Using Enzymes: Tips from the Pros

 Ben Mayo, Winemaker at Eberle Winery in Paso Robles, California. Ben has worked with Eberle for nearly ten years. He first joined as a cellar worker, later graduating to Assistant Winemaker and is currently a partner. He is a graduate of UC-Santa Cruz and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

At Eberle, I use Scott Laboratories enzymes and some Laffort, which are commonly used because of their reliability and purity. It is always important to know the source and quality of anything you are adding to your wine. I find that Color X from Scott Labs, works the best for color extraction as well  as tannin extraction. Color X is a pectinase that helps release anthocyanins, stabilizing color and hue in the must. We add the Color X right at the receiving hopper. With the whites I use a mix of Cinn-Free and Color Pro. This breaks down the pulp and helps settle the juice, this is also a pectinase, thus releasing intense varietal characteristics. Color X is for heavy reds, Color Pro is for light reds (like Sangiovese or Zinfandel). Cinn-Free is for whites only.

Common mistakes seen with using enzymes include either adding too much or adding too little. It takes some experience to get it just right. I work with the same fields every year and I still have to adjust the amount of enzymes on the fly.

When using winemaking enzymes, at home or commercially, you want to be mindful of the thickness of the berry and how much enzyme to add. Thin-skinned berries should get smaller additions of enzymes than thick-skinned berries. If you add too much enzyme to any grape you will get a slimy mess when you go to press. You can also encounter higher H2S (Hydrogen Sulfide) off odors because of organic degradation.

Try splitting up your wine in batches and try different levels of enzymes in each batch. Remember that a little enzyme goes along way. Taste each batch and read the color with a spec if possible.

Michael Zitzlaff, Chief Winemaker and General Manager at Crushpad custom winemaking facility in San Francisco, California. Mike has twenty years of international winemaking experience including his role as CEO and Chief Winemaker at Yarra Valley’s Oakridge Estate. Michael holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Oenology from Australia’s Roseworthy Agricultural College.

Many common winemaking enzymes are available either through home winemaking suppliers or through wine industry suppliers. A Google search will turn up more than 1 million responses. They are either dried or liquid and can keep for a successive harvest if not used when purchased.

Adding enzymes early is best. Activity is at its maximum after 24 to 48 hours and the speed of extraction is temperature sensitive, so the process may be slower if your fruit is cold soaked. It is also important to incorporate the enzymes effectively and totally into the must.

Typically we would use color enzymes on lighter and mid-color wines to help extract further density and vibrancy i.e.: violet hues. Having said that we also use them on our high-end products to gain every little drop of extra color from the very expensive fruit that we purchase for clients. When using enzymes for color extraction, oak helps in regards to fixing color also and the use of chips, beans or other oak alternatives during the ferment will help to give longer lasting color as well as using enzymes.

Some of the cons for using enzymes are that not all winemaking enzymes are the same; some are relatively broad based and if insufficiently refined can also extract tannins from stalks and seeds. Seed extraction is the one issue we have found most disturbing from lower quality enzymes as they make the wine harsh and over extracted. The pros for using them are plenty, including better color, deeper hues and greater density.

When working with enzymes at home, try and stick to using the big names: Laffort, Novo, Lallemand, etc. and don’t add more than the recommended amount as it’s just a waste of money — plus more is not necessarily better.

Russ Robbins, Enologist for Laffort USA in Napa, California. Russ holds a master’s degree in enology from UC-Davis as well degrees in chemistry and biology from Florida State University. Russ has been a winemaker at Etude, Opus One and Domaine Carneros prior to joining the Laffort company. He is currently based in Napa, California where he also makes George IV Wines in St. Helena. Laffort, based in Bordeaux, France, is a major producer of yeast and bacteria, nutrients, enzymes, fining agents and enological tannins.

The most commonly used winemaking enzymes are specific mixes of pectinases, cellulases and hemi-cellulases. Many of these were originally developed for the fruit industry. It’s only been in the last ten years or so that a number of enzymes were developed specifically for winemaking, and winemakers really need to use those types of enzymes as the original versions are too strong.

I honestly recommend using enzymes in all wines, for all kinds of grapes. Using them makes the winemaking process easier, from color and tannin extraction to clarification. In reds, enzymes are particularly useful for color stabilization and clarification. In whites they are again helpful with clarification and also very good for aroma extraction.

If you’re thinking of using enzymes, remember basic chemistry — enzymes work better in warmer temperatures. The coldest temperatures would be the lowest end of fermentation temperatures like the 40s to 50s °F (4 to 10 °C). Just remember if you are using them at cold temperatures, you will need to use more enzymes. The grapes can come in quite cool or people can put grapes into the refrigerator, but enzymes won’t work well in the refrigerator. In that same sense, however, less enzymes are better than more in the bigger picture — too much can completely break down the skins and overextract.

In your home winery, use the manufacturer’s lowest recommended dose, add it to the grapes and process your wine normally. If you would like to see the difference between your wine made by using enzymes and one made without, try experimenting with two batches or a split batch, adding enzymes to one and using the batch without enzymes as a control.

Some of the biggest mistakes I see winemakers make when using enzymes is adding too much enzyme and running it too cold. The worst mistake, though, is adding bentonite at the same time. Bentonite stops the function of enzymes immediately. Some people ask about SO2, and it is fine to add them both — as long as you don’t mix the enzyme and SO2 together before adding them to the must. They can be added as separate additions without any problems.