Having knowledgeable people on staff in your winery’s laboratory while continually searching to hire key assets in that field of experience along with purchasing the right equipment for the staff to use for quality control and assurance are all important factors. Although one may not be more important than the other, Sheldrake Point winemaker Dave Breeden has helped oversee the Ovid, New York winery for 18 years now and feels the lab has been fairly well set up in his whole experience there.
Sheldrake Point has a setup for aeration/oxidation measurement of SO2, including glassware, an aquarium pump (for pushing SO2 out of the wine), and a burette along with the equipment to measure titratable acidity, including a pH meter and a burette.
Breeden said a variety of basic equipment, like a refractometer to measure juice in Brix; a whole range of different hydrometers; and a carbodoseur to measure dissolved CO2 can be necessities.
“We also have reagents and a few test tubes for doing rough measurements of residual sugar,” he said. “We had almost all of that when I got here 18 years ago except the aquarium pump, the carbodoseur, and we used different reagents for measuring residual sugar.”
The bare essentials for any winery laboratory would include pH meter, a hydrometer, and a refractometer.
“They are absolutely crucial,” Breeden said. “A burette to do TA is really nice, and all the rest of the equipment I listed above is worth having.”
Although not as much of a must-have, but very helpful when a winery can afford it, a spectrophotometer or an automated wine analysis device (like an Oenofoss). Breeden owns an M.S. in Chemistry while assistant winemaker Greg Dlubac has an M.S. in Enology.
When it comes to hiring, Breeden said he tries to hire people with some amount of college-level lab experience, but it’s not crucial.
“It’s nice to hire folk with some amount of lab experience, but there’s nothing that goes on in our lab that my or my assistant can’t teach,” he said.
Since opening in 2009 Gervasi Vineyard’s work in the laboratory has become more incorporated into a new role of Cellar Leader as it does not have a dedicated laboratory technician.
Andrew Codispoti, the Director of Winemaking and Distilling Operations for Gervasi says they hire for a comprehensive role that bridges cellar and vineyard as the winery added distilling operations a few years ago.
“In our experience, careful cross-tasking has created a broader more fulfilling role and elevated proficiency,” he said. “We look for a person with a team spirit, attention to detail, and deportment suitable to a cross-functional environment.”
Training in enology and viticulture is preferred, but a strong work ethic can be just as important. A background in math, biology, or chemistry is desirable for laboratory duties.
“Overall, the person must demonstrate a desire to learn and have aptitudes that can be developed,” he said, noting that he has seen an increase in formal enology and viticulture training in the last 10 years.
“More recently, we have seen applicants that are better trained and able to adapt to the commercial winemaking environment,” he said. “We have also seen benefits from the online programs coordinated through local universities.”
Codispoti added that wineries will need to determine the makeup of its staff and the type of equipment purchased.
“Proficiencies of the startup team and available capital will play key roles in this decision,” he said. “A knowledgeable staff is indispensable to understanding and executing winemaking best practices. But even the most expert person will be handicapped by the lack of proper tools and equipment.”Codispoti said that Gervasi purchased the right tools and equipment for each stage of growth and learned how to use them.
“As the business grew, so did staff and equipment sophistication,” he said. The winery’s lab is equipped to perform the core analysis needed to support daily operations.
“The laboratory is in a discrete room with the spaces dedicated to essential equipment,” Codispoti said. “This is very important to an efficient and productive lab.”
He also said that they will outsource the occasional specialized analysis to certified commercial labs for further quality checks as well.