Vintner's Corner

Vol.17, No. 2 March - April, 2002
Bruce W. Zoecklein
Department of Food Science and Technology
VPI & SU - 0418
Blacksburg, VA 24061
Web site:

Table of Contents

Ontario Vintners Quality Alliance
Isinglass and Structured Balance
Advanced Winery Design Workshop

I. Ontario Vintners Quality Alliance

In a recent Enology Notes electronic newsletter, I provided a brief sketch of Canada's Vintner's Quality Alliance system. I asked for those that were interested in this system to write. I received a number of responses. The following are some additional details regarding their VQA system.

The Ontario Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) is an ‘Appellation of Origin' system by which the consumer can identify wines of Ontario based on the origin of the grapes from which they are produced. With the VQA system, Canada joined leading wine-producing countries in developing a body of regulations and standards for its finest wines. In 1935 for example, France introduced its ‘Appellation d'Origine Controllée, system that remains in control, Italy introduced its ‘Denominazione di Origine Controllata' designation in 1963, and Germany's QMP system was finalized in 1971.

The Ontario Vintners Quality Alliance is a voluntary independent alliance, with representatives from Ontario's wineries, grape growers, the liquor control board (LCBO), the academic community, the hospitality industry and research institutions who form its Board of Directors.

The Vintners Quality Alliance is an independent body responsible for introducing and maintaining standards and appellations adopted by members of the Ontario wine industry. The VQA has established the following goals for its organization:

  1. To develop and implement educational material in order to inform the public and interested members of the wine community about Ontario's wine growing regions.
  2. To coordinate and exchange research in areas of temperature, clonal selections, training methods, viticultural practices and wine varieties for the mutual benefit and development of Ontario's wine regions.
  3. To disseminate information with regard to the uniqueness of Ontario's wine growing regions in order to define the characteristics and qualities of the wines that are produced in those regions.
  4. To coordinate marketing efforts in order to create a quality image for all Ontario wines that bear the trademark of the Vintners Quality Alliance.
  5. To establish standards covering general areas such as vintage dating, viticultural areas, etc., which will compare favorably with similar standards established elsewhere in the wine world.

Further development of standards will be established as a better understanding of the characteristics and production standards for the region is advanced.

Tasting Panel. The VQA Tasting Panel consists of the supervisor of quality control, Liquor Control Board of Ontario, or his/her designate, plus a minimum of six (6) permanent members. To qualify for membership on the panel, candidates must have passed a written test and tasting conducted by the Supervisor of Quality Control at the LCBO.

  1. All products are tested blind in their respective groups, e.g. varietals, geographic designation, vintage year, sugar code, specialty wine, etc.
  2. The scoring system used is a 20 point scale.
  3. Evaluations are held when twenty wines are available, but a minimum of once per month.
  4. All tasting is conducted in the morning of the day appointed.
  5. In the case of varietal wines, varietal character is an important component of the overall grade, and is noted under the score for aroma and flavour. Varietal wines are judged and scored as varietals. For example, a well-made Gruner Veltliner may score only 12 out of 20 judged as a ‘wine', but judged as a Gruner Veltliner it may be near the top of its class and merit a 15. In the case of blended wines, varietal character does not apply unless specific varieties are identified on the label.
  6. In order to monitor the margin of error on the VQA Tasting Panel, a duplicate sample is introduced to the panel at each VQA tasting, as a check on scores. In the case of duplicate wine, the higher mark is accepted.
  7. In the event that a wine is ‘defective', a second bottle is opened and tasted by the VQA Tasting Panel. If the second bottle contains a similar defect, the mark assigned to the first bottle stands

The supervisor of the LCBO's Quality Control Department notifies the Wine Council of Ontario (WCO) of scores along with a summary of reasons for rejected wines. The WCO then notifies individual wineries of their respective scores.

Members of the VQA Appeal Panel are appointed by the VQA Board of Directors from time to time. The VQA Appeal Panel is comprised of the Executive Director of the VQA or his/her designate plus a minimum of three representatives of the academic community and/or the hospitality industry, and a minimum of three VQA winemakers. Winemaker participation in the VQA Appeal Panel is on a rotating basis as determined from time to time by the Executive Director of the VQA or his/her designate. To qualify to be a member of the VQA Appeal Panel, the nominee must pass a written examination and a component tasting.

Criteria For Submission

Any product not approved for appellation or not obtaining 15.0 at the VQA Tasting Panel is eligible for submission to the VQA Appeal Panel.

Wines which received appellation approval may only be returned to the VQA Tasting Panel if a score of 15.0 or higher is received be the Appeal Panel. Appeals are allowed once only.

If an appellation has been granted by the Tasting Panel, it cannot be rescinded. Tasting Panel scores supersede Appeal Panel scores.

Score Notification

The Executive Director of the VQA notifies the Wine Council of Ontario and the Supervisor of the LCBO's Quality Control Department of the scores along with a summary of reasons for rejected wines. The Wine Council of Ontario then notifies individual wineries of their respective scores.

Laboratory Analysis

  1. All products which pass the sensory evaluation are forwarded to the LCBO laboratory for analysis.
  2. An additional sample of all wines which pass sensory evaluation are maintained in a library for future reference.
  3. Upon laboratory analysis, any VQA wine found to be in violation of the Federal Food and Drug Act and Regulations or the LCBO's pre-established guidelines shall have its VQA approval revoked.

It is my intension to call a meeting of Virginia wineries intersted in creating some type of quality alliance. If you would like to be invited to that meeting, send me an email note with yes in the subject line (email address:

II. Isinglass and Structured Balance

Isinglass is a protein fining agent which can have a significant influence on wine balance. As discussed in Vol 17, No. 1, wine balance is an important wine quality feature. Isinglass is an effective agent in modifying wine phenols and, therefore, balance.

Isinglass is a protein fining agent produced from sturgeon collagen. It is available in two forms: a prehydrolyzed form that hydrates in 20 to 30 minutes and a fibrous form of flocced isinglass. Hydration should be carried out in cool water ( 15 C/60 F). If prepared in hot water, isinglass undergoes partial hydrolysis, resulting in the formation of smaller molecules. The reduction in molecular weight from 140,000 to 15-58,000, results in differences in fining characteristics, and the product is more gelatin-like in its activity.

Isinglass is principally used in white wine fining to bring out or unmask the fruit character without significant changes in tannin levels. Isinglass is less active toward condensed tannins than either gelatin or casein. Because condensed phenolics are principally responsible for astringency, isinglass has a less dramatic effect on the reduction of both wine astringency and body than most other protein fining agents. It has the added benefit of not requiring extensive counterfining as compared with other proteinaceous fining agents. Many vintners fine with the agent after aging (particularly barrel aging) and before bottling to "round out" background astringency and produce a brilliantly clear white wine without the stripping effect seen by other protein fining agents. Isinglass is also used as a riddling aid in methode champenoise production at levels of 1.5 to 4.0 g/hL (1/8-1/3 lb/1,000 gal).

Isinglass has several advantages over gelatin in fining of white wines. The agent is active at lower concentrations, produces enhanced clarification and a more brilliant wine, and is much less temperature dependent than gelatin, which shows enhanced properties at low temperature.

Isinglass does, however, have several significant drawbacks. The low density of flakes forming after addition to the wine can result in voluminous lees formation (>2%), and particulates tend to hang on the sides of barrels and casks. Like other proteins, isinglass can degrade with time, particularly if stored warm, imparting an unpleasant, fishy odor to the slurry. For this reason, only isinglass of the highest quality should be used. No limit on the use of isinglass is imposed by either BATF or the OIV.

III. Advanced Winery Design Workshop

A one day workshop on Advanced Winery Design is scheduled for November 9, 2002 in Charlottesville, VA. Mark your calender, further details will be provided on my web site at

Winery Planning and Design Workshop Proceedings ARE NO LONGER Available.

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