Wine Science Forum: Lessons in Oxygen Management from Industry Leaders

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of attending the first ever Wine Science Forum hosted by Nomacorc, a world leader in alternative wine bottle closure systems. The goal of this forum was to bridge the gap between what research has found regarding oxygen management in wine and what is currently in practice at wineries all over the globe. Roughly 200 people attended this event, with an estimated 80-90% of those attendees being winemakers.

Photo source:

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The forum kicked off with an introduction by Malcolm Thompson, Vice President of Marketing & Innovation at Nomacorc, which essentially stressed why oxygen management is important in winemaking and how it is very important to manage oxygen exposure every step of the way. Mr. Thompson showed several figures on how oxygen management is basically “out of control” when considered on a global scale, and that there is an extreme level of variability in the industry in regards to how careful wineries are in protecting their wine against overexposure to oxygen. Specifically, Mr. Thompson focused on the variability in oxygen exposure to wine during the bottling process, when it’s essentially too late to “fix”.

Mr. Thompson also shared some statistics with the audience in regards to how common wine faults are in wines (and not just the cheap stuff!) and how much of that is related to the type of closure that was used. Specifically, since 2007, out of all wines entered into the London International Wine Challenge, 6.5% of the wines had some sort of fault, with about 3% of those succumbing to cork taint and another 3% showing reductive character (often occurs with screw caps). Mr. Thompson stressed how these numbers are simply too high, and that we, as an industry, must do a better job at reducing the frequency of faults in wine, and that proper oxygen management will help get that done.

Some may question whether or not most consumers can even taste these faults, or if it is just wine experts that have the palate to notice these quality reducers. Mr. Thompson provided us with results from a couple of studies examining this very question, the first study with a focus on Australian consumers (presumably more adept at tasting wine) and the second study with a focus on Chinese consumers (presumably more novice at tasting wine). It was clear from the study that both Australian and Chinese consumers could taste faults in the wine, and strongly preferred those wines that did not possess any of these faulty characters. These results helped provide support for Mr. Thompsons’ call to wineries to do better in reducing wine faults, particularly when it comes to oxygen management.

The rest of the Wine Science Forum was broken down into highly technical discussion related to specific subtopics in oxygen management and were led by speakers who have dedicated their careers to studying various aspects of winemaking, all specific tie-ins to oxygen management in wine and how oxygen management (or lack thereof) can affect the chemistry and stability of a wine, as well as its shelf life and overall quality.

In later posts, I will go into specific details regarding each and every one of these talks, but for now, I will simply introduce the speaker and the discussion topic, and promise more detailed follow-ups in the coming days and weeks.

Specific topics included:

Speaker: Dr. Maurizio Ugliano; Enological Research Manager at Nomacorc

Talk: “Oxygen and its influence on wine aroma development in-bottle. Facts and fiction around reduction, oxidation, minerality, and delivering to consumers the best possible wine”

Speaker: Dr. Andrew Waterhouse; Professor of Enology in the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California at Davis

Talk: “The oxidation cascade in wine: How far are we from understanding and predicting SO2 loss and wine oxidation based on compositional data?”

Speaker: Dr. James Kennedy; Professor & Chair of the Department of Viticulture and Enology and Director of the Viticulture and Enology Research Center at Fresno State University

Talk: “Red wine color management: The influence of oxygen on pigments development during maturation and post-bottling phases”.

Speaker: Dr. Stéphane Vidal; Global Director of Enology at Nomacorc

Talk: “Wine and oxygen: Fundamental knowledge and the application in wine quality management” (also included a NomasenseTM demonstration)

Overall, I thought this was a very interesting and highly educational event that was successfully delivered to its target audience. Each of the speakers did a great job explaining their specific topics and research, and made convincing arguments for wineries to reevaluate their oxygen management techniques and improve wherever they see they are lacking. At the end of the talks, there was ample opportunity for the audience to ask questions, which was certainly taken advantage of by the many winemakers in attendance.

The event was well received among the audience members, and in my opinion, I think could be successful as a recurring forum. I believe it’s important for wineries to stay informed in regards to current research related to wine, and this kind of event would be a great resource for winemakers to improve upon their craft.

Please stay tuned for future posts, as I will be elaborating on each of the talks listed above in separate posts in the near future.

Did you attend this event? What were your thoughts? What other topics would you like to see covered next time? Please feel free to comment!

Disclaimer: I want to thank Nomacorc for giving me the opportunity to attend this event, and was to stress to all my readers that any opinions expressed in this post are completely my own and not influenced by Nomacorc or any other organization.