French scientists have finally discovered why wine bottles sometimes explode during fermentation – they’ve got worms!
The scientists from Bordeaux University were called in by worried wine producers who estimate that over a quarter of last year’s production was ruined by exploding bottles. In previous years less than five percent was lost.
The scientists have spent months emptying thousands of bottles of wine and examining them using the most powerful optical microscopes available. At a press conference this morning they announced that they had finally discovered the culprit – the Glass Worm (Anobium Vitratum), a previously unknown cousin of the woodworm.
Lead project scientist Prof. Marc Pernod revealed that glass worms are considerably smaller than the common woodworm – over 1,000 would fit on the head of a pin. They are virtually transparent. Their diamond-hard teeth are not in their mouths, but on the tops of their heads. By shaking their heads vigorously from side to side each worm can bore through up to 0.03 millimetres of glass per day, although it takes at least two months to fully penetrate a wine bottle. The resulting hole is far too small for wine to leak out, but a small amount of vapour does escape and this attracts other worms. Within 24 hours thousands of them swamp the puncture site and set to work enlarging the hole to get at the contents.
The scientists noticed that if the worms steadily enlarge the hole then the bottle doesn’t explode, but tiny droplets of wine form on the outside of the bottles. Wine producers reported that they had been noticing this phenomenon for many years, but put it down to “dodgy corks”.
However, in most instances the worms line up in columns or in a spider-web formation and drill into the glass around the initial hole, causing cracks to appear. Within a few weeks the bottle gives way in an “explosion of glass and wine”.
The scientists have yet to determine what effect the wine has on glass worms and whether alcohol affects their behaviour – although, as Prof. Pernod pointed out, “they obviously love the stuff”. He reported that they would be continuing their studies and the project would take “at least another three more years” to complete.
Worryingly, the scientists have now discovered glass worms in other parts of the world, including the UK, where they can cause problems with double-glazing systems. These become punctured, destroying the vaccuum between the panes.
Prof. Pernod demonstrated a simple visual inspection that you can carry out to see if your own windows have been infested with these worms. A properly double-glazed window prevents condensation. If your double-glazed window suffers from condensation then it’s likely that you have an infestation of glass worms.
The worms can be removed easily enough by applying the following solution. Dissolve three tablespoons of salt into a cup of white spirit, then rub onto the glass, remembering to do the outside as well as the inside.
However, if you’ve suffered from condensation from some time, the panes will have become too damaged to work effectively. You should therefore consider having your windows reglazed.
We do suffer from condensation here, and I’ll be treating my own windows today. But I fear it will be too late for us as it’s been going on several years. My other worry is whether these worms ever attack computer screens. The display on my main PC has been getting noticeably worse over the last few months, and I wonder if this could be the reason. Oh well, I fancied a new LCD flat panel anyway, so this is the perfect excuse to replace it.