the same date with the winery's 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Throughout the 8 month aging process, at each barrel tasting the Winemaker, Assistant Winemaker, and Chief Oenologist reported that the wine from the dry ice-blasted barrels showed "fresher, cleaner tastes and better oak aroma and flavor" than the non-blasted barrels.

When the aging was complete, each group of 50 barrels was blended (12,000 liters each group) to avoid any reading which might be caused by individual variation in barrels. Samples were then drawn from the blended wines, and the samples were brought to ETS Laboratories in St. Helena, California for gas-chromatograph testing.

The tests show that, as expected, dry ice blasting allowed the barrels to impart significantly more oak volatiles into the wine. The only volatiles which showed lower readings were guaiacol and 4-methylguaiacol. These are responsible for "smoke" and "char" flavors, and their decrease is explained by the fact that we remove about .050" of the toast layer, exposing a new layer of toasted oak. We feel that the aggregate effect of improved fresh-oak, vanilla, butterscotch and coconut flavors, and decreased smoke/char flavors accounts for the sensory report of "fresher, cleaner tastes".

Because of the controlled nature of this testing, and the use of blended, 12,000 liter batches to perform the testing, we feel that without question the difference in the oak volatiles is attributable only to Barrel Blasting's dry ice blasting process.

Oak Aroma Analysis Test Results

Oak Volatiles Panel 2004 Nadalie
  2004 Nadalie
Furfural (GC/MS) 282 ug/L 311 ug/L +10.28%
5-methylfurfural (GC/MS) 50 ug/L 62 ug/L +24.00%
Trans-Oak lactone (GC/MS) 104 ug/L 119 ug/L +14.42%
Cis-Oak lactone (GC/MS) 136 ug/L 141 ug/L +3.68%
Guaiacol (GC/MS) 7 ug/L 6 ug/L -14.29%
4-methylguaiacol (GC/MS) 4 ug/L 3 ug/L -25.00%
Eugenol (GC/MS) 16 ug/L 18 ug/L +12.50%
Isoeugenol (GC/MS) <1 ug/L <1 ug/L 0.00%
Vanillin (GC/MS) 142 ug/L 168 ug/L +18.31%
*Barrels used - 2004 Nadalie French Oak Esquive ; Testing performed 03/2008

Similar tests demonstrated Brettanomyces levels which were orders of magnitude lower in the dry ice-blasted barrels than those cleaned by traditional methods. The winery took general analysis on all of the wines before they went into barrel in June, 2007, and then sampled the different test groups in November, 2007 and January, 2008 when topping took place.

*Barrels used - 2004 Nadalie French Oak Esquive
  6/5/07 11/19/07 1/27/08
  Control Control Blasted Control Blasted
Free SO2 31 38 37 26 28
Total SO2 47 52 45 52 58
pH 3.43 3.4 3.4 3.41 3.4
VA 0.038 0.044 0.041 0.048 0.052
Brettanomyces 70 310 <10 460 <10
4EP 10 17 13 15 13
4EG <4 <4 <4 5 4
Nonflavonoid Phenols 265 125 120 90 95
Total Phenols 1110 1200 1160 1260 1240

These 3 year old red and white wine barrels have been blasted giving winemakers a favorable second year flavor. These 3 year old red and white wine barrels have been blasted giving winemakers a favorable second year flavor.

These 3 year old red and white wine barrels have been blasted giving winemakers a favorable second year flavor.

Mold and Blisters
Before - Enlarge
Mold and Blisters
After - Enlarge

"Data was collected before and after dry ice blasting a wine barrel. The results showed that prior to blasting, the level of ATP and microbial counts (yeast, mold, and bacteria) were unacceptable. However, after blasting the ATP and microbial counts were much lower, and in some cases, the microbes were undetectable. This demonstrates that dry ice blasting can effectively clean and sanitize a surface."
Robert Tracy, Ph.D., BevTrac Mobile Quality Systems, LLC

Read about Application of dry-ice blasting for barrels treatment | BIO Web of Conferences here.

Read more about dry ice cleaning here.

BevTrac Mobile Quality Systems, LLC 'We bring the wine lab to you.' BevTrac

Copyright Barrel Blasting(TM) 2007, Barrel Cleaning Services for Sustainable Farming Vineyards