Enological Oxygen

The management of enological oxygen is perhaps the most important skill a winemaker can possess.  Modern training asserts flatly that oxygen is the enemy of wine.  In the hands of the unskilled, this has a kernel of truth, in the same way that in the hands of a small child, a stove burns food and perhaps tiny fingers besides.  Yet the use of a stove is perhaps the most essential skill a chef can pursue.

In 1997, I began my training in the many uses of oxygen un der the tutelage of Patrick Ducournau, the inventor of micro-oxygenation at Oenodev in Madiran, now renamed Vivelys.com, which concerns itself with a broader context of tools for good structure (what the French call élevage) including ripeness determination, fermentation control, oak alternatives, and MOx. Sometimes erroneously referred to as “micro-oxidation,” this technique actually increases the wine’s reductive strength (anti-oxidative power) and longevity as well as refining tannin structural integrity and aromatic integration.  Here is an article I wrote two decades ago on the ins and outs, which are also detailed in Chapters 1, 3, and 6 of Postmodern Winemaking.

O2 Appetite

Working properly with oxygen usually involves slow and constant dosing at a level lower that the wine’s ability to consume, thus preventing oxidation.  Wines vary 10,000-fold in their O2 Appetite.  In an extreme case, an elderly Sauvignon Blanc made in a reductive style may take six months to consume a saturation of oxygen and be utterly transformed in its sensory character, not in a good way, whil a young Petite Sirah might consume two saturations per day for several months without oxidizing.

While a skilled winemaker can manage oxygenation empirically through sensory training, it is often helpful to measure O2 Appetite.  WineSmith developed a method to do so in 2015 and now have a library of thousands of wines delineating the range of appetites for a wide range of varieties.  Our method does not depend on any theory and often the source of reductive strength is quite mysterious, as in many low-phenolic Pinot Noirs or white grown on calcareous or volcanic soils.

O2 Appetite is useful for assessing the effects of extended hangtime (usually not good), locating fragile wines and thus guiding early blending, predicting release dates, guiding oxygen treatment, choosing closures and assessing the ageworthiness of bottled wines, particularly old vintages.  Please contact us a info@winemaking411.com for pricing and to schedule analysis.