The Oenological Station in the Calle Cordoba in Jerez is considered the finest drinks laboratory in Spain according to two provincial government delegates who visited yesterday. The large building is considered a reference point for safety as well as authenticity in drinks.
The Junta de Andalucia (the RegionalGovernment) has invested heavily in the station in recent years, and it is now recognised worldwide. It is not unusual therefore to see samples on its shelves from as far afield as Russia or Algeria. They are asked, for example, to check if the samples contain natural alcohol, if they have been watered down, or if they are of the stated age.
Jose Maria Mateos, the station director, showed the delegates what the machines linked to computers are capable of, for example measuring the wines’ pH, volatility and alcohol content. Only a few years ago this would have taken a technician 15 days, but now takes only a few seconds. While the machines are impressive, they do cost an average of about 120,000 euros. One has an electronic nose, while another can measure radioactivity levels.
Another facility of the Estacion de Viticultura – as it is known in Jerez – is the checking of age of the VOS and VORS Sherries. For this they use carbon 14 which has a life of 4,000 years. Since nuclear testing was banned in 1962 radioactivity levels have been falling, and it is perfectly possible to work out in which year the grapes grew.
Fraud in vinegars has been completely eliminated by being able to detect whether acetic acid is natural or added. Blended wines can be checked to see if they are blended from the stated grape varieties. Soils can be analysed, nutrition is studied, the list goes on, the lab never stops.