Wine cleanup after sewer leak?

Does anyone know whether there is a safe and effective way to clean wine bottles that have been dampened or soaked after a sewer backup? In some cases, the labels are soaked, in others the bottles are merely damp as the cardboard boxes soaked through. The wines were never submerged, it was about an inch or so of water on the cellar floor.

I understand the “ick” factor, but the losses are not likely to be covered by insurance, the process of fighting the county that was responsible for the backup is likely to be a huge effort, and many of the damaged wines will be very hard to replace.

This is at my storage facility and a remediation team is on site, but they don’t seem to have any experience with this particular issue. Any thoughts or suggestions will be appreciated.

Beyond basic washing and extremely thorough drying, there are several ways to decontaminate.

Bleach is a bad idea. Hydrogen peroxide perhaps if you can do it outdoors. I don’t think you could ventilate properly indoors. UV disinfects, but won’t be good for wine. Ozone would do the job, but will affect the labels and maybe even the corks. Ozone treatment is something for specialists only. I’ve had smoke damage alleviated in an ozone chamber.
It wasn’t cheap.

I think that I would wash with Oxyclean and then get everything dry to the point of total dessication. There are commercial oxidizers that are more powerful, but, again, take expert care.

P Hickner

Man, what a horrible story. I’m so sorry to hear this has happened to you.

I was curious, so I looked up other possible solutions.
For medical equipment something called Accelerated Hydrogen Peroxide is used.
It has surfactants added to make it more effective, faster, and safer. Still, for the scale
you are faced with I’d seek maximum ventilation.

P Hickner

At the hospital we use something called Super Sani-Cloth, which is a wipe with some stuff that’s supposed to kill all bugs. Could be worth a try, though it would entail wiping down each bottle by hand.

Shitty, if you will.

I wouldn’t take the chance unless just the bottom of the bottles got soaked. Any coilform that made its way to the cork which is somewhat permeable will make you sick to dead. Check with your insurance to see if they will cover the loss. By permeable I mean that bacteria will penetrate and if any liquid got between the bottle and the cork it’s all over. Just the stigma of drinking from the bottle will deter most…

Based on my experience living in a rivertown, I reluctantly agree with Rick. Don’t take any chances.

Which insurance company?

Kevin, my insurance company is State Farm, but I haven’t heard back from my agent yet and haven’t yet had a chance to review my policy declarations.

Thanks to everyone who responded. As I’ve done more research, I’ve pretty much concluded that bottles that were in contact with water will be a loss.

I learned a little about what I really value as I opened boxes to confirm which wines were damaged. It was some of the least expensive wines that threatened to leave me overcome with emotion, not the most expensive wines (Grand Cru Burgundy, 2000 Bordeaux). I felt a stab when I pulled out a few ruined bottles of 1998 Clos Roche Blanche Cot and 1998 and 1999 Thomas-Labaille Cuvée Busters, and 2 1989 Luneau-Papin Muscadets nearly pushed me over the edge. It will be something to ponder once the dust settles.

Rent an Ozonator?

If insurance won’t cover your loss, there’s always Winebid.

Mike, I have no advice. Just super sorry to hear about this. I’ve had a few major material losses in my life and learned what really matters and is important after each one. Sorry you have to go thru this.

So sorry to hear about this Mike.
I have no experience here. I hope you can get everything sanitized.

Is this really the case? Even if somehow coliform got through the cork into the wine, wouldn’t the alcohol kill it?

I’m not necessarily saying I would drink the wines, but I’m wondering if you might be overstating the illness / death issue here with these bottles.

Actually everyone is full of coliforms. Only certain strains can make some individuals ill. And yes, the acidity in the wine would most likely sanitize it.

“Removed from a temperature and humidity controlled wine cellar. Soiled label. I mean, like, soiled, dude.”

I can get why it the wine will not be merchantable, but not why it can’t be made safe for drinking.
Given the facts we know, the corks were not submerged.
Rinse well. Wash with accelerated hydrogen peroxide. Paint any corks with a hydrogen peroxide solution. That’s what is used to sanitize corks in the first place, and it penetrates the cork to some extent. Dry extremely well. Use a hair dryer on the top of the corks.
If there are doubts about contaminated water getting between the cork and the bottle, dip the necks into hot water.
Just dipping the neck will not warm the wine. Any more doubts, pull a few sample corks and have them tested by a lab.

I wouldn’t be trashing any Grand Cru Burgundies so easily. Send them to me before you do that.

P Hickner

Coliforms are probably on most peoples tooth brush, as studies have found.
E. Coli is, however, tolerant of very acidic conditions, i.e. your stomach.

P Hickner

Isn’t it the alcohol, more than the acidity, that will kill the bacteria in wine? I would be a lot more reluctant to share a glass of orange juice with my wife when she has the flu than I would a glass of wine, even though the two have about the same pH. Plus, there are almost always sulfites present as well in wine.

Every week at mass, I share wine from a cup with dozens of strangers, and I don’t get sick from it. Which I know many people will consider that gross, but I’ve been doing it all my life and I don’t get sick more often than anyone else.