From the annals of winemaking: flash detente

flash detente wine St. Helena resident John Gillespie tweeted the other day: “Trade and consumer alert – bad harvest weather in CA meant lots of grapes (Napa Cabs included) went through “flash détente” machines.” Since I am a political science junkie, I thought SALT II had finally made it to Napa!

But instead of laying down weapons, some vintners appear to be ratcheting up technology as Mother Nature dealt them a third consecutive growing season that was relatively cool. Wines & Vines, a trade publication, ran a story last year on Flash-Détente, which roughly translates as “instant relaxation.” They report that by heating the grapes to 185ºF and then sending them to a vacuum chamber to be cooled, the the technology increases extraction from red grapes while minimizing bitter seed tannin and pyrazine (vegetal) odors. The finished wine also has a darker color. Because some of the water content of the grapes has been vaporized, the pre-fermented juice (called “must”) has a higher sugar content, which will result in higher alcohol or will be adjusted down in some way. Developed in France, the first Flash-Détente machines arrived in California in 2009.

Here endeth today’s Flash class on winemaking.

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28 Responses to “From the annals of winemaking: flash detente”


  1. The machine in Acampo (just north of Lodi) has been running 24/7, mostly on Sonoma and Napa fruit. Very sad year.


  2. Randy Caparoso wrote an article about the machine in Lodi just weeks ago….check out Lodiwine.com for his post.


  3. The vast majority of that finished wine will not be coming back to Napa or Sonoma. The industrial wineries who installed these big machines had reps out and about snapping up (at cheap prices) grapes rejected for having too much rot by smaller wineries. A friend who works for one of these big producers told me they don’t use Flash-Détente on premium fruit – only on “C- and D-grade” vineyards.


  4. Flash-Détente machines have been working very successfully in Europe for quite some time now.


  5. What’s the problem? Chateau Beaucastel does something akin to this….


  6. John, not so. Many a winery are bringing fruit to Lodi for Flash, and the juice heads back west the following day. And these are not big producers nor are they C and D vineyards.


  7. We “saved” a lot of rotten grapes by selling them cheap to buyers who processed by flash detente. In this economy we had to get something out of them–our crop insurance requires it (but fortunately will make up some of the price gap).

    I can’t identify the buyers, but I can assure you that these won’t end up in any high end wines. These are strictly large, lowest common denominator blenders looking to make up for their own short harvests–just as the market is looking up. Even if they wanted to use them in high end blends, they just have no character to support that.

    I got to see a few of these through processing at the buyers invitation, and they come out characterless. Given what they would have tasted like without flash detente, I guess that is a good thing!


  8. …not only this but hundreds of truckloads of juice have been heading out to the valley for concentration…send out two trucks, get one back and feather in as needed..concentrate supplies are toast…


  9. Flash machine has been working non-stop as well as the concentrate plant down the road….micro producers don’t have the ability to blend into 10k gallon tanks and mitigate poor quality…so consequently we passed on vineyards this year that didn’t meet the two fold ‘luxury/premium’ quality component as well as brix/TA/pH parameters…There was some nice quality fruit that came in from different parts of the valley floor and Sonoma but I think they maybe the exception this year, not the rule.


  10. John,

    There are only 2 of these units in the U.S. Period. Neither of them are owned by wineries that even have a wine label. No “reps out and about snapping up grapes” as you mentioned. Your “friend” has given you bad information. This service has been provided to wineries and growers that were interested in improving quality. It has helped save this vintage post rain in some areas and also helped growers get paid for their fruit in a year when the fruit was likely to be rejected by the buyers due to botrytis,etc. Premium vineyards from all over the state were flashed this year…not just C and D.


  11. gross


  12. as a winemaker in the willamette valley, we went the opposite direction. we will be making light, low alcohol wines this year, to represent the vintage.

    sommeliers all over the west coast have been talking about how they prefer low-alcohol wines that go well with food. let’s hope they put their money where their mouth is.


  13. Similar to what Tim already stated I heard there are only 3 in the world (currently) with 2 here in US. One is in the Bay area I’ve heard. I guess the other is in Lodi? Could they really be processing this much? I wonder what the costs are to use?


  14. I wonder if “wineries and growers that were interested in improving quality” will print “Flashed Cabernet Sauvignon”, “Flashed Pinot Noir” or “Flashed Syrah” on labels.


  15. Tim:

    I am sure what he meant is what I was talking about above. Reps have been out there looking for fruit to make offers on. Just because they have to go to a third party for service doesn’t change that.

    It costs a lot–hundreds of dollars a ton–so their offers are very minimal–150 to 250/ton based on what it is and level of rot. So basically they are buying appellation fruit, after flash, trucking, etc. for maybe 500-700/ton. But flash gives huge yields too–they reported 180 gallons/ton on cabernet. So that keeps their cost down too.

    Like I said, we had to accept the “best” offer based on our crop insurance. I can tell you that, even appellation bottled, this is going into $8-15 a bottle stuff. Ultimately, I think they were making up for their own lost volume, not trying to get a bargain per se.

    But I have seen grapes through this–it doesn’t “improve quality” of most grapes. Only terribly rotten grapes that would make undrinkable wine otherwise. I am told it does same for terribly unripe grapes. I heard a report of carignane in the langudoc picked at 17 brix and flashed.


  16. Jerry,

    The yield is actually less than normal post-flash. Approximately 10% of the yield is lost in this process. That is where the “Flash water” comes from. This water is full of pyrazines and other undesired compounds. The yield is actually more like 155 gallons per ton, not 180 as you stated. I do not recall saying it improved quality in “most” grapes. It improves quality on not only rotten grapes. Even ripe grapes can have pyrazine issues. This machine has a proven track record from independent labs of removing pyrazines.

    Ed,

    There are approximately 100 of these units world wide. EVERY major winemaking region has them as well as China, Russia and other countries. They may not choose to tell the public they have them..but trust me, they do.

    I am a winemaker and I have ran quite a few lots through this process in the past few years. I make the above comments from my personal experience and not from what I may have heard from a few people.


  17. Maybe all of those A/B wineries will reduce their prices based on the wine that they will sell after the “flash detente”. No? Didn’t think so – like more high alcohol, high Rs wines are needed in the world.


  18. This is the first year for me to see it first hand. 180/ton is what they got, but these were, despite rot, freshly rained on lots. Nonetheless, we only see 155 g on rare occasions and even then we don’t use it all. 120 to 135 is really all that is useable in premium winemaking. So even 155 if the grapes weren’t well “irrigated”, would be an increased yield. The fact that the “heavy press” is exactly the same as the rest of the wine after flash detente is what makes the yield higher–there is no heavy press to dump or sell off.


  19. the point is that no one should be doing this


  20. Interesting stream.

    Gab: from your mouth to God’s ears.Keep us posted.


  21. It appears that the greater the demand for wine in the US the more likely it will evolve into something like Coca Cola. There may be a need and/or purpose for this process but it will eventually erode terroir driven processes. Call me cynical!


  22. Jacqueline –

    So far this vintage has turned out really well.

    Aromatics are a little less than what w’d like, so big fruit wines like viognier and gruner are not as exciting as they have been in the past.

    However, the acidity protected the quality of the grapes, while the long hangtime (some fruit wasn’t harvested until November!) created fascinating depth for our more complex wines. Riesling and pinot noir are tasting incredible.

    This is only my fourth vintage, but I would say it has been the most interesting. Not every wine will turn out great this vintage, but there is the potential for some wines to be truly special.

    Really, what I’m trying to say is this: “If you are faced with a vintage like this, and try to change the wine so the numbers fit into a box…well, that wine might taste good. But it won’t reflect the essence of the wine. It won’t show the unique character of the vintage, or the style of the winemaker. It will never be something truly special.”


  23. sounds like my kind of wine.


  24. I vividly recall a dinner years ago (mid to late 90s) in DC with Eileen Crane of Domaine Carneros. I fell for her Pinot noir and commented that it tasted “Burgundian,” by which of course I meant that it was good. An elderly wine writer at the table perked up and said, “Did you boil it? My buddy in New York always boils his Burgundy.” Eileen looked horrified and said simply, “No, I don’t boil my wine.”

    Do “flashed” wines suffer PTSD?


  25. Perhaps the label of a flash-detente wine should feature Henry Kissinger in a trench coat.


  26. [...] Dr. Vino reports that many California winemakers are putting their reds through “flash détente” – [...]


  27. I think Flash Detente doing a great job,what a wine machine it is? Great service provider to customers every hour.Go Ahead!


  28. One of the few things that I have come to understand about wine after tasting for a few decades is that scores, vintage charts, and appellation designations are useless benchmarks


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