One of the well-kept secrets in Texas is Benedicte Rhyne, a highly experienced wine consultant in Fredericksburg. She does consulting for St. Genevieve Winery and many of the Texas wineries. In addition, she operates a wine laboratory in Fredericksburg assisting many of the Texas winemakers with potential problems and assisting them in correcting those potential challenges. She is one of the unsung heroes at many of the Texas Wineries providing much of the guidance in helping Texas make outstanding wines. It just goes to show that women can do it BEST in Texas wineries!

Wine X Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 5.2

Wine Country Consulting

Age: 37

What brings home the bacon: Wine Consultant, Wine Country Consulting

Resides: Fredericksburg, TX

Favorite Music/Band: The Coronados and Elton John

Favorite Food(s): Food prepared with seasonings that enhance the flavors rather than hide them.

Favorite Drink(s): Champagne any time of the day.

Favorite winery/wine producer: Mas de Gourgonnier, Provence, France (my cousin's winery)

Wine X: Explain what you do in 250 words or less:

Benedicte: My husband and I moved to Texas in May 2002 and started Wine Country Consulting. Our company offers winemaking consulting and lab services to the wine industry in Texas and beyond. Building up the business here in Texas has been very rewarding. My goals are to help the Texas wine industry reach international status in quality, and to educate people on how to enjoy wine as part of their meals -- the way I was brought up to do so in France. Prior to moving to Texas, I worked for 10 years at Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma, California. I was in charge of quality control for all the wines. I managed the lab with two assistants and, as part of the winemaking team, tasted wines every day to evaluate their evolution and assess any problems. I studied lab results for any helpful hints and communicated with the cellar crew to arrange any adjustments that needed to be made. I assisted the winemaker with the blending of wines, especially Bordeaux-style wines such as Pickberry, Rancho Salina and Pentimento.

Wine X: What inspired you to work in the wine industry?

Benedicte: Wine combines many different passions I have in life, such as agriculture, science, food, traveling, cultural interchanges, and festive celebrations with friends and family.

Wine X: Do you feel being a woman in the industry is a blessing or a curse? Hinders or helps you?

Benedicte: The politically correct answer to this question would be that it doesn't matter whether you're a woman or a man, as every individual has something to offer -- a talent, an idea, a vision. The politically incorrect answer would be that being a woman in wine production can be helpful because it requires good mothering by guiding the fruit from the vines to the bottle. Also, for many centuries women have been more exposed to aromas and flavors through cooking and cosmetics. This has given them an almost instinctive sense of recognizing smells and aromas that's been transferred from generation to generation. So in conclusion, it's a real help to be a woman!!

Wine X: What's your favorite thing about working in the industry?

Benedicte: It's a very open-minded industry that allows everybody to interact and exchange ideas to better products and methods.

Wine X: What's the worst thing about working in the industry?

Benedicte: Encountering wines that've been so manipulated that they shouldn't be called wine.

Wine X: How often do you have a glass of wine?

Benedicte: Every day with supper.

Wine X: If you could drink one wine (or type of wine) for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

Benedicte: If it can only be one it would have to be Champagne -- my favorite drink!

Wine X: What was your most embarrassing moment with wine?

Benedicte: It was in 1986 when I was working for a winery in Morgon, Beaujolais, France, when I accidentally pumped a tank into another one that was already full. There was fermenting Gamay all over the cellar.

Wine X: How long does an open bottle last in your house?

Benedicte: No more than 24 hours.

Wine Business Monthly

Q&A: Texas Winemaker Bénédicte Rhyne
What large and small wineries need to know about testing wines

Bénédicte (de Carmejane) Rhyne is a native of Aix en Provence, France. She is the winemaker for Mesa Vineyards, Texas’ largest winery, and the owner of Wine Country Consulting, serving mostly smaller wineries, also in Texas.

She received her master’s degree in Enology from the Universite de Bourgogne (Dijon) in 1987. Her first work experience was at Chateau Petrus in Bordeaux, under the tutelage of renowned winemaker Jean Claude Berrouet. In January of 1988 she went to New Zealand to work a season with the Matua Valley Winery under the tutelage of winemaker/owner Ross Spence. She then traveled to England to gain marketing and sales experience by working as a sales representative for London’s Berkman Wine Cellar. Based in Yorkshire, her territory stretched to the borders of Wales and Scotland and included restaurants and large chain stores.

In 1991, Joel Peterson of Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma, California invited Rhyne to join their winemaking team. Her initial focus was working with the best grapes from the best vineyards to create a series of Bordeaux-style or “Meritage” wines. Her first project was “Pickberry,” and it became a big success. Thereafter came “Meritage” wines from “Rancho Salina” and “Pentimento.” From 1991 to 2001, the winery increased in production ten-fold. This meant a large increase in responsibilities, and Rhyne created a sophisticated wine laboratory with well-trained staff and quality control procedures to handle the increase in production. As part of the winemaking team, she helped to produce a very successful range of wines, including numerous vineyard-specific Zinfandels, Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignons, as well as Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Petite Sirah, Carignan, Grenache, Chardonnay, Gewurtztraminer and Muscat.

In 2001, Rhyne and her family visited the Texas wine industry. She began consulting in October and traveled back and forth from California. After visiting many wineries and areas of Texas and recognizing the potential for making great wine, she and her husband, Richard, moved to Fredericksburg, Texas in 2002 and created a wine laboratory to complement her expanding consulting services. Rhyne now provides winemaking consultation, as well as quality control analysis for her customers.

In the following interview, Rhyne talks about what large and small wineries need to be aware of when testing their wines and why.

How does routine testing differ between small and large wineries?

Routine analyses are very important and very crucial to winemaking decisions. Most problems are preventable by monitoring the wine every month. Smaller wineries, as well as larger ones, should have very similar routine analyses. This is an idea that is very often overlooked in smaller wineries.

Tests that are necessary to do monthly are SO2, pH, VA and micro-analyses. Sensory analysis done weekly is also very useful to detect any problems. Larger wineries will have more elaborate quality control (QC) during all aspects of production, including sanitation QC, bottling QC and lab QC, just because of the number of people involved and as a way to have everybody on the same team meet the same goals.

Smaller wineries often deal with less people, and the winemaker is usually involved in all parts of production, which gives him or her a little more control and hands-on feeling. In the latter case, the winemaker can pretty much attest that he or she has touched every single bottle produced, not a luxury that a larger winery’s winemaker can claim.

How should large wineries record the data from the tests they produce so they can act on the results?

There are many systems available to track not only movements of wine during production but also analyses. The winemaker is responsible for gathering the data and acting upon it. If you do not have a tracking system in place, an Excel spreadsheet also does wonders.

I like to taste the cellar every week as part of my routine; at that time, I also look at analyses compiled by the lab. Every winemaking decision I make always includes looking at the analysis of the components involved, as well as the sensory issues. Chemistry analyses and sensory analysis complement each other in winemaking decisions and in the prevention of potential problems. By the time you taste a problem, it is often too late. Micro-analysis, VA and SO2 monitoring can make one aware of a problem long before the problem arises.

When did you start your lab and why?

In 2001, my family and I came from California to visit the Texas wine industry. There were about 42 bonded wineries, mostly under 10,000 cases. None of those small wineries had an equipped lab. It really excited me to see that I could bring something to the growing Texas wine industry. We moved here in May 2002. I designed a lab and transformed our two-car garage on our property in Fredericksburg, Texas. The lab also helps support my consulting business.

How do the lab requirements for wineries in Texas differ from those of wineries elsewhere? How is your experience in Texas different from California?

In Texas, still in its infancy, these winery pioneers have a lot on their plates: One person grows grapes, crushes grapes, makes wine, ages wine, bottles wine, markets wine and sells wine. And at the end of the day, most of them, even though they show extreme passion for making wine, have no chemistry background and no idea that routine analysis is so important and no idea what to do with the results. By creating the first Texas wine lab, I really wanted to fill the need for routine testing and prevention, as well as offer explanation and guidance with the results.

Why is precision/accuracy in a winery lab so important?

Actually, precision and accuracy are very important because a winemaker will be prescribing for the wine or must a chemical addition (instead of an addition of chemical) based on the results of the analysis. A winemaker needs to know if the wine needs FSO2 (free sulfur dioxide) or not, if the pH is within a certain range, that the VA and TSO2 (total sulfur dioxide) are below sensory and legal limits, that the alcohol is within the label requirements, that nothing unwanted is growing in the wine, etc. By running tests and tasting wine as often as possible, the winemaker gets closer to the wine and learns to troubleshoot its results, thus avoiding inaccurate numbers due to old electrodes, out-of-date solutions or dirty glassware.

What’s your favorite new piece of lab equipment?

Mesa Vineyards just purchased an OenoFoss machine. In an area of Texas where trained lab staff is hard to find, this machine is a lifesaver for the 1.6 million-gallon facility. With minimum training, the machine can run EtOH, pH, TA, RS, VA and Malic in two minutes with only a drop of wine. I am looking forward to using it at the winery.

What pieces of lab equipment should a small winery have at a minimum?

A bench-top pH meter, an SO2 aeration unit to measure Free SO2 and a cash still to measure volatile acidity. During harvest, a refractometer and a hydrometer would be very helpful.

What are the danger signals pointing to different problems that can be detected by labs?

Volatile acidity and micro tests are essential signals that point to something going wrong. If the wine has historical testing data, even better—then you can analyze and evaluate the data with an historical perspective. Once the problem is understood, it’s easier to prevent or cure. No SO2 is like exposing the wine to massive oxidation and is another signal of potential problems. Like a doctor, the winemaker can taste, look at testing results, diagnose and prescribe the best remedy. We have access to sophisticated equipment from California that enables us to analyze numerous compounds in wine with GC and HPLC; and with the Scorpion Analyses, we are able to determine exact species of yeast and bacteria.

Should winemakers do sensory evaluation before fermentation?

Sensory evaluation should be done at every step of winemaking, from grapes in the vineyard to crusher and throughout the fermentation process. Harvest is very fast-paced, a time when a winemaker has to rely a lot on his or her palate to make decisions during fermentation.

What danger signals should people in the tasting room and the winery recognize?

The tasting room is the final step of QC. Therefore, it is very important. Watch for deposits in the bottle and unwanted gas upon opening the bottle, and always smell and taste a bottle prior to serving it to the customer. In the tasting room, just as in the winery, look for musty and unpleasant smells, such as rotten egg, rotten apple, nail polish remover, vinegar or Band-Aid. The rule of thumb is: If it does not smell nice, that is not good news...Wine is supposed to smell good—in fact, real good!

Which are the appropriate tests for wineries to do routinely and most frequently for juice or must? How should wineries record tests?

During harvest, analyses are very helpful in deciding the peak of maturity. Because it is not always practical for the winemaker to travel to the vineyards and actually look at and taste the quality of the fruit, once the gondolas arrive at the winery, it is imperative to visually look at the fruit. If the fruit looks ugly or smells bad, and it should not, there is still time to refuse the load and avoid disaster/contamination in the winery.

Once the fruit has passed the visual and is crushed at the winery, all the must analyses, such as Brix, pH, TA, SO2 and NOPA, will be necessary to help the winemaker decide on what additions to make. All tests can be recorded in an Excel spreadsheet in a computer or in a binder accessible by the winemaker and lab personnel. During fermentation, density, temperature and—I recommend to small wineries—VA must be done daily. The winemaker must do sensory on all tanks as much as possible and at least twice a day. This is the time where the winemaker relies a lot on his or her palate to see any unusual changes and act upon them quickly.

Once the fermentation is done, the winemaker will require a total analysis (EtOH, pH, TA, VA, FSO2, TSO2, RS and Malic). This helps the winemaker see at what stage of the process the wine is. Are the primary and secondary fermentations finished? Did the wine achieve the alcohol, based on the incoming Brix? This is the birth certificate of the wine, the starting point—a very important analysis step.

Weather can be a challenge: What do winemakers need to know about different bacteria in rotten grapes? What should they do to test nasty grapes?

This is where sensory plays an important role, as explained earlier. There are analyses that can help measure the growth of Lactic Acid bacteria (Lactobacillus) and Acetic Acid bacteria (Aceto or Gluconobacter), but this could take time for small wineries. Unless you are prepared and equipped to make wine out of moldy and nasty grapes, my recommendation for small wineries is to refuse the load based on visual and sensory.

What are the pros and cons of outsourcing analysis vs. doing it in-house?

When you are a small winery, unless you are a trained chemist, it does not make sense to invest time and equipment to do your own analyses. My recommendation is to get on a routine analysis with an experienced lab. Outsourcing sensory analysis is also a good way to have the wine critiqued by an outside palate. Once a winery has grown to the capacity of hiring a full-time lab person, then it makes sense to have an in-house, fully equipped lab.

How should a winery decide what to test in-house vs. out of house?

The minimum needed at harvest to make quick decisions is a refractometer, a hydrometer, a pH meter and a Free SO2 by aspiration unit. If possible (not everybody feels comfortable using them), it is good to have a cash still to measure VA during fermentation. During the aging process, check Free SO2 on a monthly basis. Outsource routinely the rest of the analyses from end of fermentation to bottling.

For wineries with extremely limited budgets that want to keep a handle on the condition of their wine, are there less expensive methods that can be utilized to help defer laboratory costs? If so, what are the critical points, at a minimum, where they should be sending wine samples to a professional laboratory to keep a handle on the condition of their wine?

I once calculated that it costs between $0.92 per bottle (100 cases of the product) to $0.53 per bottle (2,000 cases of the product) to use my professional lab based on routine analysis (10 to 15 analyses during the life of the wine from end of fermentation through bottling). The critical point is just you have to get it done. Pull the samples, label them and send them.

How do you make lab testing most cost-effective?

It is far more cost-effective to outsource your analyses as opposed to hiring a full-time lab employee when the winery is small. As the winery grows and new employees are added, then maybe a lab person can be brought in to handle quality control issues.

How do you approach telling winemakers what the various tests you offer actually mean to the wine and the winemaker?

I like to tell them that we are not truly winemakers. Yeasts are—they are the one doing the ultimate transformation of sugar to alcohol, therefore, making the wine. We are the babysitter of this wonderful product, and all the tools we can put at our disposal will only help us. Our incredible sense of smell and taste, the chemistry analyses and the micro tests are all important in making decisions for the well-being and development of the precious wine. In a nutshell, creating a system of routine analyses (QC) brings the babysitter closer to the child.

Contact Wine Country Consulting in Fredericksburg, Texas at: or 830-456-2653. WBM