QUALITY CONTROL IN THE SMALL AND MEDIUM WINERY: HOW TO CHOOSE THE MOST SUITABLE INSTRUMENTATION FOR YOUR NEEDS

Nowadays, all wineries that want to produce quality wine must control their product throughout the transformation process, starting from the grapes up to the finished product.
On the one hand, quality control has become increasingly necessary to maintain or improve the quality of the wine you produce (considering for example situations that you cannot predict, such as the effects of climate change on grape ripening) and to emerge in an always more competitive market made up of increasingly demanding consumers.

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Many of the producers who spoke to us in the last years have expressed the growing desire to control more the quality of their wine, and who therefore do not see analyzes only as a “necessary evil”, but consider them an opportunity, have internalized in their wineries at least part of the controls.

To be more timely and independent in the most important moments of the wine transformation, but also (and perhaps above all) because they like the idea of personally taking care of this fundamental aspect.

This document is addressed, as specified in the title, mainly to producers who own small and medium-sized wineries who wish to bring part of the quality control of their product within their own company, and to consultant winemakers who wish to carry out analysis directly in the cellar because they consider it a plus for their consulting activity.

Among the many tools the market offers, we focus here on multi-parametric tools, capable of analyzing many parameters of wine and must. We are speaking about tools that can be used in all stages of production, and that allow you to carry out routine and process analyzes internally!

We won’t talk much about which tool is best suited to the small or medium wineries, but rather what problems you might have if you choose the wrong one probably designed for the needs of very large companies (or laboratory), different from yours.

We will analyze the types of equipment that are not suitable for small and medium-sized wineries, for a series of reasons that we will explain in details.

Historically, until a few years ago it was almost exclusively only large companies (producing several hundred thousand or a few million bottles a year) that internalized part of the quality control, so many of the tools on the market have been designed for their needs.

In this article we will not talk about traditional instruments that allow to typically analyze one or two parameters (e.g. pH-meter, ebulliometer, distiller, etc.), or of instruments for occasional analyzes (e.g. instruments for tartaric stability etc.), or complex tools to manage such as HPLC.

The multi-parametric instruments that a winery can typically decide to buy for internal analyzes can be grouped into two broad categories:

1. FT-IR technology based instruments
2. Automatic Enzymatic instruments.

The two technologies differ mainly in 2 aspects:

• The region of the electromagnetic spectrum in which they work: infrared for FT-IR; visible and ultra violet (UV-Vis) for enzymatic analyzers.
• Use of reagents: no reagents for FT-IR; specific and selective reagents for enzymatic analyzers.

 

1) FT-IR technology based instruments

FT-IR technology (like FOSS) allows you to perform a simultaneous multi-parametric analysis on different parameters rather quickly, typically in less than 5 minutes, as it does not use chemical reagents; and this is certainly its strong point and the main reason why this technology has spread.

On the other hand, precisely because no specific reagents are used to “measure” each wine quality parameter, the accuracy of the data could be affected, unless you do a specific calibration job on your wines.

In fact, in FT-IR instruments the analysis is done through a statistical comparison, according to complex mathematical models, of the spectrum obtained for your wine sample with a previously preloaded database of spectra: the accuracy of the results therefore depends on how many data are loaded in the database used for comparison, and if wines with characteristic similar to your ones are preloades.

FT-IR technology is certainly the best solution if your main need is to have very often, also every day and and even several times a day, a very quick screening of multiple parameters.

To use it correctly, an FT-IR instrument requires ad hoc calibrations checked periodically, which is why large companies often have other comparison tools, such as enzymatic analyzers.

These calibration and controls are often managed by dedicated personnel, such as lab technicians or analysts, which is why the choice of this solution is generally adopted by more structured companies with a dedicated laboratory and staff.

 

2) Automatic Enzymatic instruments based on photometric or spectrophotometric technology

Unlike FT-IR technology, enzymatic tools base the analysis of each parameter on a very specific and selective chemical reaction, which makes the result of the analysis more accurate and precise. In fact, for various parameters the OIV (International Organization of Vine and Wine) has included enzymatic analysis as a reference method among the official methods (malic, lactic, acetic, glucose-fructose).

For automatic analyzers, as the word itself suggests, the manual operations required by the user are very limited, as this is carried out automatically by the instrument. However, we must be well aware that the word “automatic” does not mean “simpler” than a manual system.

In fact, automatic systems require preparation and setting of the instrument before carrying out the analyzes which can be complex, they require very accurate periodic maintenance to function properly, as well as the replacement of some parts that wear out over time. Basically, they require a dedicated person who is sufficiently prepared.

These systems are designed to work for high throughput of analysis, therefore for companies that need to analyze a large number of samples, in general from 120 to 400 samples / hour.

The sporadic use of these systems is not ideal, because the time taken for the preparation of the instrument before analysis and for periodic maintenance would be greater than the actual time in which it is used.

Furthermore, as in other sectors, instruments that are oversized with respect to real needs could have cost / benefit ratios that are not convenient.

 

OIV guidelines for automated systems

Due to the fact that they are commonly used in many analysis laboratories or directly inside big cellars, the OIV has introduced a series of guidelines for the correct use of automatic analyzers. In addition, the OIV has recently included automated enzymatic analyzes of some parameters (malic, lactic, glucose-fructose, acetic and gluconic) among the official methods of category III.

OIV specifies very well everything that must be done to correctly calibrate and constantly check the correctness of the results obtained.

Calibrations and constant controls are very important especially for FT-IR systems, precisely because they do not use any chemical reaction.

To have more precise data it is necessary to have a very large database and to build specific calibrations using official methods as a reference.

The operations of calibration and control of the enzymatic analyzers are instead simpler as they use a specific and selective chemical reaction for each parameter to be analyzed; it is therefore sufficient to use samples with a known value (pure standards or certified wines) to verify the correct calibration.

The correct questions you need to ask yourself to understand if you need an automated tool for your needs are:

• how many samples do you need to analyze and how often?
• do you have dedicated staff for the analysis?
• can you manage the maintenance of the tools?
• do you have dedicated environments where to place the instrument?

From our point of view, both technologies discussed ARE NOT SUITABLE for the small and medium-sized winery.

To deepen and expand these issues and have all the information necessary to choose the most suitable instrumentation for your company, we want to give you our guide “How to choose the most suitable analysis tool for your winery“, which contains comments, doubts and the observations collected over the past three years of work in close contact with wineries and consultant winemakers.

Fill out the form and download the free guide.

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