Tuesday, June 6, 2017

"Bad-Brett" management Part II: Repairing contaminated wines

In Part I of this series on Brettanomyces, I laid out the characteristics of the microbe, the contamination routes, and conventional methods employed in controlling its growth. In that post I also referenced some approaches advanced by Dr. Jamie Goode to fix wines that had been contaminated by Brettanomyces. The chart below summarizes both the "control" and "fix" tactics presented by Dr. Goode in the Somm Journal article cited in the chart.

In his book postmodern winemaking, author Clark Smith posits that "... a revolution is taking place within the winemaking industry. Precepts of the modern winemaking system we were taught in school simply don't support the making of the great wines the market demands, and as a result, some of our most successful winemakers have strayed quite far from conventional dogma." These winemakers are using what Smith calls postmodern winemaking to "... merge all of the wine's flavor into a coherent whole like a well-conducted orchestra producing a unified, soulful voice."

As stated in his book, postmodern winemaking does not seek to throw out all elements of modernity and replace them lock, stock, and barrel with a new canon. Rather, postmodern winemaking uses existing pieces where appropriate and substitutes/adds where necessary. Below I provide a graphic representation of wine production under both the modern and Smith's postmodern schemas. The key extensions of postmodern winemaking are provided in red in the below chart.

Two things to note in the chart above: (i) towards the bottom, the introduction of the concept of Integrated Brett Management (that will be the focus of Part III in this series); and (ii) the box at the top right which is labeled Postmodern Tookit. Some of the entries in that box map closely to the "fix" tactics proposed by Dr Goode. These Postmodern Toolkit/Fix mechanisms will be the subject of the remainder of this post.

Sterile Filtration
Dr. Goode mentioned filtration as the first option on his list and it is widely viewed as the most effective method of removing Brett cells. In this method, the wine is passed through a .45µ filter which captures any Brett cells in the filter mechanism. Clark Smith is not in favor of this approach to Brett removal:
The focus of postmodern philosophy is the creation and preservation of beneficial macromolecular structure. This structure manifests in wine as colloidal particles sometimes nearly as large as a bacterial cell. The benefits of good structure -- profundity, aromatic integration, and graceful longevity -- appear to be lost in sterile filtration, despite the fact that no tannin material may be retained by the filter. While this lack of residue has convinced some of my colleagues that filtration cannot be harmful to wine structure, I do not concur. My hypothesis is that the action of tight filtration somehow disrupts rather than removes structure.
It should be noted that Clark does not provide any empirical data or prior scientific studies to bolster this hypothesis.

Both Dr. Goode and Clark Smith mention dimethyldicarbonate (DMDC, trade name Velcorin) favorably. This product is a microbial control agent  (produced by Lanxess) that is effective at eliminating a broad range of yeast, bacteria, and molds from wine. The product works by penetrating the cell wall of the offending micro-organism and deactivating enzymes which then leads to the cell's demise. The manufacturer claims that the product has no effect on wine taste, bouquet, or color and breaks down completely into small amounts of CO₂ and methanol. The downside, according to Clark, is that this is a "nasty chemical" and must be handled carefully.

Tangential Flow Filtration
Dr. Goode refers to cross-flow filtration and nanofiltration in his list but Clark places those technologies into a class he calls the Tangential Flow Family of Filtration and they are classified based on the molecular weight of particles that pass through the pores.

Filtration System Application Molecular Weight Range (Daltons)
Crossflow Clarification

200,000 - 500,000

1000 - 200,000

Tannin and Browning Removal 10,000 - 200,000

Protein Removal 10,000 - 40,000

Decolorization 1,000 - 5,000

200 - 1000
Reverse Osmosis

50 - 200
Source: Clark Smith, The Crossflow Manifesto, Wine Business, January 2003.

According to Smith, the idea of tangential flow filters developed in the 1960s. One of the major problems with sterile filtration is the fouling of the membrane which occurs when tight pore sizes are used. This fouling prevents the passage of material through the pores. The effective limit of traditional filtration is 0.1µ. Tangential flow filters use the scrubbing action of the flow across the surface of the membrane to keep it clean thus allowing the utilization of ever-smaller pore sizes.

All of the systems mentioned in the table employ the strategy of pumping the wine across the membrane at high velocity. As the wine flows across the membrane it continually scrubs the surface, removing fouling material. The majority of the feed stream does not pass through the filter but is retained upstream and returned to the tank. This stream, called the retentate, contains all of the high-molecular-weight components. The low-molecular-weight material that passes through the filter is called the permeate. A reverse osmosis application is illustrated below.

Reverse osmosis (Source: memstar.com.au)

It should be noted that, of the tangential flow systems mentioned in the table above, reverse osmosis is the only one specifically noted for Brett removal by Clark Smith.

Fungal-Source Chitosan
A Brett-repair technology that was not mentioned by either Jamie Goode or Clark Smith is fungal-source Chitosan. Chitosan is a deacetylated version of chitin, a compound found in the exoskeletons of crustaceans and insects as well as in the cell walls of fungi. According to Olivier Pillet (Chitosan and Brettanomyces: Origin, Impact, and Mode of Action), "the innovation that led to the use of chitosan in oenology is the process for obtaining chitin from a non-animal fungi source, Aspergillus niger." This process provides natural-source chitosan that is both biodegradable and non-allergenic and has been accepted as an oenological process by both the International Organization of Vine and Wine (July 2009) and the European Union (December 2010).

Chitosan has been documented for its antimicrobial properties which depends on the degree of deacetlylation and its molecular weight. Studies have shown that the homogenous incorporation of 4 g/hl dose of the commercial product (No Brett Inside) will "result in the total destruction of the Brettanomyces populations, or, in certain cases, a significant reduction of the contaminating populations" (Pillet).

These then are some of the tactical tools that can be employed in the fight against Brett. In my final post in the series I will treat Clark Smith's Integrated Brett Management.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme


  1. Thanks for all your hard work examining my views, Keith. And I certainly have heard good things about chitosan. My view is a three-legged stool. 1) First, harvest ripe but not overripe so you can bulid a good structure and also obtain a healthy fermentation, leading to 2)creating a nutrient desert. 30 Obtain a microbial equilibrium. Most of the sanitation measure and SO2 maintenace actually causes Brett by knocking out the beneficial competitors, just as herbicides and pesticides clear the way for plagues like leafhoppers and grape leaf skeletonizer. Sulfite free wines do not generally have Brett problems because there is more competition for nutrients. This is IBM (Integrated Brett Management).

    1. Thank you Clark. As I mentioned, I will be treating IBM shortly but I may have to frame your concept of structured wines for the reader before getting on to that discussion.