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The lab is still open during the crisis

The laboratory of the Luxembourg Wine Institute, a branch of the Ministry of Agriculture and Viticulture situated on the Moselle, is a precious resource for producers for whom its tests are vital. Its services continue despite the virus.

In the hills overlooking the town of Remich in the midst of the Goldberg appellation, the Luxembourg Wine Institute (IVV) works in close proximity with winemakers. “Our institution is like a one-stop shop for wine and wine-growing,” smiles Christiane Blum, head of the IVV lab. “It’s got everything – consultancy services, key contacts for subsidies, wine and Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) compliance monitoring, a lab, etc.” These are all services that are essential for the smooth running of wine-growing on the Moselle at all times of year, even during periods of quarantine.

As soon as the initial quarantine measures were taken, the IVV took steps to ensure the continuity of its services. This is a necessity, since not all winemaking operations are not on hold – far from it. Wine-growing consultancy and oenology services can still be accessed by phone and online, and the PDO office is open mornings … as is the lab.

On the first floor of the IVV, the test tubes are not gathering dust. It’s business as usual for the laboratory, even though its workload is obviously lighter than during normal periods. This is where must and wine characteristics are measured (sugar content, alcohol content, pH, acidity, sulphite content, stability, etc.). “Where possible, we keep the laboratory open mornings,” says manager Christiane Blum. “However, staffing is limited to one technician to avoid any risks. Winemakers must call us before coming over and leave their samples outside the entrance to prevent any contact.”

This is the only way the laboratory can remain open, a new protocol that the rest of the world understands only too well. “We have asked winemakers only to bring us urgent samples and they are toeing the line,” adds the laboratory manager. “They are also aware that it may take slightly longer to get results. It normally takes us one or two days to send them out, but now we might need an extra day.”

In normal circumstances, the laboratory is staffed by five technicians, a quality assurance manager and the lab manager. Depending on the time of year, it processes between a hundred and two hundred samples per day, which has now dropped to twenty to thirty. 

“The wines submitted at the moment are those whose development the winemakers need monitoring particularly closely,” says Christiane Blum. Before corking, they are keen to access any information guaranteeing that their wines are finally market-ready.

The four seasons in the lab

The data collected by the Luxembourg Wine Institute from the samples it tests varies depending on the time of year.

In summer, grape ripeness must be accurately determined. Besides grapes from the state vineyards surrounding the IVV, “the consultant oenologist for independent winemakers brings us grapes from specific parcels enabling comparisons to be made year on year,” explains lab manager Christiane Blum. The focus is on natural sugar content, total acidity and pH. Just before harvesting, in early September, levels of organic acids (tartaric and malic acid) are also quantified.

During harvesting, must testing (sugar content, pH, acidity) is required under the criteria of the Luxembourg Moselle Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). The quality of each vintage can be assessed through a statistical analysis of these results.

Once harvesting is complete and the wines are in vats or barrels, the producers may submit samples to determine the exact stage reached in the winemaking process. The busiest period in the lab is between November and March/April.

Between spring and summer, testing is mainly performed to meet PDO requirements. Winemakers’ samples submitted through the PDO department are examined anonymously. This involves a series of tests ensuring compliance with national and European criteria (alcohol, sugar, density, sulphur dioxide, overpressure for crémants, etc.).

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