Published by Sally on November 18, 2010

A version of this article first appeared in the Drinks Business, February 2009.

Equipment developed in the 1990s by NASA to keep fruit and vegetables growing and healthy on the space station has been found to remove airborne TCA – trichloroanisole, the chemical that causes mouldy, musty taint in wine.

Independent proof of concept trials by UK specialist drinks industry laboratory Corkwise found it removed 90 to 95% of airborne TCA within 24 hours.  The potential applications for the wine industry are manifold. Corkwise’s Geoff Taylor mentioned “anywhere that stores wine either in bulk or bottle. Particularly prone locations would be old cellars, warehouses where there is dampness, wood for example, old, expensive wine.” But, he added “even modern cellars can become readily contaminated with TCA.”

Alistair Thompson, general manager of Surrey Diagnostics, UK agents for the kit said: “Airocide works by photo-catalytic oxidation. Air is passed on bed of a titanium dioxide catalyst. This is irradiated by UV bulbs, and organic contaminants are oxidised.” Water vapour and carbon dioxide are the final oxidation products of organic compounds. A difference from filters is that filters trap things, whereas Airocide destroys them, leaving just CO2 and water.  

That Airocide doesn’t remove 100% of airborne TCA is explained by Taylor: “once a room or cellar or warehouse becomes contaminated, some TCA is readily absorbed into the walls, floors, ceiling and packaging materials. Wood and cardboard particularly act like sponges. As the aerial levels drop, trace levels of TCA are fed back into the atmosphere. The crucial point is the very significant reduction.”

Chateau Montelena in California has used Airocide in the fermentation cellar and wine library for more than three years.  Their winemaker, Cameron Parry said: “The cellar went from having a slightly musty smell, not surprising for a 127-year-old building that is half underground, to having virtually no aroma, and no musty tones at all.  Really the only thing you smell in the cellar now is the oak from the barrels and wine if racking is taking place. I am very confident in the Airocide units and do not have any fears about exposing the Montelena wines to the cellar air.”

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