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London Wine Fair: O2inWines™ Panel Discussion

Posted on June 23, 2010

London, United Kingdom, (June 23rd, 2010) – The first panel discussion organized by the O2inWines™ association took place during the London International Wine Fair on May 18th. It drew an audience of almost 150 attendees; surprisingly enough for a not so technical environment, showing that interest for this topic is growing in the wine industry.

“Organizing this panel discussion during a non-technical fair was a real gamble, as the subjects covered by our specialists were scientific ones”, stated Olav Aagaard from Nomacorc and president of O2inWines™. “But in spite of that, and because our panelists used of a non-technical vocabulary, the panel discussion was a great success both on the number of attendees and the quality of the discussions held. Besides, for those who could not attend, we twitted the event all along!”

The debates led by Jamie Goode, famous wine writer, whose blog www.wineanorak.com is one of the most popular on the net today, showed the impact oxygen can have on wine quality from grape reception to wine tasting by the consumer.

First, Andrew Markides, from Lallemand Australia Ltd and a world yeast specialist explained the importance of oxygen management throughout the whole fermentation process and especially at the early stages of winemaking. The introduction of oxygen at one third of the fermentation process helps the yeast cell membrane, its key structure, to strengthen and resist to the attacks from ethanol, so as to achieve the fermentation to the desired dryness. When oxygen comes in, all the available yeast have the opportunity to take up that oxygen and produce the sterols and unsaturated fatty acids that make up the membrane flexibility and function.

Andrew also showed that towards the end of fermentation a right nutrient management with the available nitrogen is necessary to avoid the yeast to activate certain sulphur derived compounds, which often cause the production of sulphide and reductive notes post alcoholic fermentation.

Second, Pierre-Yves Bournérias, from the Institut Œnologique de Champagne and one of the world leading experts in sparkling wine production, talked about the importance of oxygen during the latest stages of winemaking with specific reference to the production of sparkling wine.

He explained that oxygen intake during winemaking is cumulated during the whole history of the wine and that this needs to be accurately measured and monitored, to avoid unexpected and undesired oxygen pick-up. Uncontrolled oxygen intake during wine movements (from the pump into the tank and from the tank to another location) can result in quality loss.

Pierre-Yves also introduced concepts broadly applicable across all sources of winemaking.

He talked about Champagne crown caps, which liners have different levels of permeability, and which can be used as creative tools for the winemakers to control the aging of the wine and affect the profile of cuvees at the end. He also mentioned that oxygen intake is very important during the disgorging step and that a new jetting system has been developed to control this particular phase. This tool helps to reduce the level of dissolved oxygen to the desired point and to precisely monitor the oxygen intake at disgorging.

The third to talk was Stéphane Vidal, from Nomacorc and a post bottling oenology specialist. He gave insights into the bottling process and the post-bottling wine chemistry. He explained that the bottling of still wines is a crucial step, as there is a high level of variation from one bottle to the other. He also pointed out that dissolved oxygen is not the only parameter to be measured: headspace oxygen is indeed even more important, as it accounts for 65% of the total oxygen added into the bottle at bottling!

Stéphane then addressed the technologies enabling to accurately measure oxygen, mentioning that it is still too rare to monitor and measure oxygen in the wineries. He also indicated that a wine requires a decreasing amount of oxygen intake throughout its whole life. He described a luminescence tool designed to assess the various oxygen intakes from the winemaking phase to the post-bottling one.

He finally said that the oxygen permeating through the closure during wine storage, called oxygen transmission rate (OTR), participates to the evolution of the wine over time. If the history of a wine can be measured, in terms of oxygen exposure, then it is possible to create different styles of wines when choosing the closure. He emphasized how important it is to have consistent oxygen delivery through the closure over time.

Finally, from a retailer perspective, Clemency Yates and Barry Dick, both enologists from Sainsbury’s, told the audience that oxygen comes out as one of the biggest problems, along with reduction and TCA. Oxidation has a really big impact on the quality of wine in the bottle, and involves a significant loss of value for the retailer. This oxidation problem mainly comes from the stock rotation on the shelf and from bottling. Closures are often the easy beating stick when a wine gets oxidized, but the massive oxygen pickup occurs during the bottling process and it often results in the reduction of the aromatic compounds in the final product. There is also a myth that oxidation comes from the transport in bulk shipping. Flexibags, ISO containers and handling are now very robust and dissolved oxygen levels in wine landing in the UK are pretty much the same as the ones in the wine loaded in the country of source.

Clemency and Barry added that Sainsbury’s recommends on its back labels an ideal drinking window thus guaranteeing the shelf life for the wine after they have been on shelf. The ideal would be to be able to indicate a “drink by date” on the bottle, but for that as little oxygen pickup at bottling as possible is needed. Clem also pointed out that a critical point for customers for the moment is the demand for lower sulphur wines. And with less oxygen at bottling, and a guaranteed shelf life, less sulphur could be used…

At the end of the discussion, Jamie Goode opened a session dedicated to open questions from the audience. The subjects discussed covered the optimum timing and quantity for oxygen addition to the ferment; the importance of oxygen at tirage bottling step for sparkling wines; the wines more susceptible to reduction at bottling; the availability of the optical microdot evaluation tool and its cost; the best closure to avoid bottle variations in terms of OTR; and the major improvements made in the last five years, in protecting the wine from oxygen in the winemaking and bottling stages.

To conclude with this panel discussion, Jamie Goode said that: “Oxygen in wine is an exciting topic. This is an area where there is still a huge amount of ignorance. Oxygen in wine is quite a challenging topic for the researchers worldwide and the potential for raising the quality of wines with the right oxygen management is great”.

The O2inWines™ association intends to pursue its research efforts to assist the winemakers in improving the quality and consistency of their wines by perfecting the monitoring and management of oxygen intakes throughout the whole history of a wine.

The complete audio recording from the London Wine Fair panel discussions is available upon request at l.saby@O2inWines.org.

About O2inWines™
O2inWines™ is an international nonprofit association created by industrial and academic leaders in the wine industry. It is composed of suppliers and service providers to the wine industry, all leading innovators in their fields and heavily involved in researching oxygen management. World-renowned researchers underscore the quality of the research programs facilitated by the association. The objective of the association is the promotion of scientifically based solutions for oxygen management challenges in the wine industry. O2inWines™ is based in Toulouse, France. For more information, visit www.O2inWines.org.

For more information, please contact Laetitia Saby
+33 (0)534 558 806/ +33 (0)625 459 3 91
l.saby@O2inWines.org

Website: www.O2inWines.org

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