November 2018 Issue of Wines & Vines

Upgrading Traditional Lab Analysis

Potential impacts on quality and winemaking confidence

by Stacey Moskwa

Part one: Quality systems in the winery lab
Five steps to setting up a winery quality-control lab that will work for you

When it comes to quality control in the cellar, opinions about value vary widely. Some wineries are equipped with the latest and greatest technology and measure well beyond the basics. Others measure Brix and pH and rely on their palates and past experience for the rest. However, when looking to improve quality, repeatability and control of a product, quality-control measurement is the key.

No matter your level of experience, it can be an overwhelming task to determine how to equip a quality-control lab. Sometimes there are various methods that can be used to measure the same analyte, and most times there are multiple options on the market for each method. How can you sift through all the available information to find the best solution for your lab? One tried-and-true method is to learn from others who have already done exactly that.

Step one: Measure what matters to you. Before considering technology and the merits of various methods, it helps to start one step further back. Why does quality control matter? It is about making good, timely decisions in the cellar. Quality measurement for its own sake is not the point — the value is in actionable information. What will make the wine better? More consistent?

For someone starting or upgrading a winery lab, assistant winemaker Anna Prost at A to Z Wineworks in Newberg, Ore., says, “Set yourself up to measure what matters to you and the winery. Which numbers are actionable? Is this going to influence your winemaking?”

Start with these questions: How do I make decisions in the cellar now? How could I back up those decisions with objective data? What do other winemakers measure? What do they do with the information they gather? This will help you to understand what you should measure and why. Don’t forget that the lab can and should be the first line of defense in damage prevention by helping to find problems faster.

Bill Snyder, technical director at Testarossa Winery in Los Gatos, Calif., offers: “Examine your own comfort level with the lab work and the numbers side of things. … What are you looking to get out of it? For me, for anything that we are looking at doing … it is all about actionable data. At the end of the day, the numbers are in service of the winemaking.”

Step two: Consider your present situation and future goals. Once you know what parameters you want to be able to measure, the next step is to understand your current situation and goals to ensure you set yourself up for success now and in the future. How much wine are you making now? How much space do you have? How much wine do you want to be making in five years? Fifteen years? This will help you avoid investing in tools you will quickly outgrow. The last thing you want is for the lab to become the bottleneck in the winery.

At A to Z Wineworks, Prost suggests: “What is the piece of equipment you can grow into? Plan ahead and scale appropriately. Do not box yourself in with a small piece of equipment.”

Step three: Do your homework and consider options. Once you know what you need to measure and how often, the next step is to look at the available options. Adam Burdett, lab manager at Bin to Bottle in Napa, Calif., advises to “see what is available, and how that can fit into your winery’s needs.”

Dan Berglund, assistant winemaker at A to Z Wineworks, adds, “For every piece of equipment you add, try to make sure it is going to be really reliable.”

Be sure to consider:
Investment and operating cost. It is easy to get caught up in the investment price of a new tool. In the lab, though, the operating cost is just as important. Sometimes the least expensive tool to implement today is not the least expensive tool to operate, particularly as the size of a winery grows. If your plan is to grow quickly, set yourself up to handle your projected production. Consider how often you will want to measure each parameter chosen to be important in step one. How many wines you will be monitoring in this and future vintages. Consider the total cost of ownership: investment cost, cost of testing, cost of consumables and maintenance.

Time per test and cost of labor. This ties in closely with investment versus operating cost of a tool. Time is money, so the longer it takes to measure an analyte, the more expensive that measurement becomes. Who will be running these tests? What is the cost of labor? What else could they accomplish if their lab work was more efficient and took less time? Consider return on investment. Do the time savings (or decreased operating cost) make up for the investment cost?

Accuracy, precision (repeatability) and sensitivity. “If you are getting numbers that are wildly inaccurate and then making decisions based on those, then that is worse than not having a number at all,” Berglund says. To his point, quality control is all about making good decisions in the cellar. If the measurement technology you are considering cannot produce accurate, repeatable data, it has no benefit. Having no data will result in cautious decisions. Wrong data will result in mistakes.

Sensitivity is defined as the limit of detection for an analytical method.

Ease of use and training. How easy is this method to run? Is it user-friendly? What are the sources of human error? Will two different people be able to obtain the same results? How easy will it be to train someone on a measurement method? How frequent is calibration for each measurement method? How much time does it take?

Technical support. When you have a question or if something goes wrong, whom will you call? What methods will they use to support you and answer your questions? Will you be speaking to a new person every time? Does the company have any specific wine expertise?

Step four: Consider your finances and Invest in the best measurement technology available. Time to put your research into action! You have determined what you want to measure, how often, and the possible ways to do it. Invest in the best measurement technology you can.

“Do not underestimate the value of the lab,” says Lauren Wheeler, assistant winemaker at Penner-Ash Wine Cellars. “Do not stick it in some dark corner somewhere. You are getting so much important information from it. It should be treated as one of the more important places in a winery. ... If you are going to have a lab, it is critical to try to do it right from the beginning. We spend a lot of time in there. That is where all of our big cellar decisions are made. It is important for us to have that space be enjoyable and respected.”

Step five: Let your lab equipment work for you and start seeing the results in the wine. You have done your research and made decisions. Now it is time to reap the benefits! The best solution will give you accurate and repeatable data that you can use to make timely cellar decisions, be user-friendly and efficient, have the lowest cost of ownership possible without sacrificing quality data, and will come with lifetime and easily accessible support.

Part two: How easy it is to analyze using an automated system
Case study: Moving from manual to automated enzymatic, colorimetric testing. One example of a lab upgrade that could work for you is moving from manual to automated enzymatic testing. The test is performed by creating an enzymatic reaction in a wine sample with reagents. A spectrophotometer reads the absorbance of the wine sample as the reaction is occurring, and the change in absorbance before and after the reaction is proportional to the concentration of the analyte being measured. Common analytes measured this way include glucose and fructose, malic acid and acetic acid, to name a few. It is a direct measurement method, and each analyte will have its own dedicated reagents.

Enzymatic testing is a flexible tool that opens up the possibility of measuring many analytes in a wine lab to deliver answers in time for important cellar decisions. For many wineries it is a tool that is used every day. Penner-Ash Wine Cellars, Bin to Bottle, Testarossa Winery and A to Z Wineworks all utilize a Y15 automated enzymatic analyzer (150 tests per hour capacity) and reagent kits produced by BioSystems and provided in the U.S. by Admeo Inc. throughout the entire winemaking process, from grape to bottle and beyond.

The Y line of analyzers comes from BioSystems, a partner of the California-based company Admeo. Admeo serves the North American market with BioSystems’ Food Quality line with a focus on enology. BioSystems, based in Barcelona, Spain, has been in business for 36 years and has a dedicated enology department within its food quality division.

They produce enzymatic reagents, analyzers, standards and controls. The reagents produced within BioSystems’ internal quality-control system with ISO certification have been created by the company’s internal research-and-development department around the wine matrix, a composite of the chemical components in wine.

Here is how these wineries have benefited from automating this testing:

Confidence in cellar decision-making
“We do so much tasting here,” says Wheeler at Penner-Ash Wine Cellars, “but at the end of the day it is nice to look back at the data to justify why we are going to make the adjustments to wine that we will make. We do a lot of trials at Penner-Ash. We like to fully understand what is happening. You can run a trial, but if you do not have data to understand it, you can only do so much with the little information you have.”

“When you have such a big investment in A to Z wines (production of 350,000 cases per year, including 10 grape varieties from more than 50 vineyards), you really need to make sure that they are protected and are going to end up the way that you want,” Berglund says. “In general, if you are using it as a tool to give you information that is affecting your winemaking decisions, then you want to know that it is actually right. Otherwise, it is not helping you.”

“A lot of winemaking decisions are based on the results that we provide at Bin to Bottle,” Burdett says. “Being able to provide accurate repeatability is of primary importance for us. Being able to deliver reliable results not just to our winemakers but to Bin to Bottle clients allows them to make those decisions for the work to get done.”

Accuracy, repeatability, efficiency and time savings
“Harvest at Penner-Ash is full-on,” Wheeler says. “We source from approximately 20 vineyards for about 350 tons using mostly small fermenters. The majority of our lots are fermented in MacroBins, 2- and 3-ton tanks. You do not have any time to spare to wait for numbers to come in or to have a number come in that is not accurate.

“It is really important to get it right the first time, quickly, so you can move forward with your process. The Y15 gives me a chance to easily multitask and work on Penner-Ash data entry, analysis and the day’s logistics all while it is running. It has been really nice because I am not tied down to the lab bench all day and can get into the cellar for a change of scenery to help our crew when needed.”

“Automated enzymatic, colorimetric analysis is a great method to obtain fast, accurate results,” Burdett says. “With Bin to Bottle being a client-based winery (2,500 tons in 2017) serving a variety of needs, being able to report accurate results in a timely fashion is critical. I have worked with (manual spectrophotometers), having to do everything by hand. That is very time-consuming. In this fast-paced lab, with the number of samples that we process, it is just not feasible. Upon completion of our expansion, we plan to ferment approximately 4,500-5,000 tons per year. We will be able to accommodate this growth in part due to the versatility and capacity of the Y15.”

“Since you are relying on an automated system, you decrease the human error aspect,” notes Prost of A to Z. “You still need to run maintenance on your equipment, but you decrease the risk of having a number that is not correct (due to human error) and save the time it would take to run the test again manually. We found that with the amount of lots that we have, it was a question of how much can you get done in a day? In our winery lab, as an example, we can load up the Y15 with 72 samples, it can be running the numbers, and we still run manual titrations and run pH manually, so we can have two things going at once.”

“The main advantage we found at Testarossa has been throughput, especially when we thought about scalability for a growing winery,” Snyder notes. “Being able to have the same method of analysis, be able to expand the number and frequency of analysis we have been able to do without a huge head count increase has been huge.”

Cost savings
“For Penner-Ash, it was pretty easily justifiable because I was running so many numbers, it really helped pay for itself upfront. It has allowed me to do more with my time during the day, to either run more samples more efficiently or get my analysis done faster,” Wheeler adds.

“At A to Z, we thought that enzymatic tests were the most cost-effective, accurate way to get in-house numbers,” Berglund says. “When we wanted to be able to really trust the number, we would go to enzymatic kits.”

“The cost of labor at Testarossa pretty quickly becomes the limiting factor when producing 30,000 cases per year,” Snyder adds.

Flexibility and sustainability
“The Y15 enzymatic analyzer is definitely my favorite piece of equipment in the Penner-Ash lab because it has allowed me to expand my horizon at the winery and get involved in other aspects of winemaking that I was not able to before,” Wheeler notes. “It is like having another person on the team because I have more time. There are many kits available. We have expanded usage of the Y15 because it is so easy. We have added potassium to our in-house juice panel analysis to regularly monitor acetic acids, too. I enjoy being able to track information beyond the basics.”

“The 72-sample capacity of the Y15 was appealing. The number of tests that it can run gives A to Z a lot of flexibility,” Prost says. “If we want to research more, we know there are options for different kits so we can expand. It has allowed A to Z to get to more, whether that is tasting or analyzing the data. Being able to react to the information that you have, you have that extra time when you have basically an automated lab tech in itself. We use the Y15 from when the grapes arrive right up until bottling; also for QC checks post-bottling.”

“The different types of analysis that the Y15 can offer is really beneficial to Bin to Bottle, especially as a client-based winery,” Burdett explains. “It allows us to offer a wide array of analysis to our clients. The Y15 is a crucial piece of equipment in our lab. We use it to analyze every lot of juice/wine that comes through the winery, both during harvest and non-harvest times of the year. During harvest, we use it to analyze juice samples from the grapes that are being processed. Once those grapes are processed we use the Y15 to help us monitor fermentations. The Y15 is part of the winery lab procedure literally from ‘bin’ to ‘bottle.’ Currently, we utilize four parameters with the Y15 all year. During harvest, we expand that to seven parameters. Being a custom-crush facility, it is important to have the versatility to offer our clients a wide variety of analysis. The 27 parameters offered by Admeo for the Y15 gives us the ability to do that.”

“We use the Y15 throughout the year at Penner-Ash,” Wheeler says. “It gets most of its use during harvest because that is when we are running juice panels on everything as it comes in. We run drain and press analysis when ferments are pressed off. In the offseason we run malics on it and check free sulfurs regularly. It still gets fired up and we still run it. It is just as important that time of year as it is during harvest.”

“At Testarossa, we use the automated analyzer literally from grape to bottle,” Snyder notes. “We have used it for analyzing baseline acetic acid on fruit lots that came in that we thought had been compromised. We obtain baseline malic acid data to verify malic acid throughout the life of a wine. Pre-bottling, we use it to obtain final specs for the wine in terms of residual sugar and malic acid completion.”

“Product support is a crucial factor when considering the purchase of a new piece of lab equipment and equally as crucial when maintaining the performance of lab equipment,” Burdett says, “such as Admeo’s automatic analyzer. Admeo has proven itself as having one of the more reliable product support services for its clients. They have accomplished this through their expertise of their products and their promptness when responding to customers. They have always been available via email, phone and TeamViewer to help me troubleshoot a problem. If a problem can’t be resolved immediately, the Admeo team has come to Bin to Bottle in person to help us find a solution.

“The Admeo team has come to our lab to do everything from deliver parts and reagents or just make sure our unit is running properly. It has been a pleasure working with them. I feel I have developed somewhat of a personal relationship with their team members. This only enhances the customer support they offer.”

“Admeo technical support has been really hands-on, both in person and remotely,” Snyder concludes. “Everyone I have encountered at Admeo has shown a really good grounding in how the units are actually being used at different wineries, which has been very helpful when discussing possible new applications, logistical throughput questions, etc.”

Author’s note: Bill Snyder has moved on to new assignments outside Testarossa Winery.

Stacey Moskwa gained a thorough theoretical understanding of the science of wine in the viticulture and enology program at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. She interned at wineries in Rhode Island, New York, California and France, where she was introduced to the more practical aspects of winemaking. After graduation she joined the research winery team at E. & J. Gallo Winery for the 2014 harvest. She pivoted to technical sales, starting at Anton Paar and now with Admeo Enology Systems, where she is a technical sales and application support specialist.

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