The wine industry’s innovation journey to solve winemaking issues begins with partnerships
The impact of wildfires on grapes, wine, and the bottom line is a steadily growing worry for the West Coast wine industry. Recent heavy winter rains are refilling reservoirs and aquifers, which will help alleviate, but not eliminate, wildfire risk. On the other hand, there will be more “dry grass” — the perfect fuel for wildfires to propagate.
“Unfortunately, It’s very difficult to predict wildfires, and when they happen, one of the biggest problems is smoke taint in the wine, especially in California, Oregon, and Washington,” says Antonino Li Brizzi, CEO of Della Toffola USA, which serves the wine community. “Even half an hour of contact with the smoke caused by wildfires can be enough to contaminate the grape and the wine, making it unpleasant or frequently unsellable. Some of our customers have faced the risk of losing a vintage, which would impact the winery economically.”
Wineries and suppliers are using a variety of solutions to treat this complex event, from preventative treatments in the vineyard, such as coating the grapes with a protective film or washing them with sodium bicarbonate, and during winemaking, such as flavor-enhancing yeast or flash tank Biothermo Cooler technology.
Della Toffola USA’s solution was to develop a special reverse osmosis membrane loose enough to remove the volatile smoke-taint phenols and tight enough to retain the components that enhance the wine. The resulting permeate is treated with a food-grade absorbent targeted to the specific phenols that cause the smoke taint and then recombined with the wine. The entire process operates within Della Toffola’s self-contained and highly automated Moviro reverse osmosis system.
A few months ago, a Sonoma County winery turned to Della Toffola USA’s system to treat the smoke taint in over 140,000 gallons of Barbera, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, and as a result, all were bottled and sold with success. At the same time, the Della Toffola USA team treated an additional 40,000 gallons of Zinfandel, Syrah, Barbera and Cabernet Sauvignon for four El Dorado County wineries, obtaining the same results.
In each case, no smoke taint descriptors were present after treatment, and trained panelists could not single out the treated wines in blind tests, although they sometimes found the sensory profile of the treated wine better than the previous vintage.
“There are other good solutions in the market,” says Li Brizzi, “but the reason we are so excited by our membrane is that aging did not impact the treated wine. Even after 22 months, the wine hadn’t presented smoke taint again. So, we successfully eradicated the problem.”
Wineries facing smoke taint are often hesitant to publicize the problem, which is also true when a wine has a microbial issue. However, when a winery works closely with a supplier, a relationship of trust develops, allowing them to collaborate on a solution. Li Brizzi shares a recent story of a customer who was open with them about this delicate subject of sterility. Della Toffola treated three red wine varieties with its cross-flow ceramic membrane technology, cleaning out the bacteria and leaving a sterile product. This solution achieved the initial goal of clarification and produced a wine that will remain stable in the bottle without further microbial activity.
Trusting relationships like these encourage companies to adopt innovative technologies to help them create better wines and grow their businesses. Even small wineries with limited capital availability can take advantage of these solutions through Della Toffola USA’s rental services. Talking openly about winemaking difficulties also encourages innovation, which Li Brizzi believes will move in three directions:
- Reduce waste and consumption: Solutions such as using filtration to save smoke-tainted wines and reducing chemical and water usage.
- Make equipment easier to operate: Employee turnover and a shrinking labor pool are growing problems across the wine industry. Easy-to-use solutions help wineries compensate for the loss of experienced workers.
- Automation: Adopting and improving automation helps reduce operational costs and adapt to labor shortages. One of Della Toffola USA’s newest solutions, the Ampelos pneumatic presser, automates the entire pressing cycle. In addition, artificial intelligence (AI) allows the winemaker to optimize the outcome by setting parameters such as color and turbidity while internal sensors monitor and report progress.
“Della Toffola USA’s innovation journey has three main directions,” says Li Brizzi, “and everything we develop goes in these three directions. I believe that AI will disrupt the industry, and our only choice is to take advantage of it to optimize our jobs and reduce operational costs.”
To help wineries adopt AI, Della Toffola is offering US customers the opportunity to test its new intelligent presser at no initial capital expense.
“We install it, you use it, and if you love it, you keep it; if not, we take it back,” says Li Brizzi. “It’s a significant investment, but we’re so behind this technology that we want to share the risk with our customers. We want to partner with medium or large wineries that want to improve their operations.”
To learn more about how to treat smoke taint, automate winemaking or take advantage of AI, view their website, reach out via email at email@example.com – or visit Della Toffola at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in booth #C4 this week.