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Wine Making Tradition and Technology

Change is afoot in the wine-making industry. Traditional wine-makers in Europe are horrified by the transformation by science and technology of the ancient art of making wine. Vintners in Spain, and particularly France, have shunned the new technology, and it has been to their detriment. Some people reckon that the changes that have come about because of science are a terrible thing because they sometimes have increased yield at the expense of quality. Other people reckon that these traditionalists are snobby and worried that high-quality, complex wines will become cheaper. Excellent or terrible, change is certainly here.

The entire industry is being changed by science; from irrigation to new corking systems, and from vine genetics to bacterial and disease control. Newer wine producing countries such as Australia and Chile that do use the new technology are becoming world class producers of quality wine. The rapidity with which they have done so can largely be attributed to science and technology.

Many parts of the older wine producing regions prohibit improvements in irrigation technology, and those improvements have perhaps been the single largest factor in the success of New World wine producing countries. There are two new techniques. One is restricted deficit irrigation. This keeps vines under conditions of stress and gives growers control over grape size and quality. The other is drip irrigation. This requires a high investment in capital but it is far more efficient than traditional flood irrigation. Progress in understanding vine stress and its relationship to wine composition, as well as in being able to manage this, has helped many New World wine regions to use irrigation intelligently to maximize the quality of their wines.

James Lapsley, a wine economist at the University of California at Davis, commented “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 reckon of ways to increase the level of flavor or speed up aging.” Roger Boulton, who is a professor of enology and chemical engineering also at the University of California at Davis, had this to say: “Scientific research is helping to clarify the specific chemistries of grape flavors and aromas, microbial byproducts and their sensory aspects, from the facts, confusion and myths that were in place,”

Scientists have found that micro-oxygenation, for example, gives to wine stored in stainless steel a flavor that is reminiscent of that of wine aged in barrels. Another way to quickly and easily add complex flavor to a wine is to add oak chips to the wine and analyze the amount of oak flavor.

Change, driven by science is inevitable even in processes like winemaking that have been considered as more of an art. People are always looking for a better way to get more consistently higher quality product for a cheaper price. The high quality of wines produced by regions that have been more enthusiastic about improvements in science and technology suggests that these changes are a excellent thing.

Tracy Crowe likes excellent food and wine.

For information about wine, visit thebestwineforme.com thebestwineforme.com

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