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UF/IFAS researchers help wineries capitalize on carbonation craving

 

Oenophiles rejoice! University of Florida researchers are helping wineries make their product bubbly to meet taste trends and expand their business.

Andrew MacIntosh, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of food science and human nutrition, is working with Florida wineries to teach and encourage more of them to produce carbonated wine. About one in  10 Florida wineries currently carbonate, and they use the labor-intensive champagne method. MacIntosh is trying newer, less-expensive ways to make wine sparkle.

researcher in lab coat examining glass of wineIn his preliminary research, MacIntosh is studying equipment options such as pressurized vessels, inline carbonation options and counter-pressure bottling equipment for various-sized wineries.

“The effervescence from carbonation adjusts how it feels in your mouth, how sweet you perceive the wine and what it smells like,” MacIntosh said. “Sparkling wine is considered a ‘value added process’ as the product is typically perceived to be more desirable. This research will benefit the Florida wine industry as many statistics and trends illustrate how sparkling wine is the fastest-growing sector in the wine industry. The increased consumption of carbonated wines throughout the world — especially among younger generations — has been steadily increasing and driving market growth.”

While some of his early research applies only to muscadine grapes – grown mostly in Florida — the carbonation could apply to any wine made with higher-than-average sugar concentrations.

In The Wine Handbook, published in 2018, the Beverage Information and Insights Group calls champagne and sparkling wine consumption a “key driver of growth in the overall wine category,” noting that carbonation sales have increased 56% in 10 years — and grew nearly 6% in 2017.

Furthermore, younger wine drinkers appear to be the most eager to consume sparkling wine throughout the year, and this consumption trend is predicted to continue, according to MacIntosh.

“This younger population is helping to drive the overall growth of the carbonated wine category,” he said. “With consumption of carbonated wines increasing, we anticipate this research to determine that sparkling wine production is not as difficult as commonly perceived and that achieving desirable carbonation levels can be cost-operative for many wineries, even at small scale.”

“Preliminary results indicate that there is a significant preference for carbonated wine produced from muscadine grapes,” MacIntosh said. “However, we have not identified a specific level of carbonation that is preferred statistically. This will require additional panels to be completed at the UF Sensory Lab.”

In addition to hopefully getting more Florida wineries to carbonate their products, MacIntosh and his lab will produce educational materials to go online, and they’ll present their findings professional meetings. UF/IFAS researchers also wrote a “how-to” guide on carbonation, and MacIntosh expects the guide to be published on the organization’s Electronic Data Information Source in the next few months.

In addition, students under MacIntosh’s supervision are working on an equipment guide for various sizes of wineries. Participating wineries will pilot this part of the project.

According to the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, nearly 1.6 million gallons of wine were produced in the state of Florida during 2017. But only a fraction of Florida’s 43 wineries make carbonated wine products, MacIntosh said.

“Carbonation can be used by the Florida wine industry to improve, expand and increase existing wine offerings,” he said. “Our research should allow Florida wineries to increase and diversify their production of carbonated wines.”

For now, UF/IFAS scientists are working with interested North Florida wineries to implement an appropriate method of carbonating wines. They want to develop and evaluate additional carbonated Florida wine selections and to educate the Florida wine industry on carbonation options, methods and economics.

“Part of this research includes evaluating the final products at various carbonation levels,” MacIntosh said.  “After determining which carbonation method is optimal for each winery, data will be collected on the wine’s parameters and characteristics, such as aromas.”

If you want to participate in a wine-tasting panel at UF, please contact Katlyn Nau at knau@ufl.edu.