Contamination spoils wine. It can make it taste and smell wrong, affect the texture, change the colour and distort the character. It is also a very difficult risk to manage in the vinification process.
Humans have been making grapes into wine for more than 7000 years: the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians were vintners – but the production of a consistent wine variety or blend involves risks to be managed at almost every step.
Contamination can occur on the vines, during harvesting, storage, fermentation, in the barrel and during bottling, taking the form of microbiological storage, volatile acidity (VA) and instability.
“Generally our clients pick up on contamination during the processing or bottling stage,” says Gallagher wineries specialist Stephanie Fox. “If this happens they can lose the whole batch, leaving them with a large loss. A contamination insurance cover will allow you to recoup these costs, so it does not damage your business’s bottom line.”
The common contamination culprits include protein, polysaccharides (sugars), caramel, red pigments, polyphenolics and metals (such as lead content in insecticides), or combinations of these.
The natural microflora that occur in wine making include several species of yeast, lactic acid and acetic acid bacteria which can all contribute to spoilage. Some of the risk factors include prolonged barrel fermentation, topping up and bottling. The regulations that control wine making can limit the options available to the wine maker, since additives such as sulphur dioxide require legislative approval for use.
Fox says that Gallagher often sees claims for issues with tanks. “These can take the form of coils falling in or blowing out and damaging the product with metal flakes, or leaking after an instrument blows out – or otherwise malicious tampering.”
While equipment maintenance should be standard procedure, only surveillance and the appropriate product recall insurance cover can safeguard against deliberate sabotage.
Protecting your product
Physical means of reducing risk of contamination include managing the pH (alkaline/acidity balance), barrel sanitation, care with barrel topping and filtration or clarification, but new technologies offer some alternatives.
Some methods already in use in food and beverage production are
- ultra-high pressure processing which inactivates micro-organisms and enzymes
- high powered ultrasound at 20–100 kilohertz frequencies has been shown to inactivate numerous food-related micro-organisms and has been suggested for use in the wine industry
- ultraviolet radiation can kill fungi on harvested grapes and bacteria in some liquids but needs further examination for use with wine
- pulsed electric field technology has been used in beverage industries as an alternative to pasteurisation for sterilising product and has potential for eliminating spoilage bacteria from wine during storage, before bottling.
The insurance ingredient
“Insurance to protect against contamination of product can be taken out as either a standalone policy or as a sub limit under a product liability policy, depending on what the client needs and how we tailor the package,” Fox says.
“If a delivery of contaminated product does get to the buyer it can then become a full-blown product recall claim. Product recall insurance is available as a separate policy or sublimit and is highly advisable for anyone involved in food and beverage production.
“The strawberry contamination scare has shown how badly an industry can be affected by contamination of even a very small portion of the product on the market. A product recall policy can help the business survive a recall by paying for the recall costs, disposal of the damaged stock and managing public relations to protect the company against reputational damage,” she says.
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