Vineyard Sprays to Improve Ripening in Merlot (in collaboration with VT) (2017)

This study examines the impact of different desiccation sprays on the resulting juice and wine chemistry of Merlot. 8 rows of Merlot from the same block were divided into 4 pairs, each pair of rows receiving a different treatment. The following treatments were performed: 1) Control (no spray), 2) RG 1950 spray in collaboration with Dr. Mizuho Nita, where rows were sprayed 4 times weekly, over four weeks, starting from veraison, 3) VT Tech Dehydration spray in collaboration with Dr. Bruce Zoecklein, where rows were treated on the fruit zone at approximately 19 degrees Brix using a 2% solution of methyl esters of fatty acids in a 2% solution of potassium carbonate in water, and 4) Sugar Express (Miller Chemical) Spray (4-10-40 Nitrogen-Phosphate-Potash), where rows were treated on the full canopy at approximately 19 degrees Brix at 10 lbs/acre. All other viticultural and winemaking practices were equal. Grapes were harvested on September 20, after processing musts were inoculated with D21, and each fermentation received a 16 day maceration. The two VT sprays had the greatest impact on Brix and Average Berry weight during ripening. Fluctuations are due to rain events around September 2 and September 6. The VT sprays produced juice with higher Brix, although the Zoecklein spray had higher TA and the RG 1950 had lower TA. Wine chemistry showed higher ethanol for these two sprays, higher TA and tartaric acid for all three sprays, and lower levels of lactic acid. Color intensity was increased by the desiccation sprays. Anthocyanins were slightly lowered for the VT sprays, although polymeric anthocyanin was increased for these sprays. Tannin showed slight increases for these sprays as well. These phenolic differences, however, were not very great.

Overall, the desiccation sprays had a tendency to lower the Herbaceous character of the wines. Overall Aromatic Intensity and Body tended to be increased by the Zoecklein spray, although RG 1950 also had a slight tendency to increase Body. These two sprays also had a slight tendency to increase Fruit Intensity, although this was weak. In general, the control wine was more similar to the Sugar Express treatment, and the two Virginia Tech desiccation sprays were more similar to each other. Preference trends were hard to determine, but the Sugar Express treatment tended to be less preferred. The two Virginia Tech desiccation sprays were perhaps slightly more preferred control when considering that these two wines were fairly similar to each other. These results suggest that desiccation sprays may be a valuable tool in Virginia winemaking, and studies like these merit more rigorous analysis, especially with regard to sensory attributes of the wines. These studies should be continued to be repeated, on multiple varieties over multiple vintages.

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