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‘Red, red wine…without sulfites’: Chr. Hansen promises paradigm shift

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By Ben Bouckley+

28-May-2014
Last updated the 30-May-2014 at 10:30 GMT

Photo: Mark Harris/Flickr
Photo: Mark Harris/Flickr

Chr. Hansen claims its new wine culture is a ‘fantastic launch’ that will greatly increase the speed and predictability of malolactic fermentation and remove the need for producers to use sulfites as preservatives.

Laurent Hubert, marketing director for wine cultures at the Danish-headquartered company, told BeverageDaily.com it isolated the trademarked strain from fermenting grape juice after it gained access to the culture collection of Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

Working with Prof. Maret du Toit from the university, Hubert said it took around three years for Chr. Hansen to progress from first discussions and isolating the strain to field trials with wineries and the launch today.

'Outstanding outcomes' in field trials

Last year Chr. Hansen worked with eight wineries to conduct field trials using the strain in warm climate regions – Southern France, Spain and Italy – and Hubert said this led to “outstanding outcomes”, with the first wines perhaps available from June/July 2014.

Viniflora NoVA is a new generation of Lactobacillus plantarum – especially suited for making red or rose wines in warm climate conditions – whereas previous cultures in the Viniflora range (for instance, 2012 launch Viniflora Freasy CH16 ) used the widely known lactic acid bacterium Oenococcus oeni.

Traditionally malolactic fermentation is induced following alcoholic fermentation, but Hubert said that managing this process is difficult, since it entails a harsh environment for a single-cell culture to work due the presence of alcohol (which means an acidic environment in this context) and the sulfites used by most winemakers.

“It’s a harsh situation to kick-off the fermentation and convert the malic acid into lactic acid,” Hubert said. “But if you move that before the alcoholic fermentation into the grape juice, and not the wine, then you remove some of the hurdles for the organism to work.”

Since there is no ethanol alcohol in the grape juice, as the yeast hasn’t started to transform the sugars into alcohol, Chr. Hansen reversed the scheme to make it easier for its cultures to achieve malolactic fermentation as the first stage, before moving on to alcoholic fermentation.

Process 'bio protects' wine in warm climates

The company claims this process also ‘bio protects’ the wine in warm climates and protects it from molds, yeasts and other spoilage bacteria that can degrade final wine quality – via off flavors or the presence of acetic acid – resulting in products with higher flavor intensity and complexity, and more high quality wine generally.

Using NoVa it takes just a week or 10 days maximum to ferment and stabilize the wine, Hubert said, which is much faster than current products (which take weeks) and means that winemakers can move from fermentation to maturation – saving time and improving production planning via consistent results.

Hubert also claims that Nova removes the need for winemakers to use sulfites anymore during the wine making process. “We’ve shown customers that in trials, although they were reluctant to try it initially”, he said, adding that they may choose to add small amounts when bottling wine to aid preservation during transit for export.

By inoculating the grape must with NoVa, Hubert says winemakers can tackle other microorganisms present there simply via competition for nutrients, while malolactic fermentation at this stage removes one of the nutrients (malic acid) that can be used by other bacteria. This removes the need for sulfites.

Viniflora NoVa is delivered frozen, and Hubert says it is no more expensive than any other culture at a cost of around 2 cents/liter of wine produced.

“We’ve had excellent feedback from the market, both from large wine companies – marketing departments working on non-sulfite ranges, but also boutique wineries that are much more classical in terms of how they see the wine-making process,” he said.

Talks to non-sulfite trend in Europe and US

“In France and generally in Europe, more people are producing low or no-sulfite wines, and they have issues with contamination. If you don’t use preservatives then you have deviation in your winery sometimes at the alcoholic fermentation or at the malolactic fermentation process.”

Hubert denied that Chr. Hansen had encountered strong industry resistance to NoVa from traditional wine makers in countries such as his native France, since the product originates naturally from grape juice, while it also speaks to clear industry needs.

“Sulfites in wine are an important issue for consumers with both the US and Europe – and it’s mandatory to label sulfites, around 10ppm is the general threshold. Normally, most wines are above this if you follow the classical production methods used over the past 40-50 years,” Hubert said.

“But there are more and more companies and wineries that want to produce with levels far lower than that, and there’s clearly a consumer-led demand for fewer preservatives in foods and beverages in general,” he added.

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4 comments

Time to look at the history of making wine.

Fellows I don’t live in a lab nor pay much attention to lab reports. I just try to enjoy the wine in the bottle and find what I can appreciate about it.

In my wine book library where some 300 volumes sing to me. I discovered some time ago that up until 1930 many French wine makers picked their grapes young so as not to have too much sugar. With too much sugar, the fermentation went wild and over overheated and the wine was spoiled. They had not way to cool the fermentation vats or barrels in those days. So they worked with wine that was high in acid and low in sugar by todays standards.

Thus they aged the wine in barrels for many years [ both white and red ] before the acid went through a malolactic fermentation which was complete. It seems that the high acid did a fine job of keeping the vinegar bacteria in control and others harmful bacteria and yeast during the aging on lees in the barrels.
Look up your Christies Auction records of 1800’s and you will see many Bordeaux reds being sold in barrels at 9 to 12 years of age. The wines simply were not drinkable until that much time in the barrel because of the initial high acid. I would say that they used Sulfites ( sulfur ropes or candles ) then to initially purify the barrel and occasionally as the amount of wine evaporated they used it before filling the barrel but they were confident that the acid and alcohol combined protected the wine in the barrel for many years. I do not know for sure if they did not rack and use new or used barrels around the fourth or sixth year but in any case they made fine wines without all the fruit forward techniques of today. You just had to wait longer for the wine to mature and be drinkable.
I want to say what I like to say to most in the scientific community. Know your history of your field before you start changing thins with a test tube and bunsen burner. 50 60 years ago most new wine makers in Napa had not interest in how wine was made in France or how it was made America before prohibition. This royal history of wine making of the 1700’ and 1800 has long be lost to the student in the classroom no matter what area of wine making you study. Everything is progressive thinking to creat markets for new products or new and improved products which results in less than beneficial benefits to the quality of the wine made
It was not important to wine makers 60 years ago in California or New York State then, as they were having cash flow problems and wanted to pick, ferment, bottles and sell ASAP. That mentality is still ever present in the wine world because too many making wine have cash flow problems. So picking grapes young with high acid and waiting five years to bottle whites and reds longer is not practical for most wine makers. Abandoning what Mother Nature allows you to do with grape juice without labs and technicians is a thought that scares a lot of winemakers because it effects their life style in the short term and perhaps in the long term. Instead they dabble around with a test tube and technical machines that allows them to adjust the juice just so. The result is homogenized wine, fruit forward wine that does not always get complimented by the food served and other off flavors that consumers may or may not adjust to. In time many will learn that Mother Nature can really make a lovely bottle of wine but you can not force this by planting everywhere with the same grapes and subjecting the juice to lab tests in order to change the character of the just fermented juice substantialy.
The wine industry is no longer a farming industry where you let Mother Nature give you what she will that year and you made the best you can with slight changes. It has become another money producing industry that will fall upon its own sword as wine drinkers are exposed to finer made wine in the traditional sense.

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Posted by Jean Lafite
04 June 2014 | 00h51

Focus on sulfites

The NoVA strain of Lactobacillus plantarum has been selected for rapid growth in grape juice, thereby outcompeting other bacteria, including acetic acid bacteria. This will result in less acetic acid bacteria during and at the end of winemaking thereby reducing the risk of acetic acid being produced.
SO2 additions vary greatly from wine region and wineries. In areas where there is a lot of rain in the ripening season, a relatively large amount of SO2 is used on grapes during crushing (and even during transport), especially if it has been a wet harvesting season. In these cases you can often get 20-50ppm total SO2 in the finished wine.
All commercial Oenococcus oeni cultures do NOT produce biogenic amines although some wild strains can. Therefore it is prudent to use commercial malolactic cultures to lower the risk of having high levels of biogenic amines in the final wine. In addition, some wild strains of Lactobacillus ssp. can produce biogenic amines. Chr. Hansen’s Lactobacillus plantarum strain (NoVA™) does NOT produce biogenic amines.
Yes, the use of Lactobacillus ssp. in wine is a new concept for winemakers. This was the same in case of non-Saccharomyces yeast, commercially launched a few years ago when winemakers assumed that all of them are bad. We have proven that selecting the right strains and inoculating them in a wine fermentation can significantly increase the quality of the wine. This is also true for Lactobacillus ssp. In our case we have selected the best positive strain of Lactobacillus ssp., a Lactobacillus plantarum that does not produce any volatile acidity or any negative flavours in wine but to the contrary produces positive fruity flavours through specific enzyme activities.
More information are available on our wine web site: chr.hansen.com/wine – within the chapter ‘bioprotection’

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Posted by Hentie Swiegers, PhD, Head of Wine Innovation, Chr. Hansen
30 May 2014 | 16h22

Focus on sulfites

The NoVA strain of Lactobacillus plantarum has been selected for rapid growth in grape juice, thereby outcompeting other bacteria, including acetic acid bacteria. This will result in less acetic acid bacteria during and at the end of winemaking thereby reducing the risk of acetic acid being produced.
SO2 additions vary greatly from wine regions and wineries. In areas where there is a lot of rain in the ripening season, a relatively large amount of SO2 is used on grapes during crushing (and even during transport), especially if it has been a wet harvesting season. In these cases you can often get 20-50ppm total SO2 in the finished wine.
All commercial Oenococcus oeni cultures do NOT produce biogenic amines although some wild strains can. Therefore it is prudent to use commercial malolactic cultures to lower the risk of having high levels of biogenic amines in the final wine. In addition, some wild strains of Lactobacillus ssp. can produce biogenic amines. Chr. Hansen’s Lactobacillus plantarum strain (NoVA™) does NOT produce biogenic amines.
Yes, the application of Lactobacillus ssp. in wine is a new concept for winemakers. The reaction was the same in the case of non-Saccharomyces yeast, commercially launched a few years ago, when winemakers assumed that all of them are bad. We have proven that selecting the right strains and inoculating them in a wine fermentation can significantly increase the quality of the wine. This is also true for Lactobacillus ssp. In our case we have selected the best positive strain of Lactobacillus ssp., a Lactobacillus plantarum that does not produce any volatile acidity or any negative flavours in wine but to the contrary produces positive fruity flavours through specific enzyme activities.

More information are available on our wine web site: chr.hansen.com/wine – within the chapter ‘bioprotection’

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Posted by Hentie Swiegers, PhD, Head of Wine Innovation, Chr. Hansen
30 May 2014 | 16h09

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