“What’s wrong with my wine?” Bringing you ways to improve the quality of your wine by minimizing the effects of wine defects

By: Denise Gardner

Hydrogen sulfide, oxidation, volatile acidity… they happen every year.

But what is a producer to do?  How do you even know which wine defect you have going on in the cellar?

Luckily, Penn State Extension offers the Wine Quality Improvement (WQI) short course every January, which was designed specifically for local producers.  While Extension currently provides various fact sheets for winemakers in need of addressing various production problems:

this two-day, sensory-intensive workshop will leave attendees feeling more confident in identifying production problems as they happen in the cellar.  We will cover all of those pesky quality defects that occur quite often, even to the best producers:

  • Oxidation,
  • Volatile acidity,
  • Sulfur-like off-odors (sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, mercaptans/thiols, and disulfides),
  • Unripe, green flavors (methoxypyrazines),
  • Cork taint (TCA), and
  • Brettanomyces (Brett) associated flavors
Prepping wine sensory standards for the WQI workshop. Photo by: Michael Black/Black Sun Photography

Prepping wine sensory standards for the WQI workshop. Photo by: Michael Black/Black Sun Photography

Not only will you be exposed to individual standards of each one of these defects, a series of lectures will review ways to prevent the defects during production and how to treat them if they occur in your wine.

Student volunteers help prep wine sensory standards for the WQI short course. Photo by: Michael Black/Black Sun Photography

Student volunteers help prep wine sensory standards for the WQI short course. Photo by: Michael Black/Black Sun Photography

Additionally, the WQI will host a series of hands-on rotations to expose attendees to wine sensory evaluations and improve each individual’s tasting ability:

  • Using wine defect kits to train yourself, cellar personnel, and tasting room staff in identifying problematic wines. It’s a good idea to train as many employees in sensory-related wine defects because everyone’s sensory abilities differ.  For example, your winemaker may not be able to smell or taste hydrogen sulfide!  If that is the case, it’s essential to find another employee that can screen wines before they are bottled for this common defect.  Otherwise, a winery may send faulty wine straight out of the tasting room!  BONUS: All attendees will walk away with their very own defects aroma kit to take back with them and use for in-house training sessions.
Industry members "test" each other's sensory acuity with use of wine defects kits. Photo by: Michael Black/Black Sun Photography

Industry members “test” each other’s sensory acuity with use of wine defects kits. Photo by: Michael Black/Black Sun Photography

  • Learn how to make sensory standards to train cellar personnel and improve their tasting skills. Have you ever wondered how “experts” pick up the smell of fresh currants in wine?  Or what makes a wine “jammy” instead of “fresh fruit?”  We’ll teach you how to make standards using materials that can be found in the average household and show you how to utilize the standards for sensory training at the winery or tasting room.
Wine sensory standards. Photo by: Michael Black/Black Sun Photography

Wine sensory standards. Photo by: Michael Black/Black Sun Photography

  • Discover your threshold for these wine defects. Using the Department of Food Science’s state of the art Sensory Evaluation Center, all attendees will have the opportunity to figure out how easily they can smell several technical wine defects.  Who knows?  You may find out you can smell one – or more – of these defects!
Sensory threshold testing in red wine. Photo by: Michael Black/Black Sun Photography

Sensory threshold testing in red wine. Photo by: Michael Black/Black Sun Photography

  • Evaluate commercial wines. Each attendee has the opportunity to bring a bottle of wine with them that they would like evaluated.  We’ll code each wine so that all attendees don’t know what they are tasting, and taste them as a group to provide feedback to each individual that submits a wine.
Industry members evaluate each others' wines, which will provide valuable feedback to producers. Photo by: Michael Black/Black Sun Photography

Industry members evaluate each others’ wines, which will provide valuable feedback to producers. Photo by: Michael Black/Black Sun Photography

  • Practice tasting benchmark wines. I am often asked how I know what makes a good Cabernet or Chardonnay.  The answer: I’ve done A LOT of sensory training… but so can you!  Half of understanding wine quality is learning to identify faults and the other half is learning subjective quality parameters, which may be variety, style, or regionally specific.  While the focus of the WQI is to teach attendees how to identify faults or defects, we’ll take some time to run a benchmark wine tasting session using well-known commercial wines to emphasize other quality parameters. Learning wine styles and common wine descriptors helps you get in tune with sommeliers and consumers.  Plus, it helps create goals in the winery for the style of wine you are producing.
Pouring wines for sensory evaluation. Photo by: Michael Black/Black Sun Photography

Pouring wines for sensory evaluation. Photo by: Michael Black/Black Sun Photography

This workshop has always been rated highly amongst industry producers.  Many have complemented our ability to make producers aware of problem-points in the winery, and change those places in production to avoid future mistakes.

Another great part of this program is learning how to fix these problematic wines when issues occur.  As we all know, there is often not one way to fix a wine when something goes wrong, and more often than not, problem wines usually have more than one problem!  What’s a winemaker to do?

Interested in this program?  Hopefully you can join us!  More information on the full agenda, cost, and registration for the WQI can be found on our Penn State Extension registration website.  Have more questions on this workshop?  Feel free to email Denise Gardner, Extension Enologist, at dxg241@psu.edu.

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2 responses to ““What’s wrong with my wine?” Bringing you ways to improve the quality of your wine by minimizing the effects of wine defects”

  1. Stephen Bahn says :

    I don’t see a date when or location where this two-day seminar is to be held.

    Thanks you.

    Steve Bahn
    717-825-7479

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