Five Labradors Retrievers are the newest quality control experts at Chilean barrel maker, TN Coopers.
Trained in a manner similar to K-9 dogs used by police forces, these Labs can sniff very small amounts of chemical compounds which cause “cork taint” and lead to unappealing aromas and flavors in wine. This problem can occur on the cork, as the name suggests, but it can also happen when the barrels are contaminated earlier in the production process.
The dogs constantly patrol the cooperage, looking for any contaminants before products are shipped out. TN Coopers also rents the dogs to wineries for use in detecting quality problems, and more puppies may be bred and trained for use in California wineries in the future.
Video Spotlight: Chilean Barrel Maker Trains Dogs to Prevent Tainted Wine
This post is based on the Mental Floss article, Chile Has Dogs Trained to Sniff Out Tainted Wine, and They’re All Very Good Boys, by Emily Petsko, February 25, 2019; the Food and Wine article and video, Chilean Barrel Maker Trains Dogs to Prevent Tainted Wine, by Mike Pomranz, February 19, 2019. Image source: John E Davidson/Getty Images
1. How does the accuracy of the Labradors compare to more conventional approaches or other technology available for detecting the compounds that cause cork taint?
Guidance: Even advanced technology can have trouble isolating the source of chemicals like trichloroanisole (TCA) and tribromoanisole (TBA) that cause corked wine. According to Guillermo Calderón, the marketing manager at TN Coopers, the dogs’ keen sense of smell is very reliable and seldom wrong.
An an example: One dog working at a winery pointed to a hose as a source of wine contaminants. After supposedly fixing the issue, the problem didn’t go away, and the Lab was brought back for a second try. It was finally determined that the dog had been pointing to a little rubber ring on the hose, not the hose itself. The human who interpreted the dog’s “report” had made the error.
2. Where else might these dogs be used?
Guidance: Wineries in California have expressed interest in exploring the use of dogs to patrol their wine after visiting TN Coopers in Chile. The cooperage is now breeding and training more puppies to be able to continue the program. They envision sending some of the Labs to California to pursue rewarding careers in the field of quality control.