Phenomenal PhenoLAB: A first for SA winemakers

Phenomenal PhenoLAB: A first for SA winemakers

Phenomenal PhenoLAB: A first for SA winemakers

In January 2020, researchers at Stellenbosch University with the support of Innovus, launched a user-friendly, web-based analysis platform which enables the winemakers to make informed decisions about managing their red wine phenolics. The platform, called PhenoLAB, is the brainchild of Prof Wessel du Toit and researcher Dr Jose Luis Aleixandre-Tudo from SU’s Department of Viticulture and Oenology.

Prof Du Toit says PhenoLAB, which is funded by Winetech, incorporates highly accurate, extensive and robust models based on absorbency values for determining tannins, colour density, anthocyanins and total phenolics levels in grapes, fermenting must and red wines. 

“Winemakers can use and compare the phenolics analyses obtained on the platform to the PhenoLAB database. Based on the results, they can make important decisions such as when to harvest their grapes, when to press during alcoholic fermentation, as well as to analyse the phenolic and colour profiles of their completed wines. This can have significant positive effects on certain decisions in red wine production,” says Prof Du Toit. 

Users of PhenoLAB can also compare their wine to that of other SA red wines thanks to the extensive database.  

Where it all started

After completing his PhD at the Universitat Politècnica de València in Spain, Dr Aleixandre-Tudo moved to South Africa to further investigate the effect of winemaking practices on the phenolic content and evolution during winemaking and aging. Under the supervision of Prof Du Toit, they measured thousands of wine specimens resulting in a remarkable database that now form the base of the platform. With the sponsorship from Winetech and incubation support from Innovus (SU’s industry interaction and innovation company), the PhenoLAB platform was developed and tested amongst a few winemakers in 2019.

What is in it for the winemaker?

According to Prof Du Toit, PhenoLAB has been well received in the industry due to the advantages it offers. “The platform enables the winemaker to determine the phenolic ripeness of wine. Another huge benefit for winemakers who are buying wine from a variety of vineyards is that they can use Phenolab as a measurement to ensure the wine is consistent over a few years. The platform also ensures that winemakers can measure wines during the fermenting stage, and as a bonus: they can obtain results for all measurements relatively quickly. The platform is also growing constantly as new specimens are added for analysis. 

Prof Du Toit says every member’s data is confidentially stored. Independent users have access to the laboratory and can do their sample preparation and generate their own measurements. PhenoLAB has also partnered with Vinlab, SA’s biggest wine laboratory, to enable winemakers associated with Vinlab, to unlock their results on the PhenoLAB platform at a special rate.