On September 24, at the 1988 Seoul Olympic games, the rivalry between Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis came to a head when Johnson won the 100 meter sprint in a time of 9.79 seconds. Subsequent drug tests revealed that Johnson used Stanazolol, a banned substance and he was promptly stripped of his gold medal. Back in the present, after nearly a decade of alleged doping, Lance Armstrong came clean about his use of various banned substances that surely contributed to him winning seven Tour de France titles.
In 1985, German laboratories uncovered the widespread use of diethylene glycol in Austrian wines. This toxic substance (the diethylene glycol, not the Austrian wines!) made late harvest wines sweeter and more full-bodied. Jail sentences and heavy fines were handed down to key players in this scandal.
Two of my greatest passions in life are sport and wine. I therefore find it very interesting (and amusing) that both are prone to doping. As is the case in sport, a wide array of biological and chemical substances are available for use in viticulture and winemaking. Grape growers and winemakers are privy to these substances and some use them to save money, aid the winemaking process and influence the quality of finished wine.
DDT, which was once a very popular pesticide, has been banned since the early 1970’s in the USA, but reports still indicate sporadic use. Things get more interesting as we move out of the vineyard and into the cellar, so put on your doping hat. The use of sulphuric acid in winemaking (to alter pH) is illegal in South Africa, but I have a source that says that this practice is still rife. As is the addition of water to must to lower potential alcohol and increase yield. Legal alternatives are available, such as reverse osmosis and the spinning cone technique, but they do not come without a fair share of controversy. I’ve also heard of cellars (locally and international) that harvest Sauvignon blanc very green and then simply add sugar in order to get to a desired alcohol level, whilst maintaining certain green aromas.
As for alcoholic fermentation, the use of GMO yeast is completely taboo. The thing is, the world is a pretty big place, so if a certain Asian country decides to use a GMO yeast that massively boosts esters and produces less alcohol, who will know? I’ve also read an article about a commercial cellar in Europe that got caught out for using a GMO yeast that can degrade 100%of the malic acid in wine.
Excellent legal alternatives are of course available. Oenobrands offers a focused range of nutrients, non-GMO yeasts, a world first bacterial co-inoculant and enzymes for various winemaking styles, so there is really no need to break the law. Remember, cheating is for dopes. Just ask my friend, Tiger.
Bernard Mocke is a technical consultant for Oenobrands