In France, lab takes wine tech to new levels

PARIS -- France's Excell Lab celebrates 20 years of helping winemakers perfect their trade while moving their technology into new fields.
Written by Bryan Pirolli, Correspondent (Paris) on

PARIS – After two decades, the same science that has helped perfect the creation of a healthy wine is being used in the pharmaceutical, food, and construction industries.  The leap may seem strange but the team at Excell Lab has found a way to use their research across new fields as they celebrate their 20th anniversary.

France produces nearly 20% of the world’s wine, more than any other country, representing over 10 billion euros a year in exports alone.  With more than just a reputation at stake, wineries are taking advantage of new technology to help prevent problems in the vineyards or barrels that could put their businesses at risk.  The Excell Lab, founded in 1992 by Pascal Chatonnet and Dominique Labadie in Bordeaux, has stepped in to help French winemakers modernize their trade.

The Excell Lab first made headlines by helping winemakers identify and eliminate problems introduced by cork wine stoppers.  Specializing in analysis of containers and surfaces that come in contact with wine as it is aged and bottled, the lab helped perfect the corking process.  The lab also developed technology to analyze the effects of pesticides used to protect wood barrels used in the aging process of wines.

Throughout the 90s, the team also became a leader in identifying air pollutants that indirectly affect the taste of wine, helping wineries detect molecules in their wine cellars that could potentially harm their vintages.  The lab started to pay much attention to the environment surrounding the wine and not just the objects that touch it.

As the organic movement picked up, creating a true organic wine became difficult for winemakers.  Chatonnet told SmartPlanet that the need to address the largely ignored air-born pollutants became even more necessary.  “It’s important to control the presence and emission of contaminants in the air that we breathe released by the materials all around us,” he said, “but other substances, without any particular toxic effects and thus not considered pertinent by official standards, can also cause direct or indirect problems.”

Excell has worked to expand its oenological research onto more molecular and macrobiotic levels, examining pesticide residuals on grapes and in wines.   At the same time, the lab has launched into new fields, like pharmaceuticals and construction, applying its microanalysis technology new sectors.  “The blossoming of organic products and the growing awareness of sustainable development encouraged us to try to apply our expertise and unique vision to environments other than wine,” Chatonnet said.

Since 2010, Excell has worked to study volatile emissions in both industrial and domestic settings, helping businesses determine exactly what organic molecules are being emitted into their atmosphere.  Accredited by the internationally recognized nonprofit agency COFRAC, the lab tests and grades spaces, like construction sites or food production sites.  They leave their Zone Verte Excell (Excell Green Space) stamp of approval on clients who meet certain standards depending on the environment, the materials present, and the volatile molecules found.  The step into air quality control is just one of the many steps the Lab has taken.

While focusing on seeking new patents and accreditations, Excell Lab is also developing an overseas presence.  In 2000, the Lab reached across the Atlantic, setting up a location in Argentina, followed by another in Chili.  More recently, a Spanish outpost opened to apply the oenological technology to Spain’s Rioja wine.  Having only had ephemeral contacts with a laboratory in California, Chatonnet hopes to partner soon with entrepreneurs in the U.S. to share technology and research.

With just 25 people working across four countries, Excell Lab remains a small endeavor, but one that is adapting itself constantly to new demands and new needs. “We are a small company that can only defend and develop itself through innovation.  There’s no competition or profit without innovation,” Chatonnet said.

Photo: John Morgan

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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