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Aquiring Bad Wine (questions)


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While still a couple weeks—month(s) out from our distillery being up and running, I was recently contacted by a local winery that is sitting on 1,000 gallons of red wine that was brutally infected with acetobacter. The owner of this winery has decided that the only way to recover any money from this disaster is to sell it as distilling stock — potentially to me since I'm opening the nearest distillery-to-be.

A few questions to those with more experience and understanding...

1. Is there a standard'ish market value for such a wine gone bad to be used for edv/brandy production? I've been fumbling with what a fair $/gallon value might be if I did choose to acquire this stuff. Seems like something with the alternative of being dumped should be let go for a pretty fair (ie. dirt cheap) price.

2. From the bit of research I've done, it's sounding like an acid based infection in wine could actually be desirable for distilling purposes -- but, it's a red wine and as far as I know it's sitting at 12 or so percent abv. I did some *experimentation* with 5 gallons of this wine and the resulting new make had some nice qualities by my standards (I've got little to compare to with my minimal exposure to wine distillation). I'm wondering though, if I'd be signing up for some overly foul flavors/esters in comparison to the more archetypal wine based spirits out there, as a result of the higher abv wine base?

3. Rather than acquiring this distilling stock from the winery and producing the spirit as my own offering, I had thought that there might be a legitimate way for me to offer distilling services to this winery so that they might ultimately be able to sell this edv or brandy as another product in their portfolio - ideally out of their tasting room. The proprietor of this winery did not think this was the case. If this *is* indeed the case, can someone point me in the direction of any information (i suspect somewhere on ttb.gov but I didn't turn up anything) on how this process might be handled?

I very much appreciate any insight you all might have to offer up.


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Yes, they can buy the brandy back from you. Just make sure what you distill conforms with the SOI for Brandy, and you're all set. You have to make sure that he didn't add anything squirrely to the wine, but outside of that, you're fine.

All you'll need is for him to fill out a Bulk transfer form and sent it in to the TTB for signature. You'll have to make sure that both of your bonds can handle the tax $$, and you'll have to pay the taxes on the brandy. He can purchase brandy for use in fortified wines with his winery license.

Now whether it will taste good is a whole different issue, and without tasting the wine in question, I can't really help you there. Acetic Acid in the distillate certainly isn't inherently bad. If you age it and give it access to O2, you'll get some interesting esters for sure.

Cheers, and I'm happy to hear you're almost open

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Anything approved for addition to 'natural' (non-formula) wine is acceptable in distilling material. That's in the BW chapter of the CFR.

As far as I know, you don't need the same form to ship wine/spirits back and forth from a winery as you do for another DSP. But it's possible the answer to that question varies with which agent you ask. A common frustration.

The BW _does_ need to have adequate bond coverage, and at the spirit rate, not the rate for the resulting fortified wine. Also, they are supposed to have spirit storage space defined as part of the BW registration, and a statement of intent to make fortified wines. Those statement have evolved in the 10 years since I got our BW. The last time I did an update, the TTB had me redo all the wording for those paragraphs.

I'd be wary of an excessively acetic wine as distilling material. Quality out = f(quality in). A little may add to complexity, if reactions to esters can be catalyzed, and there are other compounds to make esters from that aren't already in that form. We have a simple Col. Wilson still. Whenever I've run something that's gone acetic through it, the heads come out blue. I don't even dump them into the sanitizer pool. Makes me nervous.

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As far as I know, you don't need the same form to ship wine/spirits back and forth from a winery as you do for another DSP. But it's possible the answer to that question varies with which agent you ask. A common frustration.

Ain't that the truth.

We had all three licenses back in the day.... brewing, wine making, and distilling. An agent told us that we had to fill out a Bulk Transfer form to "ship" our brandy to our "winery", which was, oh, about 15 feet from our bonded distillery and under the same roof. It's a one page form, and really not a big deal.

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Todd and Charles, Thank you very much for the insight.

On the subject of a fair price for infected wine... Can anyone offer up opinion or past experience on what a fair price/gallon might be?

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Why don't you get a sample of the wine, distill it, and determine what you can sell it for? Or, you might offer the winery a percentage of the wholesale proceeds.

Thanks for the advice. I kinda did that (sample distillation) already and I'm confident enough that it's got viable product potential. I'm just trying to get a sense of what others, who may have acquired an amount of bunk-wine from a winemaker, might think is an reasonable price to pay -- considering the fact that it's only other purpose would be to turn the sewer lines a shade of pink. If I decide to acquire the full 1,000 gallons of this stuff for my own production, I'd hope to pay no more than what might be considered a fair market value. Just not sure what that market value is.

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  • 3 years later...

Not a distiller yet, but I am reading lots of books in order to prepare for a career change. I was just reading my 'Craft of Whisky Distilling' book. Published by ADI, 2009, Annex E, CRF , Code of Federal Regulations Standards of Identity :

(8) “Substandard brandy” shall bear as a part of its designation the word “substandard,” and shall include:

(i) Any brandy distilled from fermented juice, mash, or wine having a volatile acidity, calculated as acetic acid and exclusive of sulfur dioxide, in excess of 0.20 gram per 100 cubic centimeters (20 °C.); measurements of volatile acidity shall be calculated exclusive of water added to facilitate distillation.

(ii) Any brandy which has been distilled from unsound, moldy, diseased, or decomposed juice, mash, wine, lees, pomace, or residue, or which shows in the finished product any taste, aroma, or characteristic associated with products distilled from such material.

I think this means the source material you are interested in purchasing, if it is indeed "gone bad", will require you call any product produced as "substandard".

Please correct me if I misunderstood this regulation.


Are there tools available to measure the acids and sulfur content in wine?

If so, is anyone using them and how are they working out?

What ranges are acceptable to distill and what is not?


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  • 3 weeks later...

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