Part 1: When to use a sensory test in your winery.
In this series of articles, Erin Norton (Education & Outreach Coordinator) will provide details on how you can use sensory evaluation in your winery. Any questions or comments, please direct them to Erin at email@example.com.
Many of you have attended the MGWII’s Intensive Tasting Proficiency Training workshop that we have performed close to a dozen times. During this workshop we try to teach you how to taste wine professionally, how to focus in on some of your senses while tasting wine (aroma, flavor, mouthfeel), hot to identify some wine faults and how to describe what you are tasting. We also briefly introduce the idea of sensory testing and how we at the institute use sensory evaluation in our research to understand new varieties, winemaking techniques and troubleshooting wine problems for you in our analytical lab.
You too can use some of these sensory evaluation tests in your own winery to gather information on your wines. Instead of basing decisions on gut feelings, or customer anecdotes, sensory evaluation tests can help you add some numerical rance to your decisions.
In this first article of a three part series, I will highlight some cases where you can use sensory evaluation to help your decision-making in the winery. And it does not have to stop with winemaking decisions. You can use some of these tests to evaluate the aesthetics of your labels, or marketing campaigns, or even develop a more in-depth research trial to detect if vineyard practices make a different on wine quality (feel free to contact Erin or others at the MGWII if you would like to chat about setting up a vineyard research trial).
It is always a good idea to get multiple opinions or interpretations of results you obtain in the winery.
Some situations where you could set up a sensory evaluation test include (but are not limited to):
- Yeast Trials
- If you want to evaluate how a particular yeast performs, and what sensory characteristics it imparts to the wine, do a small fermentation with the new yeast. (Be sure to process the grapes, and perform all winemaking identical between the regular yeast batch and the new yeast batch)
- Fining Trials
- Using the same batch of wine, try different fining products. Instead of just evaluating yourself, get others to help decide which wine is “better” or aligns with the style you are trying to make.
- Back-label descriptions
- Collect data from customers on what they smell or taste in a wine, and what they would pair it with. Often times back-label descriptions are esoteric and do not connect with the target consumers.
- Wine Style Decisions
- You may be on the fence if you should sweeten a wine, or sparkle it, or potentially oak-age it. Perform small trials, and get help deciding using sensory evaluation tests, instead of just your own opinion (you may have a great opinion, but you cannot buy all your own wine).
- Price Decisions
- Find out what consumers are willing to pay for certain styles or varieties. Obviously, you have a bottom-line that you need to meet, but knowing what your ceiling is could be very useful.
Any time you make a decision in the winery, you could use sensory evaluation to help you. This is not practical for EVERY decision, but it can be useful for large, overall style decisions, that will affect the final wines perception by consumers.
I challenge you to begin thinking about what processes you like would to change in the winery. Should you do some trials this upcoming harvest to see what impact those processes have on the final wine? Economics comes into play (sometimes you can do something for much cheaper, but be sure not to sacrifice on overall quality), and sometimes you can perform sensory evaluation tests to ensure that your wine does not change. There are many options, and variations or how to perform sensory testing. The MGWII is here to help you if you would like to explore how sensory evaluation tests can help you in your winery. Do not hesitate to reach out to us.
Look for upcoming articles in this series.
Part 2: How to set up a sensory test in your winery.
Part 3: How to interpret results of your sensory test.