By Elizabeth Hans McCrone
Gone are the days when screw caps and synthetic cork wine closures automatically translated to inferior wine.
Most industry professionals today agree that technological advances in how wine is sealed have not only protected the contents as well as natural cork, but also created more options for winemakers seeking innovative ways to continually improve their craft.
According to Don Huffman, Wine Quality and Education Manager for Vinventions LLC, an international company offering closure solutions to winemakers worldwide, the operative term here is Oxygen Management.
“Outside, respected institutions have validated that just subtle differences in oxygen can control maturation in a bottle,” Huffman reports. “Winemakers know that if you have control of oxygen in the wine and the bottle, you get an equation that will ultimately be successful.”
To that end, Vinventions, and other companies like it, have created a broad range of closures that include those made from plant-based renewable materials, micro-agglos that are now glue-free, advanced synthetics, natural cork and screw caps all with an eye toward wine preservation and controlled O2 ingress.
Huffman says winemakers are concerned with a formulaic process that combines desorption, a phenomenon that occurs when a substance (like O2) is released through a surface during bottling, coupled with the oxygen transfer rate (OTR) of the closure, to make a single ingress calculation. This is something that contemporary closures take into account.
“A winemaker can choose something ‘tight’ or more ‘open,'” Huffman points out. “Trained winemakers today are choosing between different levels of oxygen, because some (of them) want to control that relationship from start to finish.”
Huffman will be moderating a panel discussion about the impact of oxygen management on the sensory profiles of wine after bottling at the 7th Annual North Coast Wine Industry Conference and Trade Show scheduled for Thursday, December 6 at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, CA.
The workshop Huffman will be part of is called “Oxygen Management: Closures and Wine Aging.” It will include a trial tasting of wines that have been bottled for at least two years.
“I’m going to pour two wines that contain trace amounts of oxygen level differences in the bottle,” Huffman confirms. “We’ll have the winemakers taste the difference and explain what’s going on.”
Huffman will be joined on the Oxygen Management: Closures and Wine Aging panel by Michael Cox, winemaker with Schug Winery. Cox attended UCLA as a chemical engineering student before transferring to UC Davis and graduating with a degree in Enology in 1991. He was the Head Winemaker at Napa Valley Cellars before joining Schug in 1995.
Steve Matthiasson, winemaker with Matthiasson Wines, will also be part of the panel discussion. Matthiasson has a background in horticulture and viticulture. In 1991, he began working for a small, sustainable, agriculture consulting firm and in 1999, he co-authored the California manual on sustainable vineyard practices. Since 2003 he has focused on his own family farming and winemaking.
Hoss Milone, winemaker with Brutocoa Family Vineyards, completes the panel lineup. Milone worked as a boy on the Milone family ranches, vineyards and orchards in Hopland, CA. In 1997, his family started the Milano Winery and in 1983, he became the Assistant Winemaker there. In 1991, he went to work at Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery where he worked for 18 years. In 2009, Milone returned home with Brutacoa Family Vineyards and assumed the role of Head Winemaker.
The Oxygen Management: Closures and Wine Aging session is part of the WIN Expo Winemaking Conference Track at the North Coast Wine Industry Expo in Santa Rosa December 6, 2018. For more information on individual sessions and speakers or to register for the WIN Expo trade show and conference visit wineindustryexpo.com/conference.