By Alexa Chipman May 21, 2017
There is an inherent prejudice against advancing winemaking technology, since it is a field that is steeped with history and carefully curated handcrafting of the perfect product. Techniques are handed down through generations of vintners and winemakers, and they work well—but what if the process could be improved? Why should we continue to make the same mistakes, just because it was done by previous generations? Innovators from around the world are questioning age old customs, trying to streamline and improve traditional methods.
New Zealand & Australia
If your first reaction to seeing a screwtop bottle is revulsion at buying cheap wine, think again. Cork rot regularly causes loss of good wine, and can easily contaminate a bottle—it may not be obvious early on, but a flaw in the wood will affect the end result, causing you to open a bottle and find that it is undrinkable, or has had its flavor severely impacted. While its affect on aroma is still being debated, bottling wine with screwtops has been common practice for some time.
When touring New Zealand or Australian wine country, ask what their experience has been, and the challenges they face trying to overcome American snobbery regarding this modern bottling technique. Some Austrialian wineries have to do a separate run of corked bottles, just to ship to the United States, whose wine drinkers are suspicious of screwtops.
Wyness Vineyards, in Stellenbosch Valley near Cape Town, recently experimented with using a culinary gadget known as the “Disruptor” to speed up the process of crush. According to Roy Henderson, who helped develop it at Green Cell Technologies, “without using harmful heat or chemicals, the process uses grapes to generate nutrient-rich emulsions” that break down components at a cellular level, releasing additional flavor.
While it may sound too technological for a hands-on process like winemaking, Ryan Wyness believes it will help certain cultivars who need assistance with maximum extraction in geographic locations that struggle to produce tannins. “These areas can now increase those aspects without adding anything to the wine.”
Visit Wyness Vineyards on Facebook
Quoted from “An Experiment in Making Wine” by permission of Alex J. Coyne
Loxton Cellars is located in Sonoma wine country, surrounded by spectacular scenery. With a background in physics and several generations of growers from South Australia, Chris Loxton is unafraid of trying new techniques in the winemaking process. He is experimenting with different types of barrels that are designed to be larger, with practical upgrades to make the crush safer and more efficient, such as hooks to add ladders that prevent slippage.
For hundreds of years, French oak barrels were chosen based on location—what forest they are from—but a newer concept is to group them by the amount of tannins they bring out in the wine. For example, inherently tannic grapes would likely be paired with a low tannin barrel, and visa versa. This will revolutionize the aging process, and allow for more predictable results.
Chris Loxton is a personable wealth of knowledge; if you visit Sonoma wine country, be sure to stop by for the Loxton “Walkabout” tours, where he explains in depth about the technical side of winemaking—how what weeds are growing in a field will give insight into the soil content and how to treat the grapes, what to look for during bud break, and on through the entire process of harvest to bottling. His wine is luscious and smooth, meant for multiple glasses, rather than a roundkick of oak and tannic flavor that you often find in Napa.