Innovation and Winemaking

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Six Cutting Edge Winemaking Technologies

No matter what you see in a Bourbon Street T-shirt shop, Benjamin Franklin never said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” But he did say something similar, if more inspired, about wine. It came in a puckish letter to his friend Andre Morellet, a Frenchman—and, naturally, a fellow wine lover—whom Franklin whimsically addresses as “abbe,” a holy man.

“We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana as of a miracle,” Franklin wrote. “But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy. The miracle in question was only performed to hasten the operation, under circumstances of present necessity, which required it.”

In today’s secular society, credit for the miracle of modern wine is usually assigned to vintners. Wine snobs like to discuss the "terroir" associated with certain wines and wine-growing regions: the soil, topography, temperature, exposure, rainfall, fog, and other climatic conditions that help vintners decide which grapes to plant—and where. All that is important, even essential. As Ben Franklin noted, this is God’s technology.

And yet, even He needs help.

“The first and most important determinant of greatness is, in my humble opinion, the hand of the winemaker,” notes California wine writer Charles Olken. “I do know that terroir comes first in winemaking, but I also know, after all these years of tasting, that the hand of the winemaker trumps all.” If winemaking is chemistry, it is also art. Maybe a better word is alchemy, because there is magic involved, as anyone who has tasted a Greg La Follette pinot noir or Chateau Montelena chardonnay can attest. Recently, however, a spate of new technological innovations—some more legitimate than others—are assisting God and man in the quest for ever-better bottles of wine.

Here are six:

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