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Sipping Science: Behind The Scenes Of The Wine Industry

Written By: Leanne DeRosa
Sipping Science

FINGER LAKES (WENY) - Finger lakes wine is world class wine made right in our own backyard.

But have you ever wondered how it goes from vine to glass?

You may think it's just a matter of pressing a few grapes and letting it sit for years and years in a barrel to ferment before it heads to the bottle. But that's not all.

When you sit down and pour yourself a glass, you're actually sipping science.

In many wineries, back beyond the tasting room lies a little laboratory full of tools needed to conduct multiple tests.

"There are actual chemical transformations that are taking place," Marti Macinski, winemaker at Standing Stone Vineyards, said. "You're letting yeast act on the juice, and the yeast eats the sugar in the juice and turns it into alcohol, which makes the wine nice, and carbon dioxide."

The labs were full of different machines, beakers, and lots of graphs and charts.

Some of the tests wineries do in-house include testing alcohol level, testing for free sulfur (something added to the wine to protect it from microbes that might to grow and spoil the wine), testing the PH level (the higher the PH, the more sulfur needed to protect the wine), sugar levels to see how fermentation is going, different acid tests, and many more.

But some of the little labs can't do everything. That's why many wineries rely on the Finger Lakes Wine Laboratory that runs out of Dairy One Cooperative Inc. in Ithaca.

The Wine Lab offers at least 10 different tests for wine and unfermented grape juice.

One of the popular tests is the YAN test. YAN standing for Yeast Assimilable Nitrogen - Nitrogen plays a big part in fermentation.  If there isn't enough nutrient, your wine won't have a very good smell.

Winemakers said they rely on the lab for the YAN test and other more complex tests because their equipment is much more advanced and precise.

"For everyone it's nice to have a check," Michael Reidy, winemaker at Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards said. "It's nice to have someone go in there and prove your work is proper, because we all get a little blind and sometimes hurry along."

But the Finger Lakes Wine Lab says it's not just about being exact,  it's about the confidence. The lab said they like to think of it as supporting the already good winemakers, to help give their wine that extra edge.

"They're artists, they are scientists, but for a lot of them we're there to help them with the scientific aspect so they can focus on the more subtle things, like the art of the wine." Michelle Sadler of the Finger Lakes Wine Lab said.

But no matter how many tests the wineries and wine lab run throughout the winemaking process, the winemakers said it's important to test with your own senses too.

"I still say tasting is part of the science because you're analyzing and you're picking it apart. But by doing that I think it builds a little bit of what people would perceive as the artistry," Macinski said. "Which is this sort of, ultimately someone is saying 'that's it. Ok, We're there' And is that art or science?…yes it is!"