Estación Enológica de Haro (Haro Enological Station) has purchased a Wine-ProfilingTM system, an analysis method that makes it possible for a wine’s “fingerprint” to be obtained
It is the laboratory of reference for analyzing Spanish wines and entering Spanish wine samples into a worldwide database
For NMR analysis, wine samples require just a simple pH adjustment.
Estación Enológica de Haro looks to the future with the same passion as it looks back upon its past. Its hundred-year-old history, and, above all, its relentless betting on innovation, has placed this station among the most prestigious viticultural laboratories in Spain. The most recent step has been the acquisition of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance equipment. Such equipment is branded Wine-ProfilingTM and makes it possible to obtain a wine’s “fingerprint”, attesting to its origin in any business transaction conducted by a winery. To enable this, a database collecting the whole range of wines produced in different countries needs to be created first. In Spain, this task is going to be performed only and exclusively by Estación Enológica, which will be the laboratory of reference for analyzing samples of all Spanish wines, and entering them into the worldwide database.
Estación Enológica de Haro is facing a new, exciting challenge: implementing a technique that is state-of-the-art in the field of enology, i.e., Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) for wine analysis in Spain. The station has conditioned a room in one of its centennial buildings to accommodate the equipment, branded Wine-ProfilingTM, developed by the German company Bruker, with which it is working on this huge-scale project that will be implemented in various phases. The primary, but not sole, purpose is to help the sector with wine business transactions, both at a domestic and international level. With this project, the Enological Station regains its pioneering role and is once more making a bet on the most innovative techniques, as was the case in 1999, when it became the first Spanish station to be accredited by the ENAC [Spanish National Accreditation Agency] for most of the parameters it analyzes.
Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) is a very versatile technique. Its scope of application is quite diverse and covers various segments, ranging from clinical applications for identifying disease markers, to the food and beverage industry, where it is used to certify the origin of foods and beverages, or in the field of viticultural research.
Within this context, in the winemaking arena, Wine-ProfilingTM equipment allows the simultaneous identification of, for now, about 50 compounds from each wine sample; specifically, all those having hydrogen in their chemical structure, which is most of them. Each compound being analyzed represents several signals in the spectrum, all of them as a whole put together a unique profile for each wine. Drawing an analogy, the parameters being analyzed (such as ethanol, malic acid, and alcohol), when combined, result in a spectrum that could resemble the grooves in a human fingerprint, in the sense that they are unique to and characteristic of each wine, as is each person’s fingerprint.
Magnetic resonance analysis of a sample requires less than one milliliter of wine, and the sample is prepared very easily, by means of a simple pH adjustment, so no information is lost in pre-treatments. Once ready, the wine sample, as if it were a patient, enters the center of the equipment’s magnet, which takes a snapshot of its inside. But in this case, instead of an image, a spectral profile is obtained, i.e., a set of signals that delineate the wine’s “fingerprint” (Figure 1).
This “fingerprint” is entered into a database that contains samples of other wines, establishing their similarities and differences. Based on this comparative chemometric analysis (statistics applied to physico-chemical test results), the Wine-ProfilingTM equipment issues a report that shows how the wine being analyzed compares to the others included in the wine bank as regards varieties, years of vintage, and winemaking areas and countries. A wine’s origin, variety and vintage can be accurately determined by comparison. Figure 2 shows the result for a sample that has been compared to the wines included in the database. The sample analyzed is from a Spanish wine, specifically one from Rioja, of the Garnacha tinta [red Grenache] variety, made in 2012.
As can be seen, the creation of a database covering the huge diversity of wines existing in the sector is a prerequisite for the use of this technique. The larger the number of samples and the better the plurality of wines is reflected, the more accurate the determination of their origin can be, not only at a country, autonomous community or designation of origin level; it could also be possible to determine which municipal district or winery they come from, as long as there are wines from that municipal district or winery in the database.
Right now, the database is in the development phase, in which wine-producing countries from around the world ―France, Italy, Germany, U.S., Argentina, South Africa, Australia… and, of course, Spain— are participating, each of them contributing samples of their own wines. In our country, it is Estación Enológica de Haro who is solely responsible for developing this worldwide wine bank in collaboration with Bruker, the Germany-based company marketing the Wine-ProfilingTM equipment, which also coordinates the database.
Being part of this worldwide network is going to allow the Spanish winemaking sector to be able to certify its wines at origin and destination, being certain that analyses and results will be the same in both countries. This represents an advancement in the traceability of wine business transactions, with the consequent ability to control sabotage and fraud, which results in a degree of security to the sector.
At a practical level, when a Spanish winery is selling a large amount of wine to another country —e.g., China—, it will be able to analyze and certify its wine using this equipment in Spain, and then in China. In this way, it will secure the sale with the buyer, knowing for certain that its wine will test exactly the same in any country, as it will always be compared to the same database.
In creating the database of Spanish wines, Estación Enológica de Haro will be supported by the Spanish Enological Stations and various official agencies involved in the viticultural sector around the country, which will allow the collection of samples to be performed as thoroughly as possible. The wines becoming part of the database must be genuine, and their origin and processing must be attested to by an official agency or backed by official certification. Additionally, they must be wines in the marketing phase. Therefore, it is of the essence that Designations of Origin, Enological Stations and, of course, wineries, be involved.
Coordination and responsibility for its development has been assumed by the Autonomous Community of La Rioja through its Enological Station, and integrated into the Viticultural Research Department, which, over the next few years, will gradually populate this wine bank until every Spanish Designation of Origin can be certified.
It is expected that 3,500 wine samples from all winemaking regions in Spain will be added to the database during the first year. Regions and Designations of Origin exporting a greater volume of wine will have a more significant representation. This means that one of them will be DOC Rioja [Rioja Qualified Designation of Origin], which leads the way as the winemaking region with the largest export volume, accounting for approximately 20% of the total. Its presence in the database will therefore be fundamental.
In Spain, there are 90 Protected Viticultural Designations of Origin, and each of them includes a wide diversity of wine types and varieties that, over the years and based on market needs, will be gradually entered into the database using Wine-ProfilingTM.
A huge potential
Although the first and foremost goal of the equipment is to provide wineries with a certificate of traceability and origin of their wines, thus facilitating sales both in the domestic market and for export, the huge potential of the nuclear magnetic resonance technique for other applications may have a strong impact on the sector in the future.
A winery may conduct, e.g., an analysis of all its wines, obtaining the winery’s fingerprint, which will be its unique, particular seal. This fingerprint, in addition to representing its best credentials in any marketplace in the world, will also help it screen their wines for sabotage and fraud.
It may also be used as a measure of control for bulk purchases of wine, as it will be possible to determine whether the crop, variety and origin of the wine being purchased are actually those stated. Likewise, Wine-ProfilingTM may become a tool of enormous interest to Regulatory Councils as far as wine quality control and certification are concerned.
In the field of research, this nuclear magnetic resonance equipment offers many possibilities of great interest. The enormous variety of data being handled would make it possible, e.g., to look at the progress of crops based on weather or soil conditions, which would be very helpful for studies on the impact of weather changes on the vineyard. Furthermore, the availability of a wine’s “fingerprint” opens up the field of application to the search for differentiation markers. It could thus be used to support other research studies, in order to determine the differences between wines made using different crop-growing techniques, different varieties, or different wine production techniques, for the purpose of helping improve the wine production process and the wine’s quality.
©Cuaderno de campo. Gobierno de La Rioja