By Cheryl Gray via The Grapevine News

The air we breathe is home to a free, abundant and primary weapon that wineries use to combat the ever-present threat of oxidation.

That weapon is nitrogen, which makes up about 80% of the Earth’s atmosphere. Winemakers harness the benefits of this colorless, odorless, inert gas to prolong the shelf life of their products by guarding them during production and storage. In short, nitrogen protects what is most important to winemakers—the wine’s taste, aroma, and quality.

The question of how nitrogen functions best in any winery is answered by companies that are experts in the field. Among them is Vacuum Barrier Corporation, a cryogenics industry leader based in Woburn, Massachusetts. VBC designs, engineers and fabricates liquid nitrogen dosing and piping systems for wineries, breweries and other industries across the globe.

The company has a 60-year history of providing its clients with custom-built and standard solutions for liquid nitrogen. Wineries use VBC’s signature Nitrodose injection systems in multiple applications. Its piping systems include the stainless Semiflex, Nitromatic dewar fill and Cobraflex. CobraFlex is a liquid nitrogen hose made of stainless steel, deriving its name in part from its extremely flexible outer wrap. A clean-in-place feature is available for all piping options, as are sensor control separators and modulating valve phase separators.

Jim Fallon is an Application Engineer for VBC. He explains that liquid nitrogen use in wineries is versatile and provides many solutions in real-time, helping to delay or eliminate oxygen contamination before it can start.

“The main advantage of nitrogen is that it’s inert and won’t easily react with other substances. This means it can be used to reduce or delay the oxidation of the product. It essentially replaces a significant amount of the oxygen found in ‘air’ at different stages of the manufacturing and packaging process.”

VBC works specifically with liquid nitrogen to deploy it for common uses such as purging wine bottles before filling and removing oxygen in the headspace before capping. Fallon describes how liquid nitrogen is key in this process, known in the wine industry as flushing.

“Flushing can be an important step in maintaining the freshness of any organic material,” he says. “Removing oxygen from a storage container or bottle will help to extend the shelf life of the product. Liquid nitrogen expands to 700 times its volume as it evolves into a gas. That rapidly expanding gas drives air out of the container.”

Another use for nitrogen in wineries is sparging, which removes the oxygen that has dissolved in wine during various points in production. Since it is inert, nitrogen doesn’t react with the wine and, as a result, won’t alter the flavor and bouquet intended by winemakers. Fallon points to argon as another inert gas that wineries use for sparging. Another option is carbon dioxide, but Fallon warns that its use presents some challenges.

“Carbon dioxide tends to be more reactive and tends to alter the profile of the wine, which may or may not be desired,” he says.

Fallon adds that nitrogen is also typically used in blanketing, which functions just like it sounds. Nitrogen, or argon, covers an area or container to help protect the wine by keeping oxygen out.

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