I received the following comment submission on November 20, 2011 from Robert Bilenchi:
Misinformation, misifrmation, misinformation,…Matt Kramer of the wine spectator and consumer Reports are out and out wrong. The 70-75%air removal, reported by Kramer is a gross error. I have determined a method for evaluating the effective vacuum produce by a well oiled vacu-vin pump. In my tests I determined that the effective air removal to be: 89.9%, 90.5%, 91.5, and 92.1% on a completely empty bottle, a 75% empty, a 50% empty and a 25% empty bottle respectively. I am now in the process of determining how much minimum pumping is necessary to achieve these levels and finally through a panel wine tasting study how much time is necessary to detect a taste difference in wines that have been opened and “Vacu-Vin ed” at various levels of wine removal. The Consumer reports test determined that tasters could not discern difference in the taste of a wine opened for one week without the use of Vacu-Vin and a freshly opened bottle and did not mention the time intervals of storage for the various wine storage methods. The conclusions reached could not be ascertained by the reader because of the lack of the experimental data ie. the time intervals used. I plan on further testing the Vacu-Vin pump for duration of vacuum and amount of pumping to achieve vacuum and taste evaluations my time. I plan are to publish the results in the American Wine Society Journal.
On January 19, 2012, I received this follow up:
Dr. Roe needs to get re-educated perhaps another Phd might help. He is seriously in error; and yes while I’m at it why did you remove my previous note? I still get 90% lasting vacuum and I still will perform a panel taste test and still plan on publishing the results in the Journal of the Am. Wine Society. I thought you were against censorship.
All this in response to a piece I wrote back in 2009.
The piece is so old that not all the links even work anymore. I wrote it, and having said what I wanted to say, years later felt pretty well done with it. The comments back and forth are more than twice as long as what at over 1,800 words is a longish post already.
Looking back, I would edit the hell out of what I wrote, but I’m done with it. I have had many thousands of readers find their way to my wine blog because of this one old post, but I’m done with it. Google searches from “Does Vacu-vin work?” to “Scrotal Vacuum Pump” [Note: I am prayerful that my post was many pages from the front of that particular search’s yielded results] bring new readers to my blog every single day, but I’m done with the Vacu-vin post.
Hey, did you just accuse me of censorship, Robert?
I chose to join the multitude of sites that went black in protest of SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy act, and followed up with a little ribbon on my site opposing censorship.
Damn it, now I had to respond to Robert.
I sent Robert this email note the same day, January 19:
Dr. Roe needs to get re-educated perhaps another Phd might help. He is seriously in error; and yes while I’m at it why did you remove my previous note? I still get 90% lasting vacuum and I still will perform a panel taste test and still plan on publishing the results in the Journal of the Am. Wine Society.
I thought you were against censorship.
I did not remove your previous note, it was never allowed to post.
It wasn’t a matter of censorship, it was a matter of editorial choice.
I enjoy, welcome, dialogue.
Instead of reasoned response, you assert both Matt Kramer and Consumer Reports are “out and out wrong” You cry out [SIC]
Misinformation, misifrmation, misinformation,
then denigrate Dr. Roe now.
I didn’t like the tone of your comments, more combative than helpful, and offering nothing new to the comment stream.
You merely offered anecdotal, unverified data to counter the verified laboratory results conducted in different places and different times yielding similar results: vacu-vin vacuum fail.
Send me a link to your article when it is published and I will post the link and as much of the article as fair use permits.
I am really not interested in a back and forth over this long ago written piece, but if you bring me something newsworthy I will report it.
I hope that provides you the motivation to produce the most well researched and persuasive article on the subject for the American Wine Society Journal as you promised in November and again now.
And in response I found this note in my mailbox later that day:
I stand by my statements. The methodology by which the the effectiveness of the Vacu-Vin was tested was never described. I am extremely confident in my methodology in assessing the vacuum producing ability of the Vacu-Vin pump. My method is both accurate and clever and will be revealed my report when made. It doesn’t require the use of a vacuum gauge but it does require accurate measuring methodology and proper usage of the Vacu-Vin pump and stopper, something that the experimenters never talk about, maybe because they don’t know. My comments may sound combative but not any more so than “Friends don’t let friends Vacu-Vin” and “A giant sucking sound and that’s all”. My wine tasting group is in the process picking a taste evaluation date which should be in late March or early April. To be quite honest the results of the taste test is another matter, as it is quite possible that the group may find that the taste results indicate that the device is not an effective preservative. I am fully confident however that the reported 70% vacuum effectiveness is totally wrong. My actual results are 91% +/- 1.1% depending on how empty the bottle is of liquid. Don’t believe anyone just because he/she has a Phd. They are wrong occasionally, that is why scientific theories change from time to time.
I thought about Bob’s (we’re almost buddies now, having moved from Robert to Bob) reply overnight, then sent this note to him on January 20, 2012:
If you don’t mind, if you would like me to, I would like to take your two comments and this thoughtful email response and string them together into a new standalone update post.
I’m pretty much over my past post, but your passion is undeniable.
My experience was that the vacu-vin was not effective in preserving wine flavors – even just one or two days. Then one article after another was written, or a new test found that the device did not measure up, or tasters found no difference to wine preservation compared to just jamming the old cork back in – some even cited a negative effect to aromas and flavors when used as directed. More than a few years later, I wrote my piece. It is so old that links are broken yet I get at least 50 visitors to it every day.
Maybe as you assert, all the tests results are un error; perhaps a vacuum is achieved, maybe even maintained, but in the absence of beneficial effect, does that ultimately matter?
I am not advocating covering up valid scientific measured data, should your 91% +/1 1.1% vacuum be reproducible and more importantly maintained.
But if your tasting group has a similarly unsatisfying experience with the vacu-vin’s efficacy as a preservation tool that I, Kramer, and Consumer Reports (and the NYT, UC Davis, etc.) have experienced, then your data is more than likely to be misused to try to suggest a correlation between partial vacuum created and wine flavor preservation where no such correlation exists.
It is possible your time and efforts might be better spent determining in a measurable way the most successful wine flavor preservation tool rather than collecting data that has questionable, possible meaningless value? It is just a thought.
Anyway, if you want, I’ll feature your pieces in a new follow up post, a counterpoint piece to my original.
Let me know.
Bob said yes:
This is good. I can’t however consider abandoning this pursuit on the Vacu-Vin for other methods until these tests are complete. Can you see someone seeing a report from me on another device asking “well did you ever consider the effectiveness of the Vacu-Vin” to which my reply would be “well yes but just as I was approaching the concluding phase of the study, someone said I might be wasting my time so I gave up on it.”
If you wish, I can describe my method for preparing the pump and stopper and determining the amount of vacuum achieved which should be readily repeatable by anyone with an accurate scale and the patience to perform the procedure. So yes you can go ahead with the post.
Thus, a new post was born.
I would love to invite Bob to add to this post through comments, which I will approve, and the post can grow and take mostly any shape Bob wishes. He can offer his methodology or tasting panel results, or copy us in on his submission to the Journal.
As for me, while I remain incredibly skeptical as to the efficacy of the vacu-vin, at this point I really don’t care if you use them and think they are the best device in the work of wine preservation.
I believe that a partial vacuum is not a vacuum and some remaining air means some remaining oxygen which means oxidation still occurs when you use the vacu-vin. I believe sucking air from a bottle mechanically strips wine of volatile esters and phenols, decreasing the olfactory experience and possibly the gustatory as well.
So, for me, whether there is 30% or 9% of the oxygen present in the bottle after pumping, and whether that percentage increases to nearly 100% due to leaky valves or not, doesn’t really matter as it has failed in numerous blind tastings to do any better than merely jamming the old cork back in – and has fared worse in some tastings.
But out of fairness, or because I was moved by Bob’s passion, or because I got Bob to mostly write this post for me, I have fought my censorious inclinations and offer this post up to you.
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