ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

Should a wine barrel that has a mild case of brett be used again? Can a barrel be sanitized to prevent a new wine from getting infected?

—Robert R., Los Angeles

Dear Robert,

Some winemakers believe that once a barrel is infected with the spoilage yeast Brettanomyces, or “brett,” the only option is to turn it into a planter.

As you might imagine, though, there are a lot of different opinions on the matter. Winemakers can try to sanitize barrels using high-pressure water or steam, or by soaking the barrels using compounds such as citric acid. Ozonated water is also a popular tool.

While these things can certainly clean a barrel, a concern is that brett could infiltrate beyond the surface. To that end, I’ve read about ultrasonic deep-cleaning techniques as well as a new practice of shaving a barrel and then retoasting the inside. Other vintners believe they can control brett through their winemaking practices. Because good wine barrels can cost in the neighborhood of $1,000, it’s understandable why winemakers want to get as much use out of them as possible.

—Dr. Vinny


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