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.
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.
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.
Another process open to improvement through technology is pressing. At present, winemakers determine the length of time and pressure for pressing grapes mostly by experience, but online sensors could monitor the output of a press for phenolics and color density to control the pressure and separate wine into different fractions.
Managing Carbon Dioxide
Carbon dioxide generated during fermentation is gaining increasing scrutiny from regulators as it contributes to pollution and is also a possible safety hazard. Standards are already enforced for large wineries in the world.
However, sequestering or using the CO2 makes a lot of sense, and the byproducts may even have value. After impurities are removed in gas absorption columns, the carbon dioxide can be reused for carbonating beverages, in processing or even feeding algae in ponds to produce biofuels.
Reducing Water use
Water has always been tight in Portugal, and it’s becoming more so, a situation highlighted by the current drought. Winemaking typically requires 4 to 6 gallons of water per gallon of wine produced, and most of that is for washing equipment. Some large wineries, however, use little more than 1 gallon of water for each gallon of wine produced.
Reclaiming and reusing water as well as reducing its use increases sustainability, may lower costs and may also become mandatory. Cleaning in place is one way to do this. Another way to reduce the water required is to capture and use rainwater.
Treating and reusing cleaning water is yet another approach. (We’re focusing on the winery, but of course recycled water can also be used for irrigation as well as flushing toilets, etc.). To reuse wastewater it must first undergo coarse filtration or centrifugation to remove larger particles, then membrane filtration such as reverse osmosis to remove ions and other small impurities.
One thing we can be sure of: the winery of the future will surely use technology to improve wine, lower production costs and increase sustainability. Even wineries that turn to traditional approaches like gravity feed, native yeasts and concrete and wood fermentors can benefit from instrumentation and automation that help guide winemakers to making better decisions.
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