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Battling VA


John Larsen — Corvallis, Oregon asks,

We had some Syrah in a 60-gallon (227-L) barrel that developed volatile acidity (0.70 if I recall from tests), so we hit it with SO2 and saved it. After bottling we hosed out the barrel and treated it to Oxyfresh (approximately a 16 ounce/0.45 kg bag), a hydrogen oxide method. We filled the barrel with the Oxyfresh and H2O and let it sit for a day, drained it and hosed it out again with hot H2O and then filled it with water and 2 ounces (57 g) of SO2 and 4 ounces (114 g) of citric acid and let that sit for a day. Again we drained, hosed and after it stopped dripping we filled it with another wine. The question is, would you have reused the barrel after having a wine with VA even after treating it?


It sounds like you took the right approach. A VA (volatile acidity) of 0.70 is not “out of this world” high, though it is a little elevated. Especially if this was a wine over a year old, a VA like this wouldn’t necessarily alarm me unless it made a big jump (say from 0.50 to 0.70) within a month or less. That would be a sign of some kind of microbial bloom. If your wine has just had a gradual increase or “creep” in VA over the months, that is totally normal and I would not hesitate to use the barrel again. The treatment you describe above is pretty industry standard.

However, if you experienced a big jump in VA in a short period of time, I might hesitate to use the barrel again, especially if you’ve used it many times and had extracted all of the oak flavor and aroma out of it (2-3 years, depending on the barrel). If it’s a brand new barrel and has only been used once I might take the risk and re-use it after cleaning it out well as you describe above. In that case, I would make sure to monitor the VA of the new lot every 2-3 weeks for about three months to make sure I didn’t have anything growing that I didn’t want. After that, I would say you could back off to monthly monitoring. Good luck!

Response by Alison Crowe.