The Science of Wine: The Winemakers Research Exchange

Alyson HunterNews

Winemakers Research Exchange Sensory Tastings

Winemaker Research Exchange GrapesWith more than 280+ wineries and a thriving craft beverage scene, you’d imagine fierce competition for the attention of 2.25 million Virginia wine tourists, but the opposite is true.

Virginia’s wineries and vineyards are instead largely supportive and collaborative, each doing their part to raise Virginia’s reputation as a remarkable wine destination.

This friendly camaraderie was visible at the Virginia Governor’s Cup Gala on February 21, a celebration of the state’s most stringent wine competition.

There, Veritas Vineyard and Winery’s Emily Pelton, named Virginia Wine Person of the Year, described an initiative truly embodying the industry’s united spirit: The Winemakers Research Exchange (WRE).

About The Winemakers Research Exchange

The Winemakers Research Exchange takes a collaborative, scientific approach to enhancing Virginia’s wine quality and economic profitability. The research cooperative is open to all Virginia wineries, helping participants pursue projects to uncover and evaluate different vineyard and winemaking practices.

“I’m most proud that the WRE is working, due to the drive and desire of the winemakers running the studies and the board members that keep showing up. We are all excited by the tastings, intrigued by other peoples’ studies, learning things we never thought to ask,” explained Pelton, via email. “We exchange winemaking ideas and techniques and vineyard cultural practices, and it’s what we all thrive off of, so the energy behind it is only growing.”

According to their website, the WRE “helps participants plan their project to ensure acceptable levels of scientific rigor; consults with winemakers on how to successfully implement these projects; coordinates shipping of samples; organizes and funds laboratory analyses; sets up sensory sessions on experimental wines; and summarizes and presents results in a coherent, transparent, and public manner.”

All of these services are free of charge.

Projects span viticulture studies, red winemaking, white winemaking, yeast and microbiology, and bottle studies. These projects aren’t easy reading for the layman (sample titles published on their website include: CY3079 And Vivace Yeast Trial In Chardonnay, 2015 and Merlot Clonal Comparison, 2015), but offer insights and answers for industry professionals.

Each tests variables of grape growing and winemaking to compare its influence on the final product in a controlled environment. The ultimate goal is to solve common Virginia viticulture and enological challenges.

Sharing Knowledge and Tasting Wine Results

Winemakers Research Exchange project findings are shared publicly to help other viticulturists, winemakers, and wine enthusiasts learn and advance their craft.

“Since the industry (in Virginia) is young, we have much more of a stylistic “blank slate” in the eyes of consumers, so winemakers have an opportunity to be much more experimental with the kinds of wines they produce (though, this is probably debatable),” said Michael Attanasi, Coordinator for the Winemaker’s Research Exchange. “I’m always impressed by how involved the winemakers are, how excited they are for innovation and exchanging ideas, and a willingness to try new things.”

Winemakers Research Exchange Sensory TastingsThe shared learning is especially important, because in an expensive and frequently family-owned and -operated industry, most wineries face limited resources and time to pursue frequent experimentation on their product.

Through the WRE, they also receive complimentary laboratory analysis; this level of scientific vigor is not easily accessible to many wineries.

Of course, reading about an experiment does not offer the same level of understanding as participating in the study. That’s where the WRE really shines.

Each experimental wine is tasted in a sensory session, open to any winemaker or production staff member in the state (not just WRE participants).

The sensory tastings bring the experiment to life, enabling the winemaker to taste first-hand how tested variables influence and change the the wine. Winemakers can then apply this knowledge on the vines or in their wine cellar.

Tasting sessions are open to wine production professionals, not the public. They discuss technical aspects of viticulture, wine, winemaking, and wine chemistry, and share constructive criticism of mostly unfinished wines (no fining, filtering, and little aging).

Winemakers Research Exchange Backstory

The Winemakers Research Exchange started informally among wine industry friends sharing and comparing their wine trials.

“We started this project with a bunch of Monticello winemakers with no funding, just to share our work and experimentation,” said Matthieu Finot, Winemaker at King Family Vineyards. “Three years later, we are running the WRE with the whole Virginia industry, and the feedback so far is great. It really creates a winemaking community, and shows that we can all work together, challenging ourselves to produce great wines.”

In 2014, the WRE was formally born and funded by a grant from the Monticello Wine Trails. Grants followed in 2015 from the Monticello Wine Trail and the Virginia Wine Board, and the WRE conducted over 40 projects and four sensory tastings.

In 2016, the WRE received a second grant from the Virginia Wine Board and expanded services throughout Virginia. They conducted over 65 projects by almost 30 wineries in this year, and 10 sensory sessions.

Progress in Collaboration

The Winemakers Research Exchange is a testament to passionate winemakers, viticulturists, and scientists working hand in hand to advance Virginia wine quality and tourism. Read published studies on their website:

All Virginia wineries can submit projects to the WRE for approval to get involved. Winemakers and production staff can attend sensory  tastings without having been involved in a WRE project. See upcoming tastings here and contact the WRE here.


*Images are from the Winemakers Research Exchange website.