The Wine Industry vs Technology: Part DEUX!

With the harvest operations starting to slow down a bit I figured it was as good a time as any to dig into another portion of this industry and some of the pesky details that can make it so great or so treacherous. My previous post on winery technology was far more of a critique and/or not so subtle venting session. This one is far more about the style and art side of wine rather than garbage software that we have access to.

Bucket Racking
Nothing like a five-gallon bucket with some holes punched in the side to extract your free-run juice.

A month ago or so there was an article that popped up regarding winery technology on the production side of things. For the life of me I can’t track the article down but it was extremely interesting to sort through how so many wineries are utilizing an immense amount of technology to create their wines. My experience with winemaking technology is pretty slim to be honest (for those of you who visited Conn Valley before the most recent renovation you can probably figure out why). My time working in the cellar at Raymond Vineyards was very much the same, though it was a much larger operation with a few more bells and whistles, although there wasn’t a huge difference.

Some of the new toys in the winemaking world consist of all kinds of automated features like optical sorting machines, sap-flow monitoring of vines, infrared scanning of vineyards, thermal imaging of fermenting tanks, so on and so forth. Long story short there are all kinds of options to “enhance” a winemaking operation in search of the “best” production methods to create “perfect” wines. That is all well and good except there are is no such thing as best or perfect in the wine world.

I’ve typed and said this plenty of times but just for old times sake I can do it again: wine is an inherently subjective thing. As a result words like “best” and “perfect” do not apply. They would reference something that could unanimously identified as such. I am as guilty as anyone for not axing those words from my wine lingo but I do try to when I can.

Hand Pressing
A shovel and punch down wand. About as high-tech as you get when it comes to pressing.

Any of the high-tech, or low-tech for that matter, toys contribute to one thing and that is the style of the wine. Any winemaker wants to do what they think is best for the grapes they are working with but that doesn’t mean they are making the best wine. The wine that is created as a result is just different. That is what makes this crazy little world of wine perfect. The shear amount of possibilities that lie within winemaking to create some delicious grape juice is astounding. Whether you have that optical sorter to give you only the most worthy of grapes or a bin with five gallon bucket with holes punched in the side with a pump (like yours truly) some incredible wines can still be made. The difference between those killer wines and the ones that don’t end up so awesome is the attention to detail.

As usual the devil is in the details. You can have all of the best technology that this industry can offer but if you suck at you job it isn’t going to do much good. Sure it will help; much of the human error can be removed but that doesn’t guarantee that the wine made is going to be the next big thing. The good news is that if you have access the that kind of tech you probably have made some pretty good juice beforehand to get you that access. In either case if you don’t pay attention, no matter how “perfect” the system is, you are going to end up in a world of hurt with some pretty bad wine to boot.

Checking BrixI have to say that I enjoy the lack of technology that I utilize. I try to make sure that the wine is stable of course and that when it ends up in a bottle it is more than just drinkable. I love fermenting in macro bins as opposed to tanks to create smaller, separate lots. The small lots create the need for some creative uses of winery equipment since they are sometimes too small to be processed “normally.” I definitely don’t have an optical sorter kicking out grapes that are not “perfect;” good ole fashion hand sorting is how it gets done. The macro bins I ferment in are temperature controlled except for the ambient air and maybe some dry ice. For me that lack of perfection is what helps make MTGA so great. It also helps plenty of other winemakers make some ridiculously good wines; as does all of the high-tech items that are available.

Depending on who you talk to some of these methods are considered better or superior to the others. I am here to say that you have to get used to the idea that there is no such thing as better or perfect when it comes to wine. There is only different and that is one of the best aspects of the wine industry.


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