Despite the innovation, visible results and cost savings, it’s surprising that every winery in Napa Valley isn’t using Vic Vasquez’s Barrel Blasting yet to restore their barrels back to new.
“Winemakers are into the tradition and history of making wine, so getting some to try a new process is difficult,” said Vasquez. “Others have used the same ‘blend’ of new and used barrels and have had great success, so they would rather not alter their process. However, the No. 1 misconception about Barrel Blasting is that we re-toast barrels and that is simply just not the case.”
Vasquez said that for one Napa winery, Barrel Blasting saved them $10,000 in one year. They did not have to filter their wine after having 25 percent of their barrels dry-ice-blasted each year for four consecutive years. Not only did this winery save on filtration costs, but it has nearly tripled the life of its barrels, which can cost up to $1,000 each for a new French oak barrel and has a lifespan at most wineries of three to four years before it becomes a planter, he said.
For $50 per barrel, Barrel Blasting’s patented Rajeunir rejuvenation process uses recycled carbon dioxide dry ice to remove tartrate crystals, old wine residue, blister pockets and approximately fifty-thousandths of an inch of old wood. This process reduces chances for cross-contamination and exposes fresh toasted wood, while increasing the surface area of the barrel so more wine comes in contact with more oak, Vasquez explained.
Considering one oak tree between 200 and 300 years old makes only four barrels, Barrel Blasting is approved by the EPA, USDA and FDA, he said.
“The process of barrel blasting opens up the barrel to view its faults such as blistering or impurities so they can be scraped clean and addressed first hand – no Band-Aids,” said Steve Reynolds of Reynolds Family Winery. “The blasting itself then opens the pores and sterilizes the surface to a whole new level, in some ways adding to the flavors. With the addition of stave inserts the barrel is, in my opinion, 90 percent as good and sometimes 100 percent as good as a new barrel in blind tasting.”
Since 2008, a lot has changed for the company recently. Vasquez is now the sole owner of Barrel Blasting, after separating last month from his former business partner Bob Flook and the Cryo Clean umbrella.
After eight years of bringing the service direct to wineries, Vasquez’s Barrel Blasting now has a headquarters and operations facility it can call home. As of May 1, Barrel Blasting is in South Napa near the DMV office at 918 Enterprise Way, strategically next to Master Cooper Enrique Alvarez’s Napa Barrel Repair. With the two businesses next door to each other, wineries have a one-stop solution to for all their barrel needs.
“We are not trying to bring back a bad barrel,” said Vasquez, “instead, we help prevent barrels from going bad, and we’ve proven we can do that. One wine maker told us ‘it makes a good barrel better.’”
Barrel Blasting still offers its mobile on-site cleaning service, but with the new location it now offers pickup and delivery services, as well as barrel inserts. Vasquez has also eliminated the minimum barrel requirement and welcomes all barrel sizes up to 500 liters.
“[Barrel Blasting] is a ‘must-have’ in any wine makers barrel regime," Reynolds said.
Originally from Oakland, Vasquez came to Napa 25 years ago after working in the semiconductor industry and falling victim to the dot-com crash. Together with his wife, Niki, Vasquez wants the business to be completely family operated in five years, and they are on their way to making that a reality. His wife is the bookkeeper, and his oldest son, Blake, is being groomed to play a larger role in the business once he graduates from studying business and environmental science at Cal State Monterey Bay.
For now, Vasquez is focused on expanding the service throughout the West Coast, targeting wineries in Washington, Oregon and Southern California. While Barrel Blasting has received several requests from other countries, like Australia and China, international expansion remains on Vasquez’s wish list, for now.