Going Forward in Winemaking
The future of winemaking and marketing has much to do with making healthier, more terroir-driven wine using modern methods and technology
More than a dozen years ago, many of the wine world’s movers and shakers travelled to Seattle, Washington, to attend the 1998 World Vinifera Conference called Pathways to the 21st Century. As the title suggests, the two-day symposium focused on the future of wine, taking into account vineyards, production and marketing.
Among the hotter topics was the notion of “somewhereness”: developing geographical place names or appellations to differentiate things like ubiquitous varietal wine. Merlot and chardonnay were quick to come under scrutiny, as most growers were concerned about falling prices in the face of what was then large and pending production increases. Most of that has come true, and selling wine that comes from somewhere, be it an appellation, sub-appellation, vineyard or vineyard block, is a daily mantra in 2011.
Markets of Opportunity was another well-attended session that explored the nuances of selling to a whole new wine audience of African-American, Chinese, Gay and Lesbian, Hispanic and Generation X wine consumers. You can add millennials to that list and it is all in the works.
No one was thinking about a massive recession, but the added weight of a worldwide economic downturn has only heightened some of the projected outcomes of that conference.
Techology to Design the Perfect Vineyard
Yet, of all the seminars I attended, it was Vineyards in the 21st Century that made the biggest impression on me. Globetrotting Australian viticulturist Dr. Richard Smart spoke to the future of the 21st-century vineyard, focusing on developments likely to appear between 1998 and 2020.
As it happens, Smart’s thesis that, by 2010 or sooner, serious grape growers would employ modern technological devices such as global positioning satellites (GPS) to collect all the necessary data to construct the vineyard of the future is now fact. Back then, Smart built a virtual vineyard right in front of the audience on a large computer screen.
Using raw data to predetermine the vineyard’s ability to grow grapes, the variables were run through a computer and the results were super-imposed back over a map of the site. In less than 15 minutes, a new vineyard was born using decades of valuable research information.
Several times in the last decade, I have found myself standing in such vineyards (often six feet below the surface in a recently dug pit that exposes the subsoil) discussing clones, rootstocks, the declination of the slope, the altitude, the water content, heat units, soil structure, wind direction and just about anything that would affect the eventual growing life of the vines that would be planted. Nothing is left to the imagination; every vine is in synch with its rootstock and subsoil, working with all of the above-mentioned factors.
Health Benefits of Wine
This scenario assumes growers want to make the very best-quality wine possible, yet what if the focus is on growing grapes that are recognized more for being good for your health? Smart talked about vineyards that could result from owners promoting the healthful benefits of wine and planting grapes based on the fruit’s ability to produce those elements thought to be beneficial to health.
For example, pinot noir contains several times the amount of the much-sought-after anti-oxidant resveratrol than other red wines do. So pinot noir may be bottled and advertised as healthier for you than, say, shiraz or merlot, which have lower naturally occurring levels of the same life-preserving element.
Future of Wine is in Argentina and Spain
The recession likely stymied this out-there marketing trend, but sustainable, organic and biodynamic grape production has never been more prevalent in the wine world as wineries struggle to capture the interest of modern consumers. When asked who would conquer the wine world in the new millennium, Smart predicted Argentina and Spain would be at the top of the list. Argentina is one of the few countries with no restrictions on imported vines and, as a result, Smart called its vineyards among the most advanced in the world. Contrast that with his crushing assessment of North America’s vineyards that “in many cases are as much as 40 years behind the times.”
About Spain, Smart rightly pointed to the 600,000-acre La Mancha region that has recently discarded its traditional, regional wine-growing laws in favor of modern grape growing methods that include the use of irrigation. This, in concert with as diverse a collection of grape varieties as anywhere on earth, and terra rossa soil identical to Australia’s famed Coonawarra region, would make La Mancha every bit as important as Napa Valley or Bordeaux by 2020.
Okay, La Mancha is on a run, but it is not quite Bordeaux, yet. You can’t win them all. But Smart did get back on track at the end of his presentation when he said, “Only the attitude of people will differentiate regions in the future.” Noted wine names such as Nicolas Catena, Alvaro Palacios, Telmo Rodriguez, Jesse Jackson, Eduardo Chadwick, Robert Hill Smith, Anthony von Mandl, Alberto Antonini, Michel Rolland and Daniel Castaño stand as examples. Each (and there are many more) has pursued a passion for “somewhereness” and, in doing so, has produced wine that makes the early 21st century the best time ever to be a wine buyer, and that`s something we can all drink to.
This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of Avenue Calgary magazine.