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02.22.2005

The Dangers of Winemaking

Anyone who has looked into what it takes to actually make wine knows that it's hard, sometimes backbreaking work. Hand harvesting, hauling tons of grapes, putting them through the crusher, scrubbing big tanks, driving forklifts, etc. There's a reason mostly migrant workers do that stuff. It's brutal. I had no idea how dangerous it was, however. This week a worker at a South African winery was killed when the wine tank he was mixing literally exploded underneath him. Apparently a spark from the mixing machinery ignited some fumes in the tank (wine fumes? gas fumes?) and the whole thing blew. Poor guy. I'm glad that sort of thing doesn't happen too often, but who knew it could happen at all?

Comments (5)

Andrew wrote:
02.22.05 at 2:42 PM

There are also regular deaths across the world when people clean the tanks - if you dont flush the tank properly before climbing in...

02.22.05 at 5:25 PM

And I've heard it's not unheard of for people punching down the cap to fall through and drown.

John wrote:
02.22.05 at 8:56 PM

I was visiting Domaine Rabasse Charavin last month in the Southern Rhone, and they make 2 or 3 wines that are stomped by feet, not a press. The winemaker, Corinne Couturier said that when they do it they need a spotter next to the tank because the fumes are so intense. She said people have been known to pass out and drown.

Bradley wrote:
02.24.05 at 1:42 AM

Most of the time it's CO2 that is the culprit. It's heavier than the atmosphere we breathe so it tends to pool when allowed. Most modern winery operations have strict guidelines to monitor and manage this lethal threat during and after fermentation. Many wines will absorb copious amounts of CO2 in their early stages. This is normal. However if you agitate (stir) the wine abruptly you're liable to release a lot of CO2 as gas which expands of course and can create significant pressure in a sealed or poorly ventilated tank. I'm not sure what ignited in South Africa. Alcohol will ignite if the concentration is high enough. Most table wine wouldn't support such a scenario. Maybe they were distilling brandy or such at that winery.

Alder wrote:
02.24.05 at 11:35 AM

Yeah, struck me as a little strange that the explosion was so violent.

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