The Estación Enológica de Haro (EEH), located in the La Rioja region of Spain, is an oenological station belonging to the Government of La Rioja. Since its inception in 1892, the laboratory has become one of the country’s most significant wine testing facilities, using the latest technology to analyze Spanish wines. The EEH uses nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to obtain insights to quickly determine the origin and constituents in a wine sample. This in turn is helping to tackle the widespread demand for food safety and product certification. Here, Elena Melendez Alvarez and Eva Lopez Rituerto discuss their roles at the EEH and the work they carry out at the oenological station.
Elena Melendez Alvarez has been Director, Quality Manager and Head of Technical Support at the EEH since 2005. Her background was originally in Chemistry, and she happened upon the wine industry by chance: “The truth is, although it sounds like a cliché, it was the wine industry that chose me and not the other way around.” Recalling her first venture in the wine industry: “It all started with a scholarship as a technician in wine analysis at the EEH in 2001. Since then, my role has brought me such enjoyment that I haven’t looked back.” She continues: “It is not a routine or repetitive job – every day I learn something new and face situations that challenge me as a technician.”
Eva López Rituerto has held the position of Technical Manager of NMR at the EEH since 2015 and having grown up in La Rioja, her career has always been linked, in some way, to wine. When Eva started studying Chemistry, she focused on its application in the wine industry. “I did an internship in oenological research at the Government of La Rioja and liked it so much that I began my doctoral thesis at the University of La Rioja, whilst studying for a degree in Oenology,” she recalls. During this time, she was introduced to the world of NMR and its application in wine analysis: “My doctoral thesis focused on NMR as a tool in the study and control of the winemaking process. I visited the University of Copenhagen to learn about chemometrics applied to NMR spectra, which ultimately helped me to obtain my position at the EEH.”
The biggest shift the wine industry has seen in recent years is towards food safety and product certification. Issues such as traceability, and greater analytical control from vineyard to distribution and the final consumer, are growing in importance. There are also concerns as a result of climate change, for example, early sprouting and the imbalance between technological and phenolic maturity which results in higher alcohol percentages in the wines.
The EEH is ahead of the curve, helping to combat this by creating a reference database, in cooperation with Bruker, to introduce new quality controls such as Protected Designations of Origin and Protected Geographical Indications. Priority is given to obtaining wines of known and accredited traceability and authenticity. Therefore, all wines analyzed for the database are provided by official bodies, such as Spanish oenological stations and regulatory councils of appellations of origin.
Each sample that is received at the EEH is accompanied by details of the wine e.g., origin, grape variety (percentage), production method, vintage, and any specific information. Eva explains: “We are developing a Spanish wine database. We have built models of Spanish appellations of origin such as: DOCa. Rioja, DO. Navarra DO. Ribera de Duero, DO. Ribera de Guadiana, DO. Valencia, DO. Rías Baixas, DO. Rueda, and own Spanish varieties such as Monastrel, Albariño and Viura.”
In Spain, the sheer number and diversity of wines and varieties means that the collection of reference samples for the database has taken years. The EEH has been collecting wines of known origin throughout Spain for six years and to date has characterized more than 7000 wines. However, there are still many appellations of origin to be analyzed and the database is constantly being expanded, since the annual variability of new vintages must be included.
As one of the country’s most significant wine testing laboratories, the work carried out at the EEH is helping to safeguard the reputation of Spanish wines. “We receive daily enquiries regarding technical assistance that cover a wide range of topics, and come from different groups including wine producers, exporters, government organizations and other oenological stations throughout Spain,” says Elena, adding: “Our team of highly qualified staff has years of experience in meeting the demands of the sector, and our accreditation means we are uniquely positioned to ensure the quality of analyses, backed by technical expertise.”
Collaboration with other oenological stations and official agencies across Spain is vital. Elena states: “Without the support of these local institutions it would have been impossible to create the database. They are the ones who know their wines and their wineries better than anyone.”
To analyze the wine samples for the database, the EEH uses the Wine-Profiling™ module on the NMR FoodScreener® platform from Bruker. NMR is a highly reproducible analytical technique that helps confirm authenticity in the wine supply chain by providing a unique ‘fingerprint’ of a sample.
The Wine-Profiling module offers a comprehensive overview by providing quantitative data on 52 parameters, many of which are not routinely analyzed, such as polyphenols, amino acids, and aromatic compounds. It provides a complete overview of the wine in a single analysis, with the platform only requiring a sample size of less than 1 ml (900 μl) to determine the certification of origin and variety. The platform is used by authorities, including police investigators and border forces, around the world to detect and prevent wine fraud.
NMR provides many benefits to the EEH, but one that they regard the highest is the amount of information that is obtained. Eva explains: “Having the technology in our laboratory provides us with so much data on so many families of compounds in a single analysis, with such a small sample volume – all in a completely automated system.” She continues: “There is no other single analysis that can give you this amount of information with the quality of the data acquired.”
Speaking of how they first came across Bruker and the Wine-Profiling module, Eva explains: “Our former Director, Montserrat Iñiguez Crespo, was given a proposal outlining the application of NMR in wine analysis. At the time, it was very innovative as this concept did not exist in Spain – and still doesn’t outside of our laboratory.”
Eva adds: “I had previous experience of using NMR, which aided in the set-up of the instrument, but the Wine-Profiling module has a very easy-to-use interface that facilitates automatic analysis.”
Having the Wine-Profiling platform in the laboratory has meant that the EEH has been able to widen its testing menu, which in turn has helped wine producers to protect the value of their wine. Commenting on the service they provide to the Spanish wine industry, Elena adds: “We provide our customers with a tool to protect their brand against fraud, so everyone involved in the distribution chain can guarantee the product they are buying is labelled accurately.”
The EEH not only uses the Wine-Profiling for certification but also for other analyses such as ‘Identity Check’, which allows the comparison of two wines to confirm they are the same. This is a particularly useful tool to protect wineries and exporters when purchasing wine in bulk. Another use is evaluating a winery’s suitability to become a producer of appellations of origin wines.
On the decision to collaborate with Bruker, Elena and Eva state Bruker’s methodology as one of the most appealing aspects: “Bruker developed a methodology that had been accredited to ISO 17025, which was pioneering in the wine sector. This opened up so many possibilities in fraud control.”
The EEH has to be flexible and adapt to the specific analysis requirements – the support they have been given by Bruker and its technical specialists has been paramount in developing the service. Eva explains: “From our very first conversations right through to installation and aftercare, the level of service Bruker provides is unparalleled. We receive so much support locally, through Bruker Spain and further afield from the technical teams in Germany.” She continues: “The technical support, for us, has been very important as we are able to expand our knowledge about the instrumentation and thus give a better service to our customers.”
The EEH defines the relationship with Bruker as ‘symbiotic’, as they share the common goal of contributing knowledge and data to further develop the capabilities of the Wine-Profiling module.
Looking to the future, the EEH wants to continue its work, which includes configuring most, if not all, of the appellations of origin in Spain to expand the database. Also a priority are the studies it carries out for clients and its collaborations with institutions to continue expanding the NMR analytical platform for its customers throughout Spain.
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