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What's your vote on whether technology in wine making has helped?


Does technology make a better wine? This is a question that is often asked by vintners, wine spectators, and enthusiasts alike. In the past century, technology in winemaking has increased exponentially, allowing a vintner to maintain complete control of almost every aspect of the winemaking process, from growing the grape all the way to the bottle. This level of control allows for wineries to experiment throughout the entire procedure. But does this necessarily create a better wine? By looking at some of the different technologies available to wineries, the functions, effects, and practical applications, one can make their own educated decision on the matter.

In itself, does technology improve the quality of the final product? It isn’t necessarily a question of the technology, but a question of the winemaker. Technology hasn’t been developed to be the only factor in improving the quality, but to be used as a tool to help the winemaker interpret the vinification process and more efficiently create a quality, finished product. This is to say that technology itself does not improve the wine; instead it gives the vintner the tools from which to do so. Additionally, these new technologies allow for the re-evaluation of traditional winemaking mechanics.


A Stubborn Society

Few industries in this day and age are more suspicious of change than that of winemaking. The practice of vinification has been around for millennia, with evidence showing that humans have been drinking wine as early as 9,000 years ago. The various processes and traditions used in various regions have had the time to be perfected in their own respective way. Case in point, vintners from a specific area have had years upon years to analyze the terroir of the land, experiment to see what works well and what doesn’t, and find the most effective grape, method of growth, and approach to winemaking to create that superb sip of wine that they strive so hard to create.

A Stubborn Society

Few industries in this day and age are more suspicious of change than that of winemaking. The practice of vinification has been around for millennia, with evidence showing that humans have been drinking wine as early as 9,000 years ago. The various processes and traditions used in various regions have had the time to be perfected in their own respective way. Case in point, vintners from a specific area have had years upon years to analyze the terroir of the land, experiment to see what works well and what doesn’t, and find the most effective grape, method of growth, and approach to winemaking to create that superb sip of wine that they strive so hard to create.


A More Precise Process

Modern winemakers like to use the term “precision winemaking,” which, in practice, is taking advantage of the ability to maintain strict control of the many experimental variables present in the winemaking process. The three primary variables in this case are temperature control, the ability to clean, and precise mixing regimens. It goes beyond these three though, far beyond in fact. Processes such as harvesting, filtration, closure, and even shipping, are all incredibly important variables that can be streamlined and improved by modern winemaking technology. Take harvesting for example, as until the past century, it had been a process carried out exclusively by hand. Today, there exist automated harvesters that not only pick the grape, but also leave the plant fully intact and undamaged. On top of that, there are mechanisms that automatically sort the grape away from the leaf and stem directly after harvesting in the vineyard, leaving just the grapes, clean and ready to be brought back to the winery for processing. This entire advancement has allowed for a drastic reduction in the labor force that a winery had previously needed to employ, saving a considerable amount of money. This is money that can be applied more effectively within the entire winemaking process.

Another incredibly useful and effective advancement in modern vinification is the application of sensor technology in every facet of winemaking. From temperature control to pressure sensors and pump statuses to research fermenters, sensor technology is one of the biggest advancements in the history of wine technology. Advances in sensors and their ability to report real-time data is now a standard of sensor technology. The newest fermenters, for example, are able to transmit tank jacket temperature, must temperature, Brix, pump status, and system set points. Other sensor technologies include fluid flow and differential tank product pressure, with all of this information being instantly delivered in real time to an operator interface via tablet or Internet. Even the method used to close a bottle is a process that has been refined and improved, despite many local regulations that require the use of natural cork. The traditional seal has frustrated wine producers for ages, as cork lets in an inconsistent amount of air over time as well and having the tendency to become tainted with TCA (trichloroanisole), a compound that spoils wine. However, the main alternative, an airtight screw cap, is generally shunned due to the fact that it doesn’t allow any oxygen in whatsoever. Technology has been developed that utilizes the screw cap design but uses a sealing material that allows the winemaker to choose precisely the amount of oxygen that should be allowed in over time while at the same time eliminating the risk for TCA.

Poor storage and shipping is another grave risk that advancements in technology have been able to overcome. Excessive heat and high (or low) levels of humidity can ruin a wine without ever leaving any evidence on the bottle. Wineries have designed that labels that, along with preventing forgery, alert potential buyers that the bottle has been exposed to dangerous temperatures through color changing technology. Trackers have started to be installed within wine cases as they are shipped, allowing the wineries to track and monitor temperature and humidity levels all the way from the cellar to the retailer’s shelf.


Forthcoming Findings

To circle back to whether advancements in winemaking technology make a better wine or not: Who knows? A winemaker’s ability to interpret the information and utilize these technologies to react to that information is tantamount to the creation of an improved final product. Keep in mind that technology is not the singular facet involved in the improvement of the wine; it is merely a tool for a winemaker to use to more effectively interpret the process and re-evaluate traditional technologies.

The grape genome was completely sequenced in 2007, and now scientists at the forefront of viticulture and enology are beginning to discover the relationships between terroir, vine, wine, and perception in the years to come. But for now, the scarlet nectar remains as extraordinary and intoxicating as it’s ever been. Even after 9,000 years, there seems to be plenty of room for increased technological innovation throughout the entire winemaking process.

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