Ønologen fra Chr. Havn og kunsten at kopiere naturen

mandag, april 19, 2010
By Anders Drud Jordan
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De færreste danskere ved, at der nord for København sidder en gruppe forskere og arbejder intenst på at afvriste smagshemmelighederne bag verdens mest prestigefulde vine. Et dansk biotekfirma er med i fonten i udviklingen af nye mikrobiologiske produkter til verdens vinproduktion, og deres opfindelser finder bl.a. vej til store vinhuse som fx. Errazuriz fra Chile.

Winebook, ved undertegnet, satte den franske marketingchef ved Chr. Hansen’s vinafdelingen, Laurent Hubert (34) i stævne på Nimb’s Vinkælder for at høre om deres forskning og syn på fremtidens vinproduktion. Det blev til en rig samtale om videnskabens fremskridt i vinens alkymi.

Laurent Hubert, 34år, Ønolog og Marketingchef for vin ved Chr. HansenLaurent Hubert, 34år, Ønolog og Marketingchef for vin ved Chr. Hansen

Tell me about your background?

I have a master of science and I hold the national diploma for oenologist from the French state. So I have both the two of them. A master of science in biology with focus on wine yard management and fermentation and this very specific diploma coming from faculty of pharmacy. That’s my background.

Tell me how did you end up in Denmark?

At the end of my master of science, I have been working in the wine industry in southern France, first in Languedoc in a very big and famous cooperative and then I’ve been working in Chateauneuf du Pape at the very prestigious place at the Chateau de Beaucastel, owned by the Perrin family.
Then I left the wine industry to enter the biotech industry for more than 7 years. And at the end of the trip within the biotech was in Denmark, where I arrived in July 2006, and since then I have been working for Chr. Hansen.

Explain where you work today and your role?

Today I work within Chr. Hansen, one of the most famous biotech companies within food ingredients, animal and human health ingredients. And my job is a very nice one. I am in charge of business development and marketing for the wine cultures department.

Viniflora (tv) er bakterier til malolaktiske gæring. Prelude (th) er en type vildgær som kan tilsættes sammen med alm. gær. Begge produkter er udviklet af Chr. Hansen.

A lot of Danes do not know that Chr. Hansen in Denmark has an impact of wine production. Tell us, what has Chr. Hansen developed for the wine industry?

Two very innovative concepts around the core business of Chr. Hansen, which is production of microorganisms. So basically we provide, to the wine industry, two different microorganisms – one is yeast’s for wine making, and the second is malolactic cultures (red: bakterier) that are used to manage the malolactic fermentation.

How do these products work – the yeasts and the malolactic bacteria?

The yeast is used by wine makers to manage the alcoholic fermentation, so you inoculate the yeast, which is a dry, kind of dry powder, into the grape juice and then the yeast will help the wine maker to manage the alcoholic fermentation and keep the potential coming from the grapes, through the grape juices.

And the malolactic cultures are a kind of frozen popcorn, which you also inoculate, but this time not in grape juices but in wine, which is a very tough environment for microorganisms. So it requires a very high knowledge within biotech to be able to produce this type of product. And you just have open this bag, pour the content into a tank, you wait for a few hours for the bacteria to “wake up”, and then the bacteria will manage the malolactic fermentation instead of spontaneous microorganisms.

And one of the basic things that we bring to the wine maker is that you just avoid spoilage with microorganisms. Instead you inoculate with something you know and you can manage your fermentation and keep the potential you had in your grapes. That’s basically the aim of using microorganisms coming from biotech companies, yeasts or bacteria in wine.

Prelude, Vildgær
“Prelude” – En vildgær udviklet til at øge duft- og smagskompleksiteten.

Most people do not know about the malolactic fermentation. Can you describe the change in taste by malolactic fermentation?

Malolaktisk gæring

Ønologer kan vælge en sekundær gæring, den malolaktiske gæring. Den foretages efter alkoholgæringen. Her nedbyrder bakterier vinens indhold af æblesyre til mælkesyre hvorved smagen gradvis ændres karakter mod nuancer af “flødeskum”, “smør” og “karamel”.
Det skønnes at 60-70% af rødvin og 10-15% af hvidvin undergår malolaktisk gæring.


You have basically two types of wines when it comes to malolactic fermentation. Wines going through malolactic fermentation, which is the case for 90% of the red wines, I would say, and wines not going through malolactic fermentation. It is the case for maybe 60-70% of the white wines.

What happens is that you convert a very important acid, which is malic acid (red. æblesyre), the same acid you find in apples. You also find it grapes. And this acid can be used by many different microorganisms.

And in order to get a rounder mouth feel we decrease the acidity of the wine and get more complex flavours. Most red winemakers perform malolactic fermentation, because it enables them to increase complexity of their wines. Especially when you mix the product, wine with barrels for instance, oak, which is extremely important for the final result you get in the bottle.

So basically the aim of malolactic fermentation is to stabilize the wine, avoid that microorganisms spoil the wine using malic acid as substrate. The other one is to get..(..)..clearly rounder mouth feel, softer palate, and very specific flavours that are coming from the malolactic fermentation. It is buttery, creamy, caramel flavours that you can only get when you do the malolactic fermentation.



Does this product “jump stages” in wine making – which would have occurred naturally?

You do not jump stages. It’s just that malolactic fermentation can occur in wines spontaneously. That’s how we discovered that malolactic fermentation is good for wines, long time ago. And then scientists have been looking at the process, in order to be able to understand, first what kind of species are really doing the malolactic fermentation, and what kinds of strains spoil the wine. Using the same substrate (red: æblesyre).

And then among the species, what types of strains are interesting for winemakers, and which types of strains that would never survive in a wine, which is a harsh environment for microorganisms.

So basically today, through Chr. Hansen products, or other products on the market, you use the knowledge coming from science in order to manage correctly fermentation in the wine process.

And as fermentation is key in winemaking, because basically you have a grape juices in the beginning full of sugar, perfect environment for many bad things, and you want to stabilize the grape juice into wine, which is not the final stage of a wine. Normally you would go from a grape juice to vinegar as the last step, if you let Mother Nature work. Wine is just an intermediary state. You just try to force nature to stay at as long as possible. And we all know that wine evolves during time, and they all mature to something that is very close to vinegar at the end of their life. And by managing the fermentation correctly, the alcoholic fermentation with yeast and the malolactic fermentation with bacteria, you just try to protect the wine for the longest time possible.

This sounds like an interesting product. How widely is it used in the world?

Globally, if you take the 250 million hectolitres wine produces pr year, you have, ..()..best estimate is 60 and 70% of these wines are inoculated with yeasts coming from private companies like Chr. Hansen, and around 10-15% of the wines are inoculated with bacteria coming from all companies.

So (wine) science started in the beginning of the 70’ties to work intensely on the alcoholic fermentation through yeasts. So after 3 decades you have 60-70% of the wines inoculated with commercial products for wine makers to manage this primary process, which is so important to get the right wine in the end.

And since the beginning of the 90’ties, you have a lot of work coming form other scientists on bacteria’s this time, that have developed this type of concept like the Viniflora coming from Chr. Hansen. Here we only have 2 decades of work regarding bacteria and malolactic fermentation management, and as a result its only 10 to 15% of the wines today that are inoculated with bacteria. But we think the development will be the same as for yeasts.
So in 20 years from now, around 50-60% of the wines will be inoculated with bacteria also. It is already the case in the very advanced market, like Germany, Austria, USA, and Australia where the rate of inoculation with bacteria has already reached the 25-35% of the wines produced in these areas.

Will all modern wines in the future be produced with use of commercial microorganisms?

Let’s say whatever the style, terroir-style or the classical European way of thinking wines, especially in countries like Germany, France, Spain, Portugal for instance…()..or the new type where you are much closer to the grape variety, where there is a specific concept about creating a market around the wines. We have winemakers using all products in both categories. Some of the best Bordeaux in the world are produced with products coming from Denmark, like this product ”Viniflora”.

..()..Most of the wine makers today are really interested in managing the fermentation using commercial microorganisms. Otherwise they take very big risks of deviation with microorganisms being able to spoil the wine. And when you produce bottles 100-150 Euros pr unit, you cannot afford to spoil the wine, especially if you have international recognition every year. You have to provide a certain standard of quality, and this is a very good tool to reach the potential that exists in the grapes, depending the vintage obviously.

Some may think that the charm or local feel could be lost – when science is taking over. What would you say to them?

I would say yes and no. Science helped humanity for centuries to understand what is happening. You still have a choice to use or not use the products. And the most important thing when you produce the wine, it is not the final yeast or bacteria you are using, it is the grapes. It is the quality of the grapes and where they come from. The grape material makes up 95% of the quality of the wine.

We have had a strong debate on using microorganisms to manage the two fermentations. Obviously the debate is still going on. I, however, cannot see any fear, because you still have the freedom to select, if you want to use a yeast or not, bacteria or not. That is the first elements. Then among the yeasts you have a huge amounts of choices and similar with the bacteria. So the choice is there.  The third point is, that IF with a special bacteria and special yeast, it was possible to make a bottle of Romanee Conti or a bottle of Petrus – then we would be in a very tough situation because we could complete change the nature of your wine. But this will never be the case.

So in your opinion, these products cannot change the ”soul” of the wine?

No, I don’t think you can change the soul of the wine. You can just secure with microorganisms that you will reach the full potential that you had in the beginning with your grapes. Wine production is agriculture. Once you cut the grapes, you have the best potential. From here it is in the hands of the winemakers to secure that they keep the freshness, potential and quality.

You can decrease it, but you cannot improve above the level you had from the moment of harvest. And that is something very important to understand within the wine industry. If you have a very high yield lets say with a merlot, the highest yield possible with Merlot, you can not reach the same quality, as people who has decided to have very low yield in their wine yards to get the best grapes, the best quality of grapes, and even if you use the same yeasts and the same bacteria than them, the two wines will be completely different in the end.

What is your opinion on natural wine? – The movement of biodynamic wines and the concept of wine being a natural product?

Torulaspora, en encellet vildgærtype som kan tilsættes i gæringen.

First of all – and it is two different topics in the same question. Natural wines refer to something that does not really exist, because the next step for a grape juices is vinegar. And normally in 2-3 days this process sets in, if the winemaker does not work on the grape juice very quickly, especially with white wines, it happens within a few minutes after harvest and crushing of the grapes. The potential goes down.
For me, if you take in consideration that human activities are necessary in order to get a final product, you call wine, then there is no naturality.

You cannot call wine a natural product. I know it’s quite shocking, but it is just that there is the dream part what is really a wine, and then the reality of what it is. And it’s just a matter of Nature, clearly.

The wine is just a state for a grape juice, between the initial grape juice and vinegar. And if you can keep a wine in a bottle for a century, it is just because man has a he knowledge coming from scientists. And they have been able to use it the right way. So what we say normally is that wine is “not-a-natural-product” it is a “cultural-product”. It is the result of culture, knowledge, and handcraft. You absolutely need human interaction in order to reach the final product you want. So that is the first point for us. There is no natural wine. It is not something you can claim.

The second point about biodynamic wine and the work done both in the vineyard and in the cellar is something completely different. Because what we think today specially being a biotech company..( ).. that it is very important to have people claiming that nature and biodiversity is extremely important. We are a very good example of that. By increasing the knowledge, science and question to each other in the scientific community but also with end users as wine makers, you can increase the knowledge, and you can obviously also increase the diversity you propose to wine makers. And that is really what the mission is for a company like us. To identify the best species of yeast and bacteria and the best strain to help wine makers achieve their aim, keep the potential of the grape they had in the beginning. 

And for instance, Prelude is exactly the missing link what biodynamic producers would claim, and what biotech company like us can do. During more than 35 years now the main theme was the use of Saccharomyces cervisae during the alcoholic fermentation as the yeast to manage the alcoholic fermentation. Because it is the main species you can find in grape juice when analysing what is happening (red: i gæringen). And when you want to manage the fermentation from sugar to alcohol, the main species you fin in the end is Saccharomyces cervisae. The yeast we know to produce bread, beer and wine. It is a very broad and holistic strain. A very useful tool for us to produce food. The work started in the 70’ties,..()..and more products have reached the market to help wine makers manage the alcoholic fermentation. And at the end of the 90ties, people at Chr. Hansen had been thinking..()..there is not only Saccharomyces cervisae when you look at the spontaneous flora. You have a lot of other species. And among these species, some are good for the wine, and some quite bad for the final quality of the wine. (..). A lot of very interesting species has been identified. “Prelude” is one of them

(..)..So the aim is to say Saccharomyces cervisae is interesting but aside of that, you also have a lot of other interesting things (red: mikrobiologiske arter) coming from spontaneous fermentation.

For instance 50% of the wines from Burgundy are produced with spontaneous fermentation. They don’t use commercial products. But we found that the reason that the complexity there is so high is that you find wild species in the fermentation. And we have been able to select, develop and produce the strain to propose the final product for the market. So today you can manage your alcoholic fermentation not only with one species as Saccharomyces but you can also add this one, which is a Torulaspora, a completely different yeast species and you will increase the complexity of you wine in the alcoholic fermentation of your wine. And by this we have the missing link between people claiming that biodiversity is more important than anything else.

In short would this be what some wine labels claim is “wild ferment”?

Pinot Noir fra Errazuriz er et eksempel på vin fremstillet med vildgær.

Exactly. Wild ferment, being in marketing and business, my target (red: before) was Chilean wines coming from a very renown company Errazuriz.

They have a broad range of products, and among them you have 2 or 3 wines, white and reds, that are called “wild ferment”.  There is a Pinot noir and a Chardonney of “wild ferment” for instance. It means that the winemaker has decided to take a very big risk during the alcoholic fermentation, and let nature do the work without any intervention with yeast products. It is very interesting but risky.

But the aim for me and all the people around me in research and development, is that we know that Saccharomyces is the main species in the end, but there is obviously something more complex in this wild ferment, and we would like to find the right species in the blend, but avoiding all the risk the wine maker would take. And we found this product.

Is there not more to winemaking than commercial developed ingredients?

We are sure that we have additional steps to do in order to reach the perfect complexity of nature and removing all the risks for winemakers. So Prelude for instance is always used with Saccharomyces cervisae so you use two yeasts instead of one, in the past. By using two yeasts you are much more closer to what is really a wine fermentation. And you increase the complexity. We have demonstrated this by wine tasting’s in the end, between spontaneous, pure Saccharomyces, and Saccharomyces with Prelude. We know that 3, 4 or 5 other species are interesting. They will bring a few, 1 or 2 or 5 % complexity that are missing today potentially. And the focus today is obviously to work on other species of interest.

We want to work on more complexity and increase the toolbox to offer to wine makers. Some for instance, want a very simple wine, where they only use one Saccharomyces cervisae, while some others would love to be able to increase the numbers of yeasts they will use to produce the wine. That’s basically the answer.

Do you see a difference in how public see grape varieties as something natural and then wine-tech as something unnatural?

It seems that today the public considers grape varieties and vineyard management is something completely natural while selecting the perfect yeast and the perfect bacteria to produce a specific wine is something unnatural. There is some kind of a discrepancy when we talk to a very large audience. It is a very strange feed back, because when we look at the history, obviously today to have a Vermentino or a Pinot noir grape in the vineyards, it means that a lot of work has been done since 2000, 3000 or 4000 years now, to arrive to the small bonsais or trees that you find in the vineyards.

Gamle vinstokke i Europa
Gamle vinstokke i Europa

On the other side, yeast and bacteria which is microflora and microorganisms on a very small scale. And it seems that the more you explore here, the higher is the level of fear you create in public about the fact that you are doing breeding and selection. So what is doable and accepted at the macro scale is not possible at the micro scale today. But in one century from now it will be something completely common. And you only have to remember that Pasteur and other guys around at the end of the 19th century which is quite close to now, while breeding for crops for instance started with the Greeks and maybe even before. So it is a time scale, what is freighted now may not be freighting in a century from now.

Okay to end up what is your favourite wine?

Tough question. I am not sure if you can really answer what’s my favourite wine, but I would go to the northern valley of Rhone. And I would certainly pick up a few red and white Hermitage for the complexity of what you find in the bottle and that would be my best answer.

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