This blog can be regarded as the sequel for “Snow blower on Enceladus”, which I have posted in November last year. The blog was all about technology that uses CO2 ice pellets to clean and rejuvenate the inside of barrels by “blowing” these ice pellets under immense pressure against the inside staves of barrels, leaving them clean and “disinfected”. Another advantage of course remains the fact that the condition of a used barrel can be inspected. Many winemakers was struck with complete and utter dismay at the sight of many a blister in the inside of these very pricy barrels…and most probably found the puss that “oozed” from these blisters a terrible reality.

Yet the challenge remains to manage barrels in such a way that you get what you want from them: Extraction of flavor, and introduction of oxygen. Yet both decrease as a result of extraction and blocked pores, as the barrels grow older. The other challenge is of course to maintain a good sanitary status after these barrels are emptied and filled with new wines, as spoilage organisms such as Brett and acetic acid bacteria literally get a “breather” in between emptying and filling…

Several techniques are at the disposal of winemakers to clean barrels. Many high tech barrel cleaning systems are currently on the market, from “ordinary” pressure cleaners, to units that can empty the barrel and clean it afterwards without having to move the barrels from the stack. It is possible to use dry steam or wet steam. You may even use chemicals such as SO2 treatments or the patented “Thales cleaning” method. Yet again – different strokes for different blokes.

The purpose of this blog however, is to take a view on the “Barena” method. One of the differences to the Ice Jet System is that they do not physically dismantle the barrel. A rod is simply placed through the barrel’s bung hole, and quartz crystals are sprayed under pressure against the inside of the barrel. These crystals were sterilized by heating it up to 300 degrees Celsius several times. Approximately 30 kilograms of these crystals are used per barrel. The quartz removes less than a millimeter of the surface of the staves, almost like peeling off a skin from a litchi. The barrel is then rinsed with de-chlorinated cold water. Step 3 in the process is the “disinfection stage” where the barrel is steamed for 12 minutes.

The barrel is now ready to dry naturally. A disinfected silicone bung is put into the bunghole, and a needle through which SO2 gas is injected, penetrated through the bung. This leaves the barrels treated and ready to be filled yet again.

Unfortunately the downside remains the transport of the barrels to the depot where they are treated and back to the cellars. I also like the fact that I can physically inspect the inside of the used barrels when I used the Ice blast technology, although you may argue that it is possible to look into a barrel with optical fibers…honestly, how many of us actually use these gadgets on barrel inspection day?

Nevertheless, I also like the idea of “blasting” (and opening blisters I suppose) away deposit and residue by force, “steaming” the pores open and bugs away, and finally treat it with sulphur. It all makes sense…almost like giving your barrel a facial.

The technology will soon be available in South Africa, and I really think it’s time to look at some hardcore evidence – which method will ultimately prevail? Let the wine decide…(or the bottom line?)…

Bertus Fourie is a winemaker, turned Enology lecturer and creator of the Barista coffee Pinotage.