By: Denise M. Gardner
The eastern U.S. growing seasons can be somewhat unpredictable. Late season rains or untimely hurricane events can be a recipe for disaster for local grape growers, and a few have been unprepared for such events in the past. These weather events can lead to higher incidences of the grey-rot form of Botrytis in addition to other rots, which may also be related to pest damage. Furthermore, these weather incidences and pest damage can ultimately impact picking decisions for growers and wineries (Osborne, 2017).
It is almost inevitable that wineries need to be prepared for end-of-season weather flops, and plan for the best possible ways to manage or maintain wine quality in light of above-average disease pressure.
One disease that winemakers can prepare for prior to harvest is Botrytis. For the purpose of this article, we’ll be using the term Botrytis to indicate the grey-mold or grey-rot form of the disease. Grey-mold, the form of Botrytismore commonly noticed in humid regions or during heavy-precipitation seasons, can ultimately affect wine quality. Peynaud (1984) has defined 4 ways in which the grey-mold can negatively affect wine quality:
- Deplete wine color (especially important in red varieties),
- Increase the risk of premature browning (through oxidative enzymes),
- Deplete varietal character (through degradation of grape skins), and
- Contribution to off-flavors developed by the mold’s presence on the fruit.
Botrytis, grey-mold, infection can force winemakers into alternative winemaking techniques in order to retain wine quality. Photo by: Denise M. Gardner
Based on a 1977 study by Loinger et al., guidelines pertaining to wine quality were developed with regards to a visual assessment of Botrytis incidence on incoming fruit:
- 5-10% Botrytis rot on clusters: noticeable reduction in wine quality; wine quality is still “good” (as opposed to very good with 0% rot on clusters)
- 20-40% Botrytis rot on clusters: marked reduction in wine quality; wine quality is “low”
- >80% Botrytis rot on clusters: wine is commercially unacceptable
With a noticeable sensory and chemical difference in Botrytis-infected clusters, it is best for wineries to develop a standard operating procedure (SOP) for assessing rot-infected fruit, as well as how the grapes should be handled and processed during production. While there is no one correct way to work with the wine, below are some suggestions or options that wineries can integrate when dealing with Botrytis-infected grapes. For a full list of possibilities, please visit: http://extension.psu.edu/food/enology/wine-production/producing-wine-with-sub-optimal-fruit/fermenting-with-botrytis-101
Some wineries will sort through all incoming grape clusters prior to the crushing/destemming process to assess for any cluster damage or presence of unwanted material. If your operation is not set up with this equipment, sorting can also take place in the vineyard. Depending on the concentration of disease and on the projected wine style or quality parameter the fruit will go towards, disease portions of clusters can be cut out in the vineyard. Or diseased fruit can be left in the vineyard to deal with after the harvest is complete. Sorting out diseased fruit from that of decent quality will reduce the impact of the mold on the wine’s aroma, flavor, and quality.
Limit Contact Time with Skins
Depending on the resource, there are various recommendations for how to handle diseased fruit. In whites, some recommend whole cluster pressing and tossing the first 10+ gallons, which are rich in Botrytis metabolites (Fugelsang and Edwards, 2007). Many recommend separating juice press fractions for white and rosé wines, as this will give the vintner more control over the chemical constituents (e.g., phenolics, enzymes, and disease-related off-flavors) in the final wine.
Depending on the desired outcome for a red wine, treating or limiting skin contact with diseased fruit may be ideal post -primary fermentation. This would include avoiding extended maceration processes. Due to the fact that the presence of Botrytis on red varieties reduces anthocyanin and phenolic extraction (Razungles, 2010) in addition to the varietal aromatics, excessive skin contact may not be ideal during primary fermentation. Whole berry fermentations, as opposed to a more aggressive crush and destem process, may help minimize extraction of Botrytis metabolites, which can also contribute to mouthfeel variations or off-flavors.
Tannin additions pre-fermentation may also be good considerations to compensate for phenolic losses associated with Botrytis infection. Pre-fermentation and post-fermentation additions may help rebuild the wine’s structure or provide constituents for color stabilization.
Flash pasteurization (i.e., flash détente) has been previously recommended for Botrysized fruit to inactive the laccase enzyme associated with Botrytis, enhance color stability in reds, as well as improve the aromatics and flavors associated with the final wine. Wines that undergo a thermovinification step tend to extract more anthocyanins and phenolics compared to traditionally fermented wines (Razungles, 2010). Additionally, this heat step helps to inactivate laccase, which can contribute to early browning or oxidation of young wines. However, commercial producers may not find this technological application easily accessible.
Therefore, in addition to minimizing skin contact time, winemakers will want to reduce contact time with the gross lees, and may also remove the wine from fine lees associated with the mold-infected fruit quickly. The integration and use of clean, fresh lees, however, is still encouraged. Removing the lees associated with mold-infected fruit can help reduce additional contact time with rot metabolites that have settled out with the lees. This inhibits further integration of those metabolites into the wine.
Inoculate with a Commercial Yeast Strain
The presence of rot is one incidence in which processing techniques (e.g., cold soak) that encourage native microflora to dominate the fermentation are probably not desired. Things like cold soak and native ferments allow ample opportunity for the mold to progress and contribute to the wine’s flavor.
Fruit that has rot or microflora issues is best inoculated with commercial yeast and malolactic bacteria strains to outcompete the native microflora (including those microorganisms that contribute to the rot), and to give the fermentation its best chance at completing the fermentation cleanly. Remember that proper yeast nutrition is important to support the yeasts’ growth and to reduce the risk of hydrogen sulfide development. For more information on determining the starting nitrogen concentrations (YAN) and how to properly treat your fermentation with added nutrients, please refer to:
Penn State Extension’s Wine Made Easy Fact Sheet: Nutrient Management During Fermentation
With high Botrytis concentrations, a more robust yeast strain may be preferred in order to quickly get through primary fermentation. A quicker fermentation may simplify the aromatics associated with the wine, but it will also ensure little opportunity for additional spoilage. Saccharomyces bayanus strains are often selected as more robust yeast strains.
Use of commercial yeast strains can be a valuable tool when dealing with disease-infected fruit. Photo by: Denise M. Gardner
Use of Sulfur Dioxide
Sulfur dioxide additions at crush will be determined based on the style of wine in which you are producing (e.g., white, rosé, red, etc.), but in general, the use of sulfur dioxide can help inhibit further spoilage of your product and retain antioxidant capacity. Sulfur dioxide additions in the juice stage will help minimize early browning, but primarily inactivate PPO.
In general, botrysized wines tend to require more sulfur dioxide as Botrytismetabolites bind with free sulfur dioxide (Goode, 2014). This is true even when processing wines with the noble rot version of Botrytis.
When primary fermentation, and malolactic fermentation (dependent on style), is complete it is a good idea to ensure that the wine has an adequate free sulfur dioxide content in order to retain its antimicrobial protection.
Some fining agents may also be applicable in the juice stage. For example, some producers find it helpful to fine juice with bentonite in order to reduce protein content, as well as help minimize rot-associated off-flavors or partially reduce laccase concentrations.
PVPP can be added to the juice to reduce potential browning pigments or their precursor forms (Van de Water, 1985).
In both of these scenarios, neither bentonite or PVPP is specific for rot-related constituents, but each could be helpful to avoid potential challenges later on in the production process.
The presence of Botrytis can also contribute glucans to the must/wine, which can cause filterability problems for heavily-infected wines. In this situation, many suppliers have beta-glucanase enzymes that can be applied either to the juice, wine, or both, to help breakdown the glucans and enhance ease of filterability.
A Word about Laccase
Both polyphenol oxidase (PPO) and laccase can cause early browning in grapes and wine. However, PPO is inhibited by the alcohol content that is developed during primary fermentation. Laccase, however, is not inhibited by the presence of alcohol, and can only be inactivated by a pasteurization step, heated to at least 60°C (140°F) (Wilker, 2010).
Grapes tend to be higher in laccase concentration when infected with Botrytis, and, thus, wines produced from grapes that had a high incidence rate of Botrytis can develop a brown hue post-primary fermentation. This oxidative activity can occur even in young wines.
If you are concerned about the prevalence of laccase in diseased-fruit, wineries can submit wine samples to a wine lab for a laccase test. Or, if you own a copy of “Monitoring the Winemaking Process from Grapes to Wine: Techniques and Concepts” by Patrick Iland et al., pg. 90 and 94 have 2 laccase test protocols that outline how wineries can assess oxidation by laccase. The results of these test will indicate if extreme treatments are required during production to avoid the rapid and early oxidation caused by laccase.
Goode, J. 2014. The Science of Wine: From Vine to Glass. (2nd Ed.) University of California Press: Berkley, California. 216 pg.
Fugelsang, K.C. and C.G. Edwards. 2007. Wine Microbiology: Practical Applications and Proceedings. (2nd Ed.) Springer: New York, NY. 393 pg.
Loinger, C., S. Cohen, N. Dror, and M.J. Berlinger. 1977. Effect of grape cluster rot on wine quality. AJEV. 28(4): 196-199.
Peynaud, E. 1984. Knowing and Making Wine. Wiley-Interscience: New York, NY. 391 pg.
Razungles, A. 2010. Extraction technologies and wine quality. In Managing Wine Quality, Vol. 2 Oenology and Wine Quality. Andrew G. Reynolds, Ed. Woodhead Publishing: Philadelphia, PA. 651 pg.
Van de Water, L. 1985. Fining Agents for Use in Wine. The Wine Lab.
Wilker, K.L. 2010. How should I treat a must from white grapes containing laccase? In Winemaking Problems Solved. CRC Press: Boca Raton, Florida. 398 pg.