“Johnny Flash” Brings New Portable Flash Détente Unit to Kerrville Hills Winery/Incubator – The Interview [Updated]

Note: Changes were made near the end of this blog to correct statements about the number of flash détente units operating in Texas and to note when and where they were commissioned.

What’s this thing that looks like a tangle of pipes, vessels and fans on the back of a flatbed truck that recently pulled into Kerrville Hills Winery? Well, according to Kerrville Hills owner and winemaker John Rivenburgh, it’s all about taking advantage of the modern technology of winemaking – Flash Détente (aka ‘flash’ for short). He says, “This ‘flash’ unit is the ultimate extraction tool that helps pull out more of the important components in wine like color, tannins, acids, and aromatics from the grapes, particularly the skins. It is one of the most effective modern tools we can use in the fermentation of wine.”

Flash détente, roughly translates to ‘immediate relaxation’, and includes two process – thermovinification, a process that works by quickly heating grapes to near boiling, then immediately cooling them. To get the full benefit of this method it is often combined with vacuum. These processes disrupt the cells in the grape skins, releasing compounds which increase the sugar content, enhances the color, and gives it a richer aroma than available using other more conventional methods. The vaporized water and volatilized compounds in the process are captured and chilled in a condenser, allowing them to be discarded or to be selectively blended back into the grape must, depending on the goals of the winemaker. 

John Rivenburgh

“What’s innovative about our new unit at Kerrville Hills is that it is totally portable and a lot less complicated than other flash units,” says Rivenburgh. “It has it’s own generator and all it needs is a standard water hook up. We plan to use it here at Kerrville Hills Winery as our Hill Country location and also take it on the road to the High Plains to use up there. It’s kind of like… have grapes, will flash. It is as simple as that.”

Some winemakers view flash technology as merely a ‘flashy way’ to fix bad fruit, but Rivenburgh sees it as a modern extension of the centuries old winemaking method of punch downs. As a champion of this technology, he is seeing increased interest from Texas winemakers, especially when it is used in sparing amounts (10-20 percent of grape production) to enhance the flavor and aroma profiles of resulting wines. According to Rivenburgh, “Those on the cutting edge of making wines know what flash is and the benefits it can have, even on finished wine. It is utilized around the world and is now found in just about every wine region.”

Conventional punch down during fermentation of red grapes

Rivenburgh also says, “The punch down (pushing down the rising grape skins and grape solids in the tank during fermentation) is the first method winemakers used to get more extraction in their wines. But, as science and technology has improved, winemaking and the process of extraction. We’re really excited to start using flash détente right away by running test batches this summer and using it as part of our fermentation program in the upcoming 2021 harvest.”

The Kerrville Hills Winery flash détente unit is available for winery incubator members to use as an added benefit of membership. It is another tool in the arsenal of state-of-the-art equipment at the winery incubator. In addition, winery incubator members will be able to take full advantage of Rivenburgh’s extensive experience with successfully operating flash détente. Kerrville Hills Winery becomes the second winery in Texas to purchase and utilize a flash détente unit for winery and custom crush. The first unit was commercially operated at Bending Branch Winery in Comfort, TX, which brought its unit online in 2014.

John Rivenburgh is one of the few people in Texas who has experience with using flash détente technology in winemaking. He helped bring the first flash machine to Texas in 2013 while at bending Branch Winery with Dr. Robert Young and made award-winning wines with the technology. Rivenburgh says, “I’m just excited about the technology of flash. I’ve used it in the past, and now want to use it to keep pushing the technology and the quality of Texas wines forward.”

About Kerrville Hills Winery 

Sitting at the highest point in Kerr County, overlooking the beautiful Texas Hill Country, Kerrville Hills Winery (KHW) was the first winery established in Kerrville. In 2019, John Rivenburgh purchased Kerrville Hills to establish a wine incubator; a communal space for educated winemaking to accelerate boutique winery operations, especially new start-ups. John has deep roots in the Texas Hill Country, is an award-winning winemaker, and has passion for growing high quality, sustainable Texas grapes. Follow Kerrville Hills Winery on Facebook and Instagram

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Love to taste, talk and tweet about Texas wines and where they are in the global scheme for wines. After all that's the only way they will reach the full potential.