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WSU’s Voice of the Vine- Why Fine a Wine, Field Guide, Contribute to Science

Posted by l.meyer | August 21, 2013

Why Fine a Wine: Visiting Wine Scientist from Germany Talks Production

Jessica Munnell, winemaker at Mercer Wines, applies different fining agents to wine in the lab at WSU Tri-Cities. Photo by Kristin de la Rosa/WSU.
Jessica Munnell, winemaker at Mercer Wines, applies different fining agents to wine in the lab at WSU Tri-Cities. Photo by Kristin de la Rosa/WSU.

In the film Bottle Shock, based on a true story of the late 1970s “Judgment of Paris” wine competition, winemaker Jim Barrett almost throws out his chardonnay when it turns brown in the bottles. His son, however, keeps the wine and later discovers it’s only a temporary effect caused by reduced oxygen during winemaking. Reference to the film and reductionist techniques were part of the greater conversation on wine production when Oliver Schmidt, Lecturer in Enology at the State Institute for Viticulture, Enology and Fruit Technology in Germany, recently met with Washington winemakers in Woodinville and Tri-Cities.

“I see so many possibilities for wine styles in Washington State,” said Thomas Henick-Kling, director of the Washington State University viticulture and enology program. “This seminar and workshop series was a way to look at our options in theory and in practice – to review and discuss options for grape handling and wine styles. This will help us develop our wine styles with distinct aromas and excellent texture. We plan to expand such exchanges, theory and practice, with winemakers from around the world offering our Washington winemakers opportunities to look at our possibilities and test experience from around the world.”

The seminars and workshop — hosted by the WSU Viticulture and Enology program, Henick-Kling, and Dr. Richard Larsen — focused on processing white grapes, juice clarification, and fining techniques. “German winemakers have been masters of Riesling for so long—that’s why it was valuable to have Oliver Schmidt, who lives and works in that part of the world, come and speak with us,” said Michael Moyer, Associate Winemaker and Enologist at Figgins Winery in Walla Walla, Washington. “Whether you are talking about skin contact time or oxidative versus reductive winemaking, they had data to show what the effects of wine would be with various treatments.”

A workshop participant analyzes clarification and stabilization techniques. Photo by Kristin de la Rosa/WSU.

Introducing Techniques for Fining Wine

Garrett Grubbs, an assistant winemaker at Brian Carter Cellars, who earned his Viticulture and Enology Certificate at WSU, said he learned that sometimes winemakers might be too gentle when processing grapes. It might be beneficial to “beat them up a bit,” he said, so they gain phenolic compounds and aromatic compounds, and then “fine back” the wines to get the texture back into balance. “Everyone can ferment grapes; it’s the small details that change the outcome and create those distinct qualities in the wine,” Grubbs said.

The main reason for fining a premium wine is texture, which can be refined by keeping phenolics (the chemical compounds that influence the, color and mouthfeel of wine) and acids in balance. Linn Scott, assistant winemaker at Sparkman Cellars and lecturer in viticulture and enology at South Seattle Community College, came away from the seminar with new information about how phenolic extraction, as well as mechanical damage, enzymes, and temperature, can influence wine.

“I am curious about the idea of skin contact for differentiation of wine styles — a bit of skin contact can give you a bigger, broadly textured phenolic character in the wine,” he said. “Whereas if you did a rapid pressing, minimized skin contact, and fermented the wine, it would have a very different profile.

Hands-on Practice for a Hands-on Industry

Oliver Schmidt, lecturer in Enology at the State Institute for Viticulture works with a participant in the lab. Photo by Kristin de la Rosa/WSU.

Several winemakers also spent an afternoon in the WSU Tri-Cities lab with Schmidt practicing clarification and stabilization of wine color and flavors.

“It was a great experience to be part of the workshop,” said Jessica Munnell, winemaker at Mercer Wines, who tried different fining techniques in the lab such as using fresh egg whites, adding gelatin and isinglass, and applying different commercial PVPPs (polyvinylpolypyrrolidone). “We were in a classroom and heard a lecture, but then we went to the lab where it was very hands-on and applicable. [The class] wasn’t just to learn the theory, and it was incredibly valuable for people just getting into the wine industry.”

While the film Bottle Shock told a story of competition within the industry, the participants at the recent WSU seminars and workshops also highly regard collaboration and cooperation as an avenue to provide better understanding of how to make a premium wine. They agreed working with a researcher from such a well-respected wine region was invaluable, especially as Washington’s wine industry continues to grow, and as Grubbs put it, transforms into a wine region where “you can’t plant fast enough.”

“It’s essential to hear the research, practical knowledge, and perspective of other researchers in other regions,” Scott adds. “Often they encounter the same problems as we do, but come at solving them from a different angle. To really become a world-class region, the relationships we, as a state, build throughout the wine world are critical.”

For more information on upcoming educational opportunities and events see

-Rachel Webber

New Hands-On Educational Tool Available

fieldguideAnyone interested in growing grapes for juice or wine will want to get a copy of the newly released Field Guide for Integrated Pest Management in Pacific Northwest Vineyards (PNW644). The guide features over 240 full-color illustrations of the region’s most common pests, diseases, weeds, and abiotic stresses, along with detailed descriptions of recommended monitoring and management methods for vineyards.

This vineyard management manual is the result of collaboration among experts in fields ranging from entomology and plant pathology to viticulture, and has been written by 24 specialists from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho’s leading universities, related industries, and the USDA. More than just a book for trouble-shooting problems, PNW644 presents information about general vineyard management for a systems-wide integrated pest management (IPM) approach.

Production of the IPM field guide was made possible by funding from the Western Integrated Pest Management Center and Washington Wine Industry Foundation. A limited number of free copies will be available for participants at various WSU Viticulture Extension events throughout the year; next on the schedule is the August 16 Washington State Viticulture Field Day in Prosser, organized by the Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center. Copies also may be purchased ($30) from the WSU Extension Online Store.

For additional information on grape production and upcoming Viticulture & Enology events, visit

Contribute to Science! Mite Survey for Washington State Grape Growers

Lorraine Seymour, associate in research at WSU-IAREC. Photo courtesy WSU.
Lorraine Seymour, associate in research at WSU-IAREC. Photo courtesy WSU.

Researchers at WSU-IAREC are conducting a survey to understand the various mite populations present in the major wine grape regions of Washington State. If you have had mite problems in the past or are noticing any leaf-bronzing in your vineyard and you are interested in participating in this study, please contact Lorraine Seymour at: or 509-832-2821.

The team is looking for approximately 30 vineyards in lower valley areas that they can visit bi-monthly between now and harvest.