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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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