Western Cape Business News

Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  12 Dec 2008

FOOD & BEVERAGES: Gas Solutions for the Wine Sector


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SINCE Air Liquide, a world-leader in industrial and medical gases entered the wine sector in South Africa five years ago, by introducing  Oxygen (O2) management Systems from the vineyard through to the bottling line, it has enhanced its reputation as the market leader in this industry, says Lizbe Sorore, Air Liquide Southern Africa’s food and beverage market manager.

These customized oxygen management systems, developed by Air Liquide, enable wine makers to make and bottle wines to a specific dissolved oxygen (DO) and dissolved carbon dioxide specification, thus maintaining and enhancing the quality of wine. Air Liquide’s inert gas technology allows for natural protection of wine against oxidative spoilage and have been tried and tested in the global wine industry. This customized approach ensures cost efficiency in the global market place, conformance to world quality standards, whilst still respecting traditional wine making methods.

Wine is subject to complex oxidation and reduction processes as oxygen dissolves in wine from picking to bottling. Dissolved oxygen will react either chemically or via enzymes with the numerous compounds in wine, resulting in undesirable oxidation.

Oxidation is often said to be the single biggest spoilage mechanism in wine apart from ‘corkiness’. On the other hand, a degree of oxidation is required from some wines to become mellow and mature.

“We’ve introduced the innovative Cryogen Injector, liquid nitrogen dispensing technology, to the bottling line operations of local wineries. The primary objective of the wine maker during the bottling process is to maintain the initial good quality of the wine (fruit bouquet, colour and flavour) and ensure wine is bottled to specification. It is critical to prevent oxygen pick-up and manage the dissolved oxygen during the bottling process, specifically wines under screw cap where the head space equates to about 9 ml of air,” says Sorore

The liquid nitrogen system dispenses a specific volume of liquid nitrogen into each bottle, either as a pre-purge into an empty bottle or as a post-purge into the head space of a filled bottles. The liquid nitrogen which is at -196°C will expand volumetrically at a ratio of about 700:1 and displace all residual oxygen in the empty bottles and/or head space, preventing undesirable oxidation by minimizing the increase in dissolved oxygen levels during shelf life.”

The same system is also used to increase the internal pressure and ensure rigidity in thin walled aluminium cans and PET  bottles used for still or non-carbonated beverages and water. This will prevent the ‘panelling’ effect, and allows for stacking of pallets during warehousing and distribution. It also enables the producer to change over to lower weight PET bottles and as a secondary function the exclusion of oxygen protects sensitive products against oxidative spoilage.

Air Liquide is also making inroads into the MAP (Modified Atmosphere Packaging) market. MAP is the replacement of air in a package headspace with a scientifically formulated gas or gas mixture which contains special protective and reactive properties. These specially formulated gases will prevent or minimize enzymatic, biochemical, microbial and physical damage of the MAP products. According to Lizbe, MAP technology is a systems approach and when implemented correctly will increase the shelf life of products up to 2 - 4 times of its life in air, Sorore says.

“The global consumer mega trend for fresh, minimally processed quality food products is the main driver of MAP technology. Local food retailers and manufacturers have responded to the increased consumer demand for high quality fresh products with a longer shelf-life. Today one can buy a wide selection of fresh produce and other perishable products packed with these naturally occurring protective inert gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen, argon and oxygen. These food grade gases and gas mixtures are customised for each product, in other words, fresh produce will have a different mixture than fresh meat, pasta or cheese, for example” says Sorore.

Sorore says safety of Air Liquide’s gases and installations are paramount for continued success in the food, beverage and wine industry. Air Liquide has gone to great lengths to ensure that optimum safety, quality and health measures are maintained in developing its innovative range of food and beverage grade gas technologies and systems.

Air Liquide offers a wide range of customized gas applications and systems throughout the food, beverage and wine industry, for example cryogenic freezing and cooling, protective atmospheres, cold transportation/in-transit-refrigeration systems, carbonation,  O2 enrichment for fish farming and CO2 enrichment for greenhouses.

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