Traditional wine vinegar production is a very lengthy process. Such production times have become the most serious problem. Traditional production is generally done by small SMEs who are now at risk due to high production costs, low profit margins and competition from inferior versions of vinegar produced by 'quick' industrial methods.Although there is strong consumer demand for high quality vinegars, the amount produced annually is low and expensive. Furthermore, the low annual production level is a consequence of a lack of knowledge of the basic biotechnological process involved.
To minimize the costs due to the long production periods and to reduce the risks associated we propose to shorten production while maintaining the quality standards. The main reason for time consuming production process is that the Acetic acid bacteria are obligate aerobes and oxygen must be slowly fed into the process. Until now, production times have been reduced by forcing air to disperse through the wine which converts the superficial transformation (aeration) into a submerged development. However, the quality of the final product is lower than that produced by the slower traditional method as there is considerable loss of volatile compounds.
The WINEGAR project plans to reduce the time needed for traditional vinegar production through an integrated approach which will include research into the wood used in the barrels and the selection and control of bacteria. Most of the wood used in the production of wine vinegar barrels has been similar to that used in wine production i.e. oak, which allows very limited oxygen transfer. The WINEGAR project will investigate the use of other woods which are more porous. The project will also research the effects of wood thickness on oxygen diffusion.
Finally, a collection of the different micro-organisms involved in the production will be developed (acetic acid bacteria) during the WINEGAR project and for other follow-on work.
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Sant Cugat Sesgarrigues