Biotech Firm To Develop Rapid Test For California Winery

Invisible Sentinel, a biotech company in West Philadelphia recently announced they are pairing with Jackson Family Wines in Sonoma County, Calif., to develop a rapid diagnostic to detect brettanomyces, a nemesis to some vintners who think it causes a "spoiled" taste. Invisible Sentinel has developed an easily transportable kit - it fits in a backpack - that allows for detection of brettanomyces without elaborate labs and scientists.

Jackson Family Wines is the maker of nearly three dozen wineries in California, Oregon, France, Italy, Chile, and Australia. Its science director, Torey Arvik, heralded the partnership while acknowledging that, to some winemakers, brettanomyces - a yeast more commonly found in red wine - is an accepted regional marker.

"While some consumers and even wine critics would prefer wineries work to prevent the effect brettanomyces can have now that technology exists to do so, others enjoy that character in their wine and find it typical of a particular wine region," Arvik told Philly.com. "Regardless of one's preference, technology like Invisible Sentinel can help winemakers identify brett - and then choose to include it or remove it as part of a stylistic decision. It is a powerful tool that only enhances the art and science of making world-class wine."

It works much like a pregnancy-test kit, right down to a "test cassette" that displays two red lines when the wine sample is positive for brettanomyces, one line when it's negative.Speed is essential because the faster the yeast, which grows on the skin of grapes, can be detected, the less time it has to produce the taste-destroying compounds.

Invisible Sentinel's test, called Veriflow BRETT, uses proprietary technology and is the result of five years of development, Veriflow has been marketed for about a year to food manufacturers and processors and third-party testing labs to aid detection of such problematic microbes as E. coli, salmonella, and listeria. If the test, priced about $20, proves effective at Jackson Family Wines, "we're going to partner to market it to the entire industry," said Nicholas Siciliano, Invisible Sentinel's CEO.

"Brettanomyces can be found in fermented dairy products, artisanal beers, and fruit-based fermentations, because they [yeast] are ubiquitous in nature and can clean up after other primary fermenting microorganisms," said Jackson's Arvik. "However, Brettanomyces bruxellensis can be a global wine-quality threat because its contributions, like 'medicinal' aromas and 'metallic' aftertaste, can damage a good wine experience."

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