The importance of monitoring gases in the winemaking process
Winemaking is an age-old art that requires precise attention to every detail of the process, from the growing of the grapes to the bottling of the finished wine. Among the many elements to be monitored, the gaseous composition of the environment is crucial to the development and quality of the wine. Oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) are two particularly important gases to monitor.
The winemaking process is a series of delicate and complex steps, each of which can have a significant impact on the final product. Along the way, gases such as oxygen and carbon dioxide are generated and can influence the chemical reactions that shape the aroma, flavor and overall quality of the wine.
Let’s take a look at how the concentrations of these gases change during the various stages of winemaking, and why monitoring them is crucial, not only for wine quality, but also for the safety of winery personnel.
Stages of winemaking
During primary fermentation, yeasts consume sugars and produce alcohol and carbon dioxide as byproducts. Monitoring the CO2 levels during this phase is essential to ensure that the fermentation process is proceeding as expected. Elevated CO2 levels can indicate a healthy fermentation, while a sudden drop could signal a problem. However, it’s crucial to note that excessive CO2 levels in confined spaces can pose a significant risk to the health of winery workers.
In this stage, the wine is often stored in tanks or barrels. Proper oxygen management is crucial. Too much oxygen exposure can lead to oxidation, negatively affecting the wine’s flavor and color. Conversely, too little oxygen can result in reduced development of desirable aromas and flavors. Additionally, workers must be aware of the potential hazards of working in confined spaces with reduced oxygen levels.
Oxygen levels must be carefully controlled when bottling wine to avoid unwanted oxidation. Winemakers use inert gases, such as nitrogen or argon, to displace oxygen in the bottle before closing it with a cork or screw cap.
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Analyzing gases with infrared spectroscopy
A non-dispersive infrared sensor consists of a detector that measures the amount of infrared light at a specific wavelength that is absorbed by a sample.
An infrared light passes through the chamber to the detector. The gas of interest causes an absorption of energy at a specific wavelength. This attenuation is measured by the detector to determine the concentration of the gas. The detector is preceded by a bandpass optical filter that eliminates all other wavelengths that the selected gas molecules may absorb.