At Fresno State University, a team of professors and students is taking an idea to sanitize wine barrels out of the laboratory and into the business world.
According to the Fresno Bee, the barrel ozone sanitizing system project has its roots in research that began about three years ago at Fresno State’s Department of Viticulture and Enology.
Now a team of students at Fresno State’s Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship plans a market feasibility study and to design a prototype sanitizer.
“We can’t talk a lot about what we’re doing, but we’re just going to move ahead with it,” said Mike Summers, manager of the Lyles Center’s Technology Development Center, which was started earlier this year to organize Fresno State business students to find ways to commercialize new products or technologies.
The concept behind the project is simple, Summers said: find a better way to keep oak wine barrels free of bacteria or other organisms that can ruin wine.
Given that roughly 200,000 contaminated oak wine barrels are disposed of each year at a cost of $120 million to $180 million to the industry, there is a market for improved sanitation technologies, he said.
With oak wine barrels costing as much as $1,000 each, keeping them
free of organisms like the dreaded yet common brettanomyces — a yeast that can give contaminated wine an unpleasant barnyard odor and flavor — is a high priority for winemakers.
“It is of interest, especially as we’re aging wines for longer periods of time in barrels, for the simple reason that brettanomyces is a fairly slow-growing yeast,” said David Akiyoshi, winemaker for Lange Twins Wine Estates. “As you age wine longer, the populations (of brettanomyces) can develop to the point that it can cause off-odors in your wine.”
To combat this, many wineries today, including Lange Twins, use water saturated with ozone, a form of oxygen that kills living organisms and then quickly breaks down in the atmosphere.
So when Fresno State enology student Nicolas Cantacuzene came up with an idea for improving that process by using ozone as a gas, Robert Wample, a professor and chairman of Fresno State’s Viticulture and Enology Department, and director of the department’s research center, saw it as promising.
“The concept — the biology and biophysics of it — are fairly straightforward,” Wample said. “Gaseous ozone has the capability of penetrating into the wood more easily than water does. Because the ozone penetrates better, it has more effectiveness in controlling the contamination organisms.”