From Wines and Vines: Wineries of the Future

Ashtabula County is playing a growing role in the winery industry. What’s the future hold for these wineries? This article from Wines and Vines provides some insights.

While a few winemakers have consciously adopted a Luddite-like anti-technology position, most recognize that science and technology have led to better wines. Few places have done more to further the science of winemaking than the University of California, Davis, and its research and teaching winery and new sustainable research facilities (see “On Campus, Off the Grid” in the July 2013 issue of Wines & Vines) are already perfecting many old processes as they test new ideas. The chair of the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis is David E. Block, a chemical engineering Ph.D. who is also a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science there. Block formerly worked in another field utilizing fermentation, biopharmaceuticals. He, along with another chemical engineer and veteran V&E professor, Dr. Roger Boulton, have devoted much time to considering the winery of the future. Block presented their thoughts at the 2013 Wine Executive Program conducted by the UC Davis Graduate School of Management. The focus of the talk was incorporating new technology into winemaking, both in making wine and in improving management of utilities and waste. The emphasis was solving key issues facing the wine industry, increasing wine quality, reducing processing costs and increasing sustainability while better managing natural resources. New technology can help meet all of those goals.

This article summarizes Block’s comments. The technologies that improve the winemaking process—and also improve wines—arise from a number of sources including R&D with a specific goal and the application of fortuitous inventions developed for other purposes. The wine industry can apply techniques developed for other industries including dairy processing, beer making and pharmaceuticals. Fortunately, many changes can improve the wine while reducing cost; saving money doesn’t necessarily compromise quality. Data helps decide harvest Some of the improved technology is in instrumentation, which can provide better information for the winemaker to use in making decisions. An example is deciding when to harvest. Once upon a time winemakers set harvest dates by the lunar calendar or saints’ days. In more recent times harvest was based on simple measurements of soluble solids and acidity.

Many winemakers still don’t have access to instruments that can analyze tannins and anthocyanins. Instead they taste the grapes to assess these components, but their findings depend on their own experiences and inherent tasting abilities. Fortunately, improvements in sensors combined with powerful computers—possibly even smartphones—can help provide quick field tests for polyphenols, including the use of near-infrared spectroscopy to measure anthocyanins. Having more knowledge of juice composition can help predict how it should be fermented, including timing of harvest and processing steps, nutrient additions needed (if any) and even how to best manage the cap for red wines. This process can now be based on data from research and past harvests applied to the current juice’s composition. Likewise, comparison of the must in a stuck fermentation with previous solutions, or best extraction of desired properties in red wine without excessive tannins, might be a matter of finding the optimum pattern in prior similar situations.

Grape sorting and pressing and careful sorting of grapes has been widely adopted by high-end wineries to produce better wines, namely wines with intense flavors without undesired bitter tannins or green, overripe or moldy characteristics. This initially was done via cluster selection, then with banks of workers removing by hand defective berries, jacks, leaves and other material other than good grapes. Now automated systems are becoming cost-effective as well as potentially superior. Some are simply shaking grids that allow only berries to pass through, but the most sophisticated involve real-time image analysis and help create the winery of the future today. The machine is “trained” with photographs of desired berries, and then as the berries move past a scanner the machine keeps those that match the images. Everything else is discarded. This equipment can process up to 10 tons per hour and leave only well-formed berries.

Source: Wines and Vines



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