Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.
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
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.