“That’s how we passed from blood, to spirits, to wine.” Were a wine lover to hear this out of context, they might recoil in horror at the merest association between the two. For Luv Valecha and his two friends and colleagues, Aurore Ceyrolle and Hugo Gradel, the link is critical.
The three students from the Institut d’Optique Graduate School, part of the Université Paris-Saclay in France, have created a unique, portable device, adapted from existing blood analysis technology invented by biotech start-up Archimej Technology, which allows for the real-time control of wine quality.
So how did they go from blood to wine? Mr Valecha said it started on the innovation and entrepreneurship programme he and his colleagues took during the first year of their master’s. Students had to propose ideas to students to adapt the companies’ technology.
‘What we thought was alcohol. It started with spirits. Our friends were in China on an internship and they saw the problem of counterfeit spirits. We started [with the idea] of creating a device that could detect fake bottles of spirits by analysing the product itself.’
‘As I’m from Bordeaux…we changed our business. We went to different wineries and they told us that they sent wine, every month to a lab for analysis, so why not work on analysing wine? I think detecting fake bottles wine will be a great product in years to come as, in Russia, [a high percentage] of wine bottles sold are fake. The problem of counterfeit [wine] in China is big.’
Archimej’s monitor analyses blood by performing a full panel of blood tests, looking at 10 to 20 biomarkers – including cardiac and liver – in a sample. The wine monitor uses this principle to assess the wine quality during production.
‘What a winemaker does is take some samples from different stages of the production and sends them to labs to test the alcohol degree, sugar quantity, acid levels. We want to test these parameters at the winery,” Mr Valecha explained.
He said winemakers were interested in the product even at this early stage, when they are monitoring only one or two parameters – sugar levels and one of the acids. In the future, they hoped to analyse all the acids, pH, sugar, and sulphur levels.
A winemaker’s perspective
When asked to review the monitor, winemaker at Enotria & Coe, Freddie Cobb said: ‘As we all know, wine is a living product that is constantly evolving, whether it be in the vineyard, during fermentation or ageing in tank, barrel and bottle. So there is always a desire by all winemakers to have an instant snapshot of how these wines are evolving and help them to make decisions in to optimise the organoleptic profile and limit the risk of spoilage’.
‘At the minute it has its limitations in analysing just one or two parameters, which can be easily and cheaply analysed in house. Nonetheless this could become a very useful piece of piece of equipment to have if the technology is developed to analyse more parameters in the future.’
Cost of Analysis
According to Mr Valecha, winemakers currently spend around €2,500 every year for lab analysis, a costly and time-consuming but vital expense, given that whole barrels of wine can be lost if they are not monitored during production.
‘The reactions during the transformation of the wine [can be damaging]. If you don’t add enough sulphur wine can become bad because bacteria can develop. It will ruin a whole barrel, around 225 litres. If you sell a normal bottle of 75cl for 20 bucks, it’s a lot of money lost.’
‘It rarely happens because winemakers and oenologists are very good, they know much about the process. But [some] small winemakers don’t have enough money to analyse their wine, so that’s why we want to develop this product.’
Though they don’t have a price yet, the students do not want to exceed €5,000. Mr Valecha believes the monitor will cover a winemaker’s expenses and will be a sound investment as they can ‘test production faster, easier and won’t have to pay for each analysis.’
Given the centuries of winemaking traditions the long-established vineyards have employed, what has been the reaction to the new technology? Mr Valecha said there was still some suspicion from his native vintners, despite the obvious need for some to embrace technology to keep up in an unforgiving industry.
‘Some winemakers don’t want to hear anything about tech because they can smell the wine, taste the wine and that’s what’s most important. They’re very traditional,’ he said. ‘The problem is if we sell it to huge wineries, around them: everyone will have to adapt very fast.’
‘The market in France is some are against tech, some are pro tech, but the market in the rest of Europe or America, they’re very receptive to new tech.’
Cobb believed wine technology needs to be a complimentary constituent part of good winemaking saying; ‘I am always slightly apprehensive of this type of technology, as it can lead to “lazy winemaking” where winemakers can become over reliant on it. The best winemakers use both chemical analysis and more importantly organopletic properties to base their decisions. In this day and age, consumers are looking for expressive wines, yet striving for consistency in terms of quality.’
Mr Valecha joked that were Paris-Saclay to be situated in California, he would have no barriers. As a Frenchman though, he has a strong sense of national pride.
‘We love wine and when you’re from Bordeaux and you don’t like wine…everyone hates you,’ he said. ‘Wine is the main thing that gives France it’s culinary image. We are developing French tech, [for] a French product known all over the world,’ he said. ‘But, I think in one or two years, why not go to other countries, where we can touch the market.’