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Volatile Acid VA in Wine. A flat note for a Beautiful Duet.

2013 December 2
by Gene Fiorot

It is bound to happen to all Winemakers at least once I tell myself. This makes me feel better. Almost better …Well not so much…

In 2012 I made Cabernet Sauvignon using 2 grapes. Having made the Lanza Cab, the Koch Cab along with Tembrink Cab calling it Trio in 2008 with just 2 out of three available in 2012 I called it Duet. The wine turned out fine. Really nice. I put it in a variable top tank in my wine room in December of 2012 and it remained there to be put in a Barrel this November.

We had a very hot summer and my cooling AC was not working properly. Temperature got into the 70.s and this was freaking me out being so far away in Florida. Dave and Anthony were on top of it but the solution in the end was to change the unit which we did not when I was away. Dave did add K meta to the Barrels and Tanks in August.

When I returned in October I tasted the wines expecting the worse. I was pleasantly surprised the wines were all ok. Whew!! I got lucky. At our first pressing for this season in October, during lunch, I went into the Cellar to get some samples for the guys to taste. I drew off some Duet and other wines as well. We enjoyed all of them and I was further assured no harm came to them during the summer.

One week ago I bottled my 2011 GSM and my 2011 Lanza/Musto Sangiovese. I filled the barrels with 2012 Gamay which was in a tank next to the Duet. I still had some wine left in the tank so I filled a carboy with the remaining Gamay but I was a gallon short. I decided just to hook up the hose to the Duet Tank and fill the carboy with it. All was fine, then I grabbed the ladder to lower the lid on the tank. I use a plastic elastic drum cover on top of the tank to keep dust out. When I removed the plastic cover I was hit by an unmistakable smell. OH NO IT CAN”T BE! 25 years of winemaking, on many occasions tasting old timers’ wine loaded with VA and after 25 years now it is my turn. I turned to Anthony my heart sunk in my chest. Anthony I say, the wine is ruined. He looks perplexed ,there must be a solution no? No there is no solution. You mean you can’t fix it we fix all kinds of things he says. Nope we can’t fix it. Amateurs at least can’t fix it. To be sure we have a taste. Not that I needed convincing. So here is a beautiful wine which you can still recognize almost totally obscured by VA. And all this occurred in 8 weeks. Why? I forgot to lower the lid when I took wine out of the tank when we were having lunch is my only guess.

Are there any lessons here to learn? Yes there are many. Let the discussion begin. Those who hate Variable Capacity Tanks are invited and welcome…..

Volatile Acid VA in Wine. A flat note for a Beautiful Duet
A Marty Yule Production

30 Responses leave one →
  1. Proud Puppy permalink
    December 2, 2013

    Watching that video I can only say OUCH!! I feel your pain. The expression on your face says it all!

  2. December 2, 2013

    first and foremost my sincere condolences.

    No words can express the true loss and comments dont help you cope.

  3. carmine Frattaroli permalink
    December 2, 2013

    Gene we have thrown out plenty of wine over the years I know it sucks especially when you put alot of time and moneyinto it.

  4. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    December 2, 2013

    OK Dudes let’s not make this a funeral. Your thoughts are appreciated but what is more important is what practice changes are necessary to make sure this does not happen again. By the way there is a bit of humor posting this and some balls as well. But let it serve as a lesson using Variable Capacity tanks. And I know CRR ( Crazy Run Ranch ) has to contribute to this post. For me I am not really sure the actual cause. I am assuming at this time.

  5. Al Battista permalink
    December 3, 2013


  6. bzac permalink
    December 3, 2013

    hit it with 80 ppm so2 and then

    then fine with noblesse.

    what have you got to loose

  7. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    December 3, 2013

    I wish it was that simple Zac. It was gone. No Noblesse was fixing this, sad to say.

  8. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    December 3, 2013

    Zac I would have tried it but I knew it was too late. There are things here that I have to address in my procedures. First limiting the time factor the wine stays in the tank. I had Paul Gatti taste it , excellent palate, he mentioned besides the VA he thought it had gone somewhat reductive. I have heard this before when using these tanks. I am not sure if one can avoid this. My solution is after the winter to move the wine to barrels and not leave any wine in tanks for more than 4 months. I usually wait until November so pushing this up to April I think will avoid these problems. Second So2 management has to be more documented and monitored. Interestingly the failed tank had a GW Kent Black Bladder while the other tank with the Gamay did not. It had the original type. Other than this I can only point to a tank that was not properly prepared at the outset and warmer cellar temps this summer. Don asked about carboys in the other thread, let this be a lesson for Don.

    It is so funny that readership tripled yesterday. Marty Yule should be in Movies! lol!

  9. Anatoli permalink
    December 3, 2013

    sorry to see your wine going down the drain….
    I had stored wine in a cola keg, Nitrogen run out due to a leak and I noticed it too late. the wine smelled of sherry, not vinegar. I treated it with 70ppm SO2 and a dose of PVPP. Racked a week later off PVPP sediment. That did fix my problem. 2 months later still OK.
    would using argon somewhat help with the VV tanks?

  10. Zac Brown permalink
    December 4, 2013

    I think vc tanks are best used for active wine .
    I do mlf in mine as soon as mlf is done the wine goes to barrel or a fixed container .
    Carboys or full flex tanks (50 gallon)

  11. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    December 4, 2013

    I agree Zac a limited time is the safest way to go. I could go with Flex tanks but I don’t want the micro oxygenation when waiting to go into barrels. So I think I just change my timing. Which I should have done anyway.

  12. Zac Brown permalink
    December 4, 2013

    Get the thicker flex tanks not the cheap Eco ones.

  13. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    December 4, 2013

    I was not aware of these. I will have to do some research on this. Thanks.

  14. Zac Brown permalink
    December 4, 2013

    Why the reluctance on micro ox ? The tanks are similar to barrel rates.
    I use mine for mlf and storage before barreling without issue .

    And I use the Eco ones which aren’t as thick as the premium ones.
    So microox is a bit faster , can’t say as I’ve noticed though.

  15. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    December 4, 2013

    No experience with this. Would you keep wine in them a year and then in a barrel for a year and not worry about over doing it? Or for that matter 2 years in a 60 after 9 months in a tank?

  16. Zac Brown permalink
    December 4, 2013

    I’m going to use one this year back to back with a barrel and see the results . But I’ve got pro friend who rave about them.

    My thoughts would be to keep the total to 24 months , any combination of Flextank and barrel time .

  17. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    December 4, 2013

    I notice they have a variable membrane but I think that is as bad as the VC cover. Either its full or not is my guess is the way to go. What do you think about that.

  18. Zac Brown permalink
    December 4, 2013

    I use them full , but have used the floating membrane short term , it actually floats on the wine .
    They just came out with a 30 gallon size , 50 used to be the smallest .
    A pair of 30s would be handy.

  19. Dan Lodico permalink
    December 4, 2013

    I was looking at the website, and they say the “angel’s share” does not evaporate. I was under the impression that the angel’s share resulted in a more concentrated flavor.

    Also, I didn’t see 30s on the page. Maybe I was on an older out of date site? Do you buy them directly, or through a retailer?

  20. Zac Brown permalink
    December 4, 2013
    Halfway down .

  21. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    December 4, 2013

    We will be divesting of 3 250 Litre Tanks this Spring at a great price. These are the tanks that are kept in my barrel room for storage. I will use my other VC tanks during post pressing, completion of AF fermentation and MLF. Keep Craigslist close by….

  22. Dan Lodico permalink
    December 5, 2013

    Yep, Zac, I found the 30..interesting concept. Regarding the “skins”, the membranes you can use to float on top, to duplicate a variable capacity tank, they make a few recommendations:
    1. tank should be at least 2/3 full
    2. also use an inert gas over that
    3. make sure your oak adjuncts aren’t floating on the surface of the wine
    4. watch your SO2 levels

    You can ferment, punch down, work through the top or valve at the bottom; sounds like the cat’s pajamas, to me.

  23. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    December 5, 2013

    I think they are way too narrow to ferment in and I am not sure how long that inert gas will remain there. A good fermenter should have square dimensions.

  24. Dan Lodico permalink
    December 5, 2013

    Gene, is that your opinion on all of the flex tanks, or just the smaller (30 gallon) size?

  25. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    December 5, 2013

    Yes to me they are all too tall for fermentation of Must.

  26. bzac permalink
    December 7, 2013

    the 50 with dexter lid are perfect for pinot noir. I have a first gen flex tank with a similar lid to the dexter I use for pinot.
    a tall narrow fermenter is great for maximizing skin contact but if your not a pinot geek a wide fermenter is best for other reds.

  27. bzac permalink
    December 7, 2013

    its a pain scooping the must out though .

  28. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    December 7, 2013

    See you can always learn something from a Pinot Noir Geek LOL and yes I can imagine the pain that can be.

  29. crazy run ranch permalink
    December 8, 2013

    Sad to see Gene. I think you know that the same thing happened to me years back and I’m still paranoid about having wine in a VC for any length of time. We have discussed upgrades to gaskets and vents and I do think that helps. I do have a inert gas valve that attaches to the vent that eliminates the pulling in of air. I rarely use it since I went away from storage in a VCT. What were you using for the vent? And why do you keep your wines in there for so long?
    This year I purchased 2 Flextanks (50g and 200g) but went with the heavy duty thickness and Dexter style lids. The primary use for these will be whites that I don’t want to micro-ox and I intend to keep them full. The skins would keep me awake at night, LOL! I intend to use FT’s as an alternative to stainless tanks not barrels. The little necks on the Eco series look like a pain to clean and I don’t really get the 30g size. I can buy 2 used beer kegs for $50 each for 31g of storage.
    Zac, I don’t follow you will more skin contact in a narrow tank. I’ve found just the opposite, the cap pushes the skins way up out of the juice. You end up with a thick, dry cap. If you want more skin contact, ferment in a 1/2 ton macro bin that is 4’x4’x 2′ deep. That’s extreme but you end up with a thin cap with more skin in the juice.

  30. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    December 8, 2013

    I was looking forward to seeing you respond on this topic. Yes we have had these discussions before. You ask why so long. Well the only reason has been my timing going into barrels which was established many moons ago. Clearly it makes no sense to wait until November with wine from the previous season go into barrels. But in the past that has been how my schedule developed. I can’t even say I remember why. It never represented a problem because all the wine was in glass. Clearly the wine should go in the barrels in the Spring. You can go in earlier but I am not a fan of having to rack in and out of barrels. So with a 2 racking by Spring time that is my preferred choice to barrel. At least that is what I have been moving towards. I have made progress towards that goal with this November only having 2 wines ( 2 tanks ) to barrel. With one OK the other not I almost got away with it unscathed. Now as you , I am paranoid even waiting until Spring but I will this season with only one tank as the other wine will be moved to a different location in carboys until a spring barreling. Flex tanks seem to be the answer for those wines that for some reason have to remain in storage for a period of time at least there will be no worries until Spring. Even maybe trying some staves with them to see how that turns out.

    Since you mention it I too am a bit confused about the skin contact in a narrow tank unless it is to say the cap cannot rise above the juice and is forced down due to the weight of the cap.

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