Cleaning Wine Barrels with Ultrasound

Ξ June 15th, 2008 | → 1 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Technology |

I first became aware of the efficacy of ultrasound and barrel sanitation when I read in the November/December, ‘07 issue of Practical Winery & Vineyard the article, “Cleaning/disinfection of oak barrels/oak adjuncts with high-power ultrasonics” by Andrew Yap, V. Jiranek, T. Lee, P. Grbin, M. Barnes and Darren Bate. Unfortunately, the article may be viewed by subscribers only. But the more I read the more important I realized what an innovation ultrasound to be. Clearly it belonged in a larger, more public space. Further, surely someone must be working on the development of a portable ultrasonic device. In any event, the idea stuck with me. And so recently, when I witnessed a local winery sell expensive ’spent’ French oak barrels for pennies to a gardening concern, barrels the winery could no longer clean economically, heavily studded with tartrate and/or contaminated with Brettanomyces, I began researching the topic of ultrasound anew, and stumbled upon the US patent application in 2006 for just such a device, a detail not disclosed in the Practical Winery & Vineyard article.

It turns out that two of the authors of the Winery & Vineyard article, Andrew Yap and Darren Bates, along with Arthur Mcloughlin, and William Wright, are the inventors of what is called the “Apparatus and method of ultrasonic cleaning and disinfection” and make up the management team of Cavitas, “the leading proprietary systems developer and solutions provider of high-power ultrasonics (”HPU”) applications for liquid-phase food and beverage processing”.


The innovation put forward by Mr. Yap et. al. is ultrasonics, an intriguing step toward solving the problem of thoroughly cleaning barrels of tartrate buildup and associated protected microorganisms with limited water usage, zero cleansing chemicals or gasses such as ozone and sulfur dioxide, and no required shaving of the inner surface which often results in damage or, at the very least, demands costly retoasting. Wineries would rather get rid of such barrels, older in the main, sell them to other wineries or nurseries, than contend with standard industry cleaning methods that simply don’t work to their satisfaction or are too labor intensive. Financial loss follows upon financial loss.


A bit of supportive background. Why are tartrate coatings undesirable?

“[B]ecause they block the extraction of oak flavor compounds into the wine, can alter wine maturation rates by reducing oxygen permeation through the wood and into wine, and they may harbor and protect spoilage organisms.”

Indeed, according to Yap the presence of spoilage organisms, principally Brettanomyces/Dekkera yeasts, is on the upswing internationally owing, in part, to barrels traded in the second-hand market and the current popular style and practice of wines with a higher pH, residual sugar, and the decreased use of filtration and SO2.


Moving quickly, high power ultrasonics work by generating high-energy micro-bubbles within a liquid. The bubbles collapse, “releasing energy that causes shock waves, acoustic streaming, and vibration.” Read the patent application linked above and this for a more precise elaboration.


Cavitas writes on their web site, “Pricing will be available after completion of the final prototype trials, anticipated to be in Q2, 2008. Our price target is aimed to provide customers with a payback within 24 months.
“Following Beta testing with select industry participants, the Barrel Washing Disinfection Device (BWDD) solution will be available for sale in 2H, 2008. Distribution is presently being discussed with reputable wine industry equipment suppliers and service providers.”

The downside of this new technology is that “[t]he first product release is targeted at medium- to high-capacity wineries, with stocks of at least 5,000 barrels”. Five thousand barrels! It cannot be so difficult to scale down to smaller wineries! The device is simple enough. Let us hope the second product release is friendlier to the smaller winery.


For a full examination of the drawings and specs of the device a free account is required on the free patents online web site. Enter patent number 20060191424 in the search box, scroll down and follow the simple prompts.
Update: Please see my October 28th post, Cavitus Ultrasound Prototype in Winery Trials, the first part of a series.


One Response to ' Cleaning Wine Barrels with Ultrasound '

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  1. ANDREW YAP said,

    on October 22nd, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    Dear Admin,

    I am the said lead author of the article you have referred to above. The most recent article to be published based on data obtained from Cavitus’ Beta prototype high power ultrasonics barrel cleaning and disinfection system has just appeared in the September-October 2008 issue of the Australian and New Zeland Wine Industry Journal. It can be downloaded from Cavitus website [The] Cavitus HPU’s system is currently undergoing trials in wineries in Australia, NZ and California.

    Andrew Yap

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