Technique

Detecting, Measuring, and Preventing Volatile Acidity

You’ve worked long and hard to craft that awesome red wine but now, you go down to the cellar to taste a sample out of the carboy or oak barrel to see how the wine is coming along. Oh no! The wine smells of vinegar, and worse yet, it reeks of nail polish remover. What could have gone wrong? Is the barrel spoiled? Can it be reused? The culprit? Acetic acid bacteria . . . and what you are witnessing is volatile acidity, or simply VA as it’s referred to in wine-speak.   This happens all too often, even to experienced winemakers and, perhaps surprisingly, in commercial winemaking. And unfortunately, novices not familiar with the symptoms often submit VA-afflicted wines into competitions only to be devastated when results are communicated back. Here, we will look at the possible sources and root causes of volatile acidity in grapes — yes, it can start in the fruit — and wine, as well as how to detect, measure, and prevent VA. THE GOOD AND THE BAD Volatile acids are so-called because they are