Aug 15, 2020

This BOSS calls for improving the quality of wine

Andrew Riggs / The Collegian

A small setback hasn’t stopped students and the Technology Development Center at Fresno State from pursuing a better wine barrel sanitization system — it has forced them to innovate even more.

The barrel ozone sanitizing system, or BOSS, has been researched for over three years in Fresno State’s enology program. A problem arose when the main component of the system, ozone, was discovered to be only one of multiple effective ways to sanitize the barrels.

Wine barrels are very expensive, which is one of the reasons that wineries are constantly trying to find ways to sanitize the barrels without destroying the wood or their natural flavors.

Many wineries use aqueous ozone to sanitize their barrels to protect the wine from brettanomyces, a fast-growing yeast that can destroy the taste and smell of wine. Fresno State enology student Nicolas Cantacuzene came up with the idea of using ozone gas to sanitize the barrels. After research, two other Fresno State students, Fei Gu and Brendan Kane, began to test the system and the market feasibility last summer with Fresno State’s Technology Development Center (TDC).

“We found there was a big need for a system like this because barrels are so expensive for wineries,” Kane said. “Wineries’ sanitization systems are not energy efficient like this one — it is also environmentally better.”

Kane and Gu began to test the ozone concept with 12 donated wine barrels, and found that the ozone gas was more effective than the aqueous ozone at killing the brettanomyces.

“The gas was able to penetrate six inches into the wood, where the aqueous ozone could only penetrate the top one-inch layer of the barrel,” Kane said.

Kane also said the gaseous ozone uses less water than the aqueous process, which cuts expensive water costs to wineries.

However, the research hit a snag, said Mike Summers, manager of the Lyles Center’s TDC.

“There’s a current debate between wineries about this ozone system because dry heat and wet heat can also destroy the brettanomyces,” Summers said.

Instead of using just the ozone system, Summers said they are now creating a standard operating procedure that combines many of the best techniques into one system.

“Ozone is not the whole answer,” Summers said. “We are still designing, but we’re creating a process that has cleaning cycles like a car wash. It would be a semi-automated system that could wash many barrels.”

The planned process would use a combination of scrubbers, wet or dry heat and the ozone gas.

Not only is Fresno State’s TDC helping to design a product that wineries could install permanently into their facilities, but it is also assisting in developing a mobile unit.

“There’s a big mobile bottling truck that drives around to smaller wineries who don’t have bottling capabilities, so we’re looking at that truck as a model for a mobile cleaning system,” Summers said.

Ironically, Fresno State’s winery, while interested in the new ozone and heat system, has little use for the process, Summers said.

“It’s really a testimony to the sanitary standards and barrel management here at Fresno State — they’re very clean,” Summers said.

For now, the new BOSS system is still in the design phase and the project is moving forward because of the positive market needs. Many wineries have issues with the destructive brettanomyces yeast. With costs up to $1,000 per barrel, Summers said wineries are sure to pay attention to a new, more efficient system.

“I have tomatoes at my house in [split-in-half] wine barrels, and it’s incredible that they cost the wineries so much and I’m using them as pots,” Summers said.

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