February 27, 2005

A New Whine

Wired Magazine has a very interesting article on the differences between wine making in Europe and the rest of this planet.

The article is two pages in length. I will cherry pick a few paragraphs.

Tradition, Tech Clash Over Wine
To the horreur of traditional winemakers in old Europe, the ancient art of making wine is being transformed by science and technology.

New vino-producing countries like Australia and Chile are becoming winemaking forces, thanks to new technology shunned by vintners in France and Spain — to their detriment.

Science is driving change across the entire industry, from irrigation to new corking systems, and from vine genetics to bacterial and disease control.

And some of these techniques:

Perhaps the single biggest factor in the success of the New World has been improvements in irrigation technology, something that is prohibited in many parts of the old winemaking world.

Australia's Southcorp, for example, responsible for Penfolds and Lindemans wines, uses drip irrigation, which requires high capital investment but is far more efficient than traditional flood irrigation. Another technique is restricted deficit irrigation, which keeps vines under stress conditions, giving growers control over grape size and quality.

Through advances in the plant sciences, many New World wine regions use irrigation intelligently to maximize quality,” said Kennedy. “This has been achieved through progress in understanding vine stress and its relationship to wine composition, and being able to manage this situation.”

And talking about the French concept of terroir

“As we look at wine more as something that is produced, rather than as a unique product from a particular place, this also allows us to think of ways to increase the level of flavor or speed up aging,” said James Lapsley, a wine economist at the University of California at Davis. Micro-oxygenation, for example, imparts a barrel-aged flavor to wine stored in stainless steel. Adding oak chips to wine and analyzing the amount of oak flavor is a quick, easy way to add complex flavor.

One thing we are looking at very closely is yeast:

Besides irrigation, the biggest changes due to pure science have come from the now-intimate understanding of the key organism in fermentation, yeast.

“Huge changes have taken place because of the understanding of the relationship between microbial growth in musts and wine, and the influence on wine flavor,” said Kennedy. “Tremendous advances have been made in characterizing flavor compounds and the microorganisms that contribute to them. When the flavor compounds are detrimental to wine quality, we have become much more effective in controlling the growth of these organisms.”As is typical in the modern world, advances in science and technology outpace changes in legislation. For example, in Spain the law says that a Reserva wine must be aged for at least 12 months, and a Gran Reserva for at least 18 months. But when Teresa Garde Cerdán, a researcher in chemical sciences at the Public University of Navarre in northern Spain, conducted the first chemical analysis experiments on different types of wines and casks, what she found was unexpected.

The maximum concentrations of aromatic compounds transferred to wine from wood is reached after 10 to 12 months of the wine being stored in wooden casks, Cerdán found. After that, the compounds either remain the same or even begin to decrease.

“Our results have been published in scientific journals, but we don't know if these journals are read in the cellars,” said Cerdán. “So we will have to wait a little to see what happens.”

The emphasis is mine on the “we don't know…” quote in the paragraph above. The differences between yeast strains are critical. Given the same starting must, I can get totally different flavor profiles based on fermentation temperature and yeast strain.

An interesting and thoughtful article. There is a lot of tradition in Cider and Mead Making just as there is in Wine Making but we should not be blind to new technologies that come along.

The quality of the finished product is the ultimate goal.

We are not making Bud Light or Ripple here…

Posted by DaveH at February 27, 2005 09:31 PM | TrackBack