Monday, November 08, 2004

Eliminating Brett...

It appears that some of the major wine critics are unwilling to demand wines free of Brettanomyces (Brett) contamination, as they can “tolerate it”. In fact, it’s well documented that (in general) scores given by some wine critics rise with increasing Brett levels, while scores by consumers decrease. (Bisson, link)

So exactly what good are the critics doing for us (the consumers) if we can’t “trust” the review scores they give?

And as far as Brett is concerned...I cannot, nay – will not – tolerate it.
What can we do then to minimize the effects of – or eradicate – Brett in the wine industry?

First we have to demand better sanitation in the cellars. While it’s true that Brett can come into the cellar on infected fruit, or infected equipment, the greatest threat that Brett poses is an infection of the entire inventory of a cellar through cross-contamination.

In the field:
Force viticultural changes that lead to better ripeness, and demand more sunlight exposure on the fruit. This will lead to better color in the fruit & wines, as well as reduce the potential for Brett (some of the precursor color compounds are also precursors of 4-ethylphenol [4ep] which are eliminated in riper fruit).

Change your fruit sources to growers that haven’t had fruit with Brett problems in the past.

Sanitize all field equipment between every picking/vineyard to ensure that you aren’t transferring Brett problems into everything you bring into your winery.

In the winery:
First, maintain individual vineyard lots so there’s no co-mingling of possible problems into other wines (this is going to tweak those producers who are still just dumping all their fruit into large generic fermentations without regard to quality).

Secondly, sanitize all equipment between every wine you handle to reduce chances of cross-contamination.

Then start to sanitize the heck out of all wooden cooperage (wood fermentation tanks, wood storage tanks, ovals, puncheons, etc)

Anything made of wood that shows contamination should probably be decommissioned. Reconditioning does work, but is risky if you aren’t familiar with how to do it…Ozone is showing good signs of effectiveness in the war against Brett, but is somewhat expensive.

Apply SO2 in larger batches, less frequently, to have a better kill effect on Brett, as well as lower the temperature in your cellar to maintain a less inviting environment for it to grow in.

Finally, filter ANYTHING that starts to show signs of infection.
You could even post-fermentation filter every red wine to reduce any undetected Brett load in your winery…maybe just stop releasing unfiltered wines altogether (Boulton, Butzke, et al, @ UC Davis have been saying this for years!). This does add costs onto your production runs, but is essential for strict control of your product’s quality.

While the above isn’t a guarantee that your winery won’t find some infected lots from time to time…but it’ll keep those infections in small manageable lots, and allow you to safeguard your wines more effectively.
It’d also be a great step forward in reducing the total amount of Brett infections, and therefore reduce the number of tainted wines that we consumers would be presented with.


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