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Fruit of the vine.

THE UNITED STATES HAS become the largest market for wine, according to the International Organization of Vine and Wine, an intergovernmental agency based in Paris. Meanwhile, the Wine Institute, which calls itself "the voice of California wine," reports consistent increases in annual U.S. wine production-totaling more than 830 million gallons in 2013, about 90 percent of it from California. Two university wine labs--one on each coast--are offering grape growers and winemakers high-tech assistance in both production and analysis techniques.

The huge number of variables affecting the style and quality of wine have challenged producers for centuries. Researchers at the UC Davis department of viticulture and enology have taken control of one very important factor: fermentation temperature.

"There has always been temperature variation in wine production," said Roger Boulton, the Stephen Sinclair Scott professor of enology at the university. Fermentation temperature can be influenced by the weather during the harvest, as well as by overactive yeast.

According to yeast producer Wyeast Laboratories, red wines should be fermented between 70 and 85[degrees]F (20-30 [degrees]C) for better color and tannin extraction. Higher temperatures can yield cooked flavors, and yeast start dying. For white wines, fermentation temperatures should be between 4-5 and 60[degrees]F (7-16 [degrees]C), to help preserve fruitiness and volatile aromatics. Cooler temperatures can slow fermentation or stop it altogether.

UC Davis partnered with T.J. Rodgers, founder and CEO of Cypress Semiconductor and owner of Clos de la Tech Winery, to design and build 152 state-of-the-art stainless steel research fermenters controlled by Cypress programmable chips. Each 50-gallon unit has an automated temperature control, an automated system for pumping juice over grape skins when making red wines, and a sensor that monitors fermentation progress. Surrounding each fermenter is a jacket filled with water, which is automatically cooled or heated as needed.

Data from the fermenters are transmitted to a nearby computer control room at a programmable rate up to once per minute and automatically graphed on a large monitor in the control room.

"This radically new fermentation system is unlike anything available at the moment to commercial or research wineries," Boulton said. While some facilities can monitor temperatures and sugar content, this system provides real-time data for Web-based applications.

"It equips us, for the first time, to perform reproducible fermentations with precise temperature control and uniform mixing," he said. "From a research perspective, keeping this constant allows us the kind of control we need to focus on other factors affecting wine." Other factors include behavior of yeast strains and bacteria, vineyard micro-climates and geology, and grape and wine chemistry.

The strong concentration of wireless signals coming from one room was an initial challenge in receiving the electronic data. This was overcome by switching to Cloud-based internet technology. Researchers set and then monitor fermentation temperatures, using computers, tablets, or smart phones.

With 152 tanks, the lab can study wine from up to 50 different vineyard sites at one time. "Remember, winemakers only get one chance each year to both produce wine and evaluate what they are doing," Boulton said. "The importance of precision is critical, or else you have to wait another year for results."

With the recent acquisition of its OenoFoss wine analyzer, Cornell Enology Extension Lab adds considerable speed and range to its wine analyzing capacity. It can also lend a hand to small wine producers in Upstate New York.

"The OenoFoss can measure sugar, tartaric and malic acids, pH, nitrogen, alcohol, and numerous other key parameters in both must and wine," said Chris Gerling, extension associate at the lab. Must is the juice of grapes before it is fermented.

"In the past, we'd have to conduct a number of separate tests using several instruments, and it would have taken four to eight hours to get the results for one sample," Gerling said. "Now, we can do it all on one machine and it takes about a minute to get the readings."

A few drops of juice from grapes grown in various parts of the vineyard can give winemakers immediate information on sugar and acid levels to determine the best time to harvest each plot. It also allows for segregating the best grapes to make separate batches of higher-quality wine. During fermentation, the transformation of must to wine can be closely monitored allowing the winemaker to adjust conditions for best results. When wine is put in barrels or tanks for aging, the analysis can detect problem batches before they are blended with other wine.

While the new equipment uses Fourier transform infrared technology, as the lab's old machinery does, the new OenoFoss offers a number of advantages.

"It has better processing power and improved calibration," Gerling said. "Its predecessor also had solvents and internal pumps. The new machine has no moving parts. And we now only need a small sample for the refractometer in the machine. With just one machine, we can get a full analysis very fast."

The lab began working with Foss, which makes the OenoFoss, about 10 years ago. The technology been available for several years, but only larger wine producers could afford the $45,000 price tag.

Now, the lab can use the equipment for its own research work, and make it available to smaller local producers in the nearby Finger Lakes wine region. Gerling said he regularly accepts must and wine samples from growers for evaluation.

The ability to get wide-ranging and accurate analysis almost immediately could make a huge difference to small-scale winemakers who have not had access to such technology before.


THE LAB The Teaching and Research Winery, University of California, Davis; Roger Boulton, the Stephen Scott Professor of Enology, director.

OBJECTIVE To build the most advanced and environmentally sustainable teaching and research winery in the world.

DEVELOPMENT Precise wireless control and monitoring of wine fermentation temperatures.


THE LAB Cornell Enology Extension Lab, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.; Anna Katharine Mansfield, associate professor; Chris Gerling, extension associate.

OBJECTIVE Conduct applied trials and transfer research-based information back to the farm-based wine industry.

DEVELOPMENT Fast and complete analysis during all phases of winemaking through rapid measurement of key parameters.

LARRY LEVENTHAL is a writer currently based in Bangkok. He also holds a diploma from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust.
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Title Annotation:TECH BUZZ: HOT LABS
Author:Leventhal, Larry
Publication:Mechanical Engineering-CIME
Date:Oct 1, 2015
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