It’s that time of year again: bottling time! The past year’s vintage is slowly starting to take up too much room in the cellar and now is the time for decision making in terms of preparing for the pending vintage. Finalizing a good bottling schedule before harvest starts is an essential good winemaking practice, but bottling comes with its own set of challenges.
It is not uncommon for winemakers to express feelings of “not being able to sleep at night” when wines get bottled, as they are worried about possible re-fermentation issues. As wine naturally changes through its maturity, it is easy to feel insecure about bottling wines, especially those wines that may have had challenges associated with it throughout production.
However, there are several analytical tests that winemakers can add to their record books every year to ensure they are bottling a sound product. The following briefly describes a series of analytical tests that provide information to the winemaker about stability and potential risks associated with the product when it goes in bottle.
Bottling comes with its own set of challenges and risks, but several analytical tests can help put a winemaker’s mind to ease regarding bottle stability. Photo by: Denise M. Gardner
Basic Wine Analysis Pre-Bottling:
This first list is the bare minimum data that should be measured and recorded for each wine getting bottled, regardless of the wine’s variety or style. Keeping accurate records of these chemistries is also helpful in case something goes wrong while the bottle is in storage or after it is purchased by a customer.
pH is essential to know as it gives an indication for the wine’s stability in relation to many chemical factors including sulfur dioxide, color, and tannin. For example, high pH (>3.70) wines provide an indication that more free sulfur dioxide is needed to obtain a 0.85 ppm molecular free sulfur dioxide content. At the 0.85 ppm molecular level, growth of any residual yeast and bacteria in the wine should be adequately inhibited.
High pH wines tend to have issues with color stability. At this point, color stability can be addressed by blending or with use of color concentrates (e.g.,Mega Purple). Keep in mind that if the wine is blended with another wine, all chemical analyses, including pH, should be completed on the blend (as opposed to average individual parts) prior to bottling.
Free and Total Sulfur Dioxide Concentration
In the United States, total sulfur dioxide is regulated and must fall under 350 mg/L for all table wines (CFR: https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=eddaa2648775eb9b2423247641bf5758&mc=true&node=pt27.1.24&rgn=div5#sp27.1.24.a).
However, the free sulfur dioxide concentration provides an indication to the winemaker regarding antioxidant strength and perceived antimicrobial protection. To inhibit growth of yeast and bacteria during bottle storage, a 0.85 ppm molecular free sulfur dioxide concentration must be obtained. The free sulfur dioxide concentration required to meet the molecular level is dependent on pH. Therefore, free sulfur dioxide additions should be altered and based on a wine’s pH for optimal antimicrobial protection.
Analytically, it can be daunting to measure free sulfur dioxide as the wet chemistry set up looks intimidating. However, many small commercial wineries have benefited from the integration of a modified aeration-oxidation (AO) system, and with a little practice, have been relatively successful at monitoring free sulfur dioxide concentrations. A few wineries have worked to validate use of Vinmetrica’s analyzer (https://vinmetrica.com/), and found results comparable to those obtained by use of the AO system.
Residual (or Added) Sugar
Any remaining sugar in the bottle, whether through an arrested fermentation or direct addition, can pose a risk for re-fermentation post-bottling. This is especially true if the winery lacks good cleaning and sanitation practices. Nonetheless, it is a good idea to assess the sugar content pre-bottling to record a baseline value of the sugar concentration going into bottle. If bottles were to start re-fermenting, a sugar concentration could be analyzed and used to compare against the baseline value in order to assess the potential of yeast re-fermentation.
For wineries with minimal residual sugar concentrations, a glucose-fructose analysis (often abbreviated glu-fru) is often used to help determine accurate sugar content. For wines with added sugar an inverted glucose-fructose analysis may be required.
If you are concerned about potential risk for Brettanomyces (Brett) bloom post-bottling, it is usually encouraged to reduce the sugar content in the finished wine below 1% (<10 g/L sugar) in the bottle.
Malic Acid Concentration
While using paper chromatography to monitor malolactic fermentation (MLF) is useful, it does not give an accurate reflection of residual malic acid concentration. In fact, some winemakers find that a paper chromatogram may show a MLF has been “completed,” but would prefer to have lower residual malic acid concentrations remaining in the wine.
During my time at an analytical company, 0.3 g/L of malic acid and below was considered “dry.” This is typically a safe level of residual malic acid to avoid post-bottling MLF.
Volatile acidity (VA) is federally regulated, and levels are indicated in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR: https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=eddaa2648775eb9b2423247641bf5758&mc=true&node=pt27.1.24&rgn=div5#sp27.1.24.a). For most states, with California as an exception, the maximum allowable VA for red wines is 1.40 g/L acetic acid (0.14 g/100 mL acetic acid) and for white wines is 1.20 g/L acetic acid (0.12 g/100 mL acetic acid).
Monitoring VA through production is a good indicator of acetic acid bacteria spoilage. At minimum, wineries should record VA
- immediately post-primary fermentation,
- periodically through storage (e.g., every 2-3 months) and
Whiling monitoring VA, sharp increases in VA should alarm the winemaker of some sort of contamination. Typically, these increases are caused by acetic acid bacteria, which can only grow with available oxygen.
As a general rule of thumb, knowing the final alcohol concentration is a good idea. Alcohol content helps determine a tax class for the wine and is required for the label.
Titratable Acidity (TA)
All wines are acidic in nature as they fall under the pH 7.00. However, titratable acidity (TA) acts as an indicator for the sour sensory perception associated with a given wine. For example, two wines, Wines 1 and 2, with a pH of 3.40 may have different TAs. If Wine 1 has a TA of 8.03 g/L tartaric acid while Wine 2 has a TA of 6.89 g/L tartaric acid, Wine 1 would likely taste more acidic (assuming all other variables are the same).
Titrations are an easy analytical testing method to learn and understand when testing wine’s chemistry. Photo by: Denise M. Gardner
Cold stability tests are often recommended to ensure the wine is cold stable, and will, therefore, not pose a threat of precipitating tartrate crystals during its time in bottle. Not all wines require a cold stability process (e.g., seeding and chilling). Cold stability testing can be done prior to a cold stabilization step in order to avoid extraneous processing operations, saving time and money.
For more information on cold stability processes and testing, please visit Penn State Extension’s website: http://extension.psu.edu/food/enology/analytical-services/cold-stabilization-options-for-wineries
These crystals on this cork illustrate what can happen when a wine is not properly cold stabilized. While the tartrate crystals pose no harm to consumers, they may find the crystals unappealing or questionable. Photo by: Denise M. Gardner
Additionally, haze formation is a potential risk post-bottling. While hazes do not typically offer any safety threat to wine consumers, they often look unappealing. Protein hazes tend to make the wine look cloudy. Some varieties are more prone to protein hazes then others, and running a protein stability trial could minimize the risk for a protein haze in-bottle.
It is important to remember that due to the fact protein stability is influenced by pH, cold stability production steps should take place before analyzing the wine for protein stability and before going through any necessary production steps to make the wine protein stable. This is due to the fact that cold stability processes ultimately alter the wine’s pH, and the chemical properties of proteins are influenced by the pH.
Analysis for Those that May Consider Bottling Unfiltered:
Yeast and Bacteria Cultures (Brett, Yeast, Lactic Acid Bacteria, Acetic Acid Bacteria)
Having a microscope in the winery can be a great reference point in terms of scanning for potential microbiological problems. However, if the winery does not have a microscope, but knows that some microbiological issues or risks may exist in a wine, having a lab set test the wine on culture plates is a good indicator for potential growth risks during the wine’s storage.
If the wine is going to be bottled using a sterile filtration step, keep in mind that wines are not bottled sterile. Assuming the absolute filtration method is working properly, the wine has potential to become re-contaminated with yeasts and bacteria from the point of which it exits the filter. In fact, it is not uncommon for wines to pick up yeast or bacteria contamination during the bottling process.
Managing free sulfur dioxide concentrations can help inhibit any potential growth from contamination microorganisms if the proper antimicrobial levels (0.85 ppm molecular) are obtained at that wine’s pH and retained during the bottle’s storage.
4-EP and 4-EG Concentrations for Reds
For wines that may have had a Brettanomyces (Brett) bloom, knowing the concentrations of 4-EP and 4-EG in the wine going into bottle is a good result to keep on file. If a Brett bloom occurs later in the bottle, it is likely (although, not guaranteed) that the volatile concentration of 4-EP and/or 4-EG may increase and confirm the problem.
Furthermore, evaluating a wine for 4-EP and 4-EG concentrations can also help isolate a possibility of Brett existence, especially if their concentrations are below threshold. However, it should be noted that both compounds can also exist in wines that are stored in wood, even without a Brettcontamination.
Double Check: PCR for Reds
Brett can be a tricky yeast to isolate and identify. It is usually recommended to run multiple analytical tests related to Brett in order to confirm its existence or removal from a wine. While culture plating identifies living populations of microorganisms, PCR cannot typically differentiate between live and dead cells as it is measuring the presence of DNA. A microorganism’s DNA can get into a wine after yeast death and through autolysis. Therefore, a positive PCR result for Brettanomyces is hard to confirm if the result includes live cells, dead cells, or a combination of both.
Culture plating can help confirm the presence of active, live cells, but the success rate of growing Brettanomyces in culture plates is variable.
Nonetheless, scanning wines by PCR for Brett can help winemakers isolate a general presence and risk of Brett in their wines.
Wine samples prepare for analytical evaluation. Photo by: Denise M. Gardner
Still Worried About Your Wine Post-Bottling?
Bottle sterility testing is helpful, especially when a winemaker wants to ensure wines have been bottled cleanly. For this type of testing, it is best to sample a few bottles
- at the beginning of a bottling run,
- immediately before any breaks,
- immediately after any breaks, and
- at the end of a bottling run.
Bottles can, again, be evaluated under a microscope and evaluated for the presence of microorganisms. Bottles can also be sent to a lab for culture plating. The growth of yeasts or bacteria from culture plates at this stage indicates a failure of the sterile filtration system or contamination of the wine post-filtration. Clean wines, obviously, should help put a winemaker’s mind at ease as it matures in bottle.
Ensuring a wine’s stability post-bottling is a challenge. However, with proper cleaning and sanitation methods coupled with the right analytical records, winemakers can reduce their worry. For information on any of these topics, please visit:
The strange and sometimes unorthodox tools that make our lives easier have tickled my imagination ever since I was a child. Gizmos and gadgets were always on the top of my wish list for birthdays and Christmas. I suspect this fascination was passed down to me from my dad. He always buys the latest tech on the market even though more than half of the stuff he buys ends up in his desk drawer gathering dust. But that is where my father and I differ a whole lot. I like to know that something is going to be useful to me before I buy it and besides, as a student, you don’t have money laying around to spend on white elephants. So now that I am a “grown-up” I am buying more “mature” gadgets or tools that I can use on a daily basis i.e. wine accessories. But with all the hundreds that you see in the shops and online, it’s difficult to figure what is useful and what’s not. Here are a few of my favourites and some of the Old faithfuls.
No one who calls themselves a wine enthusiast will be caught dead without a decent wine decanter. For those of you who are not quite in the know, a decanter is a container, usually made of glass (but plastic ones are now also available for picnics), that is used to aerate red wines (i.e. expose it to oxygen) and to separate the glorious liquid from it’s not so glorious solid sediments. Although it might not technically be a gadget, it is something that comes in quite handy if you have the in-laws coming over for dinner and you want to impress with a well-aged Cab, but all you have are robust, raunchy 2014s. A decanter will not only look impressive, but it will smoothen that Cab out in two ticks. And with the variety of shapes and sizes that are now readily available, your decanter can double as a unique piece of art, exhibited on your dining room table, 7 days a week.
For those of you that might be a bit clumsier and fear the day that your very expensive decanter falls to smithereens, a wine aerator is probably a better option. This nifty little gadget can be screwed into or attached on top of your opened wine bottle and as you pour it allows for better aeration of the wine. These accessories can also sometimes look overly extravagant or other-worldly, but even the simplest ones can help to simulate the effects of years of bottle aging in a flash.
Hot summer days calls for chilled Sauvignon blanc on the stoep or next to the pool, but you forgot to refrigerate the bottle in time or the Stellenbosch sun heats up your glass faster than you can finish your wine (I highly doubt it). No problem. You can just add some ice cubes. But the melting ice dilutes my wine, you say. Well, not anymore. Waterless, reusable ice cubes have arrived to save many wine and spirit drinkers lots of sorrows. These blocks and balls of pure genius can be rinsed, popped back in the freezer and used again and again. No dilution. These are of course also great for the next family picnic. No more carrying around a cooler box filled with ice water to keep mommy’s wine cold. They are fun for the whole family!
And if, for some reason, you don’t like ice or having things floating around in your glass, there is always the revolutionary corkcicle. Yes, you read correctly. Cork-icicle. It’s a long, insulated chill-stick that is attached to a bottle stopper or cork-like stopper. This magnificent piece of wine artillery will help to keep your whites cold and get your reds down to sub-room temperature. Make sure to reserve a spot for this in your picnic basket as well.
Speaking of picnics (as you might have guessed, I am a picnic enthusiast), isn’t it just the worst when you’ve just settled down on your blanket with your glass of chilled Chardonnay and somebody asks you to hand them the food basket. Where am I supposed to put down my wine, you might ask yourself. That is where my next item of interest comes in. Sturdy, stainless steel wine bottle and glass stakes that can be pinned into the ground will ensure that your glass stays upright and out of the grass.
The weekend and the picnics have passed. It’s Monday after work and you just feel like winding down with a glass of red, but the day wasn’t quite that bad that you want to finish the whole bottle yourself. What to do? “Reseal” your bottle after you’ve poured your glass with your wine pump, of course! The pump usually comes with a rubber stopper that is placed in the mouth of the bottle. The pump is then placed over the stopper to pump the air out either manually or by the press of a button and then seals the bottle. Although the bottle is not completely resealed, this tool helps to minimise the effects of oxidation and extends the shelf-life of an opened bottle.
Most of the more lavish (and expensive) wine gadgets that can be found on the market today, will never have a place in my home. In fact, even some of these mentioned above are unnecessary luxuries and probably only destined for avid wine drinkers and enthusiasts. If you just love to drink wine, a decent corkscrew and a clean glass is all you’ll need to make the most of your wine.
When I started writing this blog, an old adage came to mind, “there is more than one way to skin a cat”. If you believe thatthere are many different ways to achieve an objective and that the reason for drinking wine is enjoyment, then skin-fermented wines could be the means to an end.
I tasted skin-fermented white wine (henceforth referred to as orange wine) for the first time in Croatia last year and during that tasting surmised that this type of wine is not for everybody. My second experience with orange wine was last week at a wine tasting chaired by James Pietersen of Wine Cellar (Observatory, Cape Town). During this tasting I was bombarded with so many new (and sometimes weird) aromas, that I soon realised that I was out of my depth. Take a look at Table 1 at the end of this blog for more details.
After the tasting, Edo Heyns (also present at the tasting) and I discussed the wines and he reckoned that this was probably the most difficult tasting that I could have kicked off with (I started at WineLand on 1 February 2017). Edo supplied this quote, “This burgeoning niche category offers some truly delicious wines. Chenin Blanc has particularly risen to the occasion, but there are also impressive blends and Sauvignon Blancs made in this style. The tasting yielded an intriguing list of descriptors and discussions, which is part of the category’s appeal. I specifically enjoyed wines that had a neat balance of texture and acidity. Judging this style definitely tests your tolerance for funkiness. While this is part of the excitement, it could also be its Achilles heel. Skin-fermented wines should first and foremost be good wines. To me, that was not the case for some of the wines in the line-up.”
And judging by how well some of these wines are selling locally, regardless of the relatively higher price, orange wine is doing a lot of well-placed scratching. Speaking of price, these five wines ranged from R135 to R275. While a lot is said about orange wines and their sometimes obvious faults, consider that one of the browner wines at this tasting scored quite well, because of the nose and palate. As it turns out, one cannot solely judge a book by its cover (I’m on a roll with proverbs today …
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