“Measure the measurable, and make the immeasurable also measurable,” wrote Galileo Galilee in the 16th century.

This measurability is one of the great challenges of the wine industry – with a product which is measurable on the one hand, while having, on the other hand, a life and a personality of its own.

This is one of the challenges to be faced by a small but dedicated team in Stellenbosch, with the launch of the first independent and accredited analytical laboratory for the wine and spirit industry.

This brand new laboratory fulfils a need that has existed in the wine industry for a long time. Laboratory services, up to now, have been restricted mainly to the wholesalers and a few individual cellars. SGS South Africa has now equipped the new wine and spirit laboratory to provide a complete analysing service for must, wine, spirits and related liquor products.

SGS, with its head office in Geneva, is the biggest company in the world with regard to such quality control, and has been operating in South Africa since 1949. According to Dr Brett Lourens, manager of SGS in the Western Cape, the first SGS laboratory was erected in Beaune, France, 15 years ago. In addition to the laboratory in Beaune this is the only other SGS laboratory aimed specifically at providing a service to a wine industry.

Altus Schreuder, former assistant director and head of the Department of Agriculture’s official wine and spirits laboratory at the Directorate Plant and Quality control, manages the new laboratory. “Our goal is to provide a fast, professional and accurate service,” he explains. “Results must be available within 24 hours. This is one of the reasons why we have a courier service at our disposal. We want to serve the entire industry, as far as Vredendal.”

The SGS laboratory sticks to the standard tariffs that are currently applicable in the industry. “We want to recruit and maintain clients by providing an excellent service,” says Altus.

To ensure rapid turnover, the laboratory has been equipped with state of the art technology, although Altus ensured that in terms of reference methods, it would be fully compatible with the apparatus currently in use in the industry. His pride and joy is an automatic analyser that was specially manufactured in Germany and imported for the laboratory. The analyser sends 50 samples per hour through four parallel channels testing for sugar, volatile acid, total acid and pH, as well as sulphur dioxide (total and free).

Alcohol is tested with the pycnometer method. The apparatus enables the laboratory to do complete certification – also for in and exports.

“The capacity of the laboratory is unlimited,” says Altus. “So too its spectrum. Eventually we shall be able to do all kinds of analyses, except perhaps highly specialised research tests, but for that there are other comprehensive SGS laboratories in South Africa.”

The latest SGS laboratory also prides itself on highly qualified personnel. Altus is assisted by Hanneli Smit, formerly head of the laboratory at Simonsvlei. Yolanda van Wyk of the department of agriculture has also joined the team, while other qualified personnel will assume service shortly.

The laboratory is already expanding by offering its services to the broader agricultural community, for example by means of soil and leaf analyses, as well as microbiological food analyses. “Ultimately it is important to offer a one-stop service to the wine industry,” believes Brett.

SGS did market research for three years before the laboratory eventually came into being. “With international acceptability of analytical results being of critical importance, we have already started implementing procedures in accordance with the ISO Guide 25, and we reckon that the laboratory’s accreditation should come through early this year,” says Altus.

The laboratory will offer the following analyses and services:

  • alcohol reducible sugar
  • total acid and pH
  • volatile acid
  • SO2 (free and total)
  • gas pressure (still and sparkling wine)
  • filterability
  • tartrate stability
  • protein stability
  • FAN
  • citric acid
  • malic acid
  • “pinking”
  • polyphenols
  • minerals
  • yeast counts
  • malolactic fermentation
  • calibration of refractometers, thermometers, etc.
  • preparation of reagents and solutions
  • supply of sample bottles
  • taking of samples in cellars
  • courier service for collection of samples

The SGS Wine and Spirit Laboratory, situated in the industrial area below the Papegaaiberg, may be contacted at Tel: 021-886 6069 and Fax: 021-886 6769.

“We have an unlimited capacity,” says Altus Schreuder (right), manager of the new SGS wine and spirit laboratory in Stellenbosch. Dr Brett Lourens is the Western Cape manager of SGS’s full subsidiary in South Africa.

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