Are technological developments robbing wine of its authenticity? Let’s look at the pros and cons.
| The use of technology in the vineyard has exploded in the last 20 years.
Over the past two decades, the use of technology both in the vineyard and in the cellar has exploded – though what does this mean for wine transparency as a whole?
While some find that technological advances have only helped to improve the quality – and location reflectivity – of glass, others feel strongly the opposite. Two leading industry figures shared their personal beliefs with Wine-Searcher.
Wine importer Neal Rosenthal left his job as a corporate lawyer 40 years ago and, for the past four decades, has devoted his life to seeking out terroir-focused wines produced at the hands of family-run estates in all of Europe. Over time, Rosenthal has seen countless technological advances find their way into the vineyard and cellar—and while their presence can be helpful, he’s not always convinced that using them is the best path to creation. of vibrant, country-specific wines.
Rosenthal explains that while modern technology has proven to be quite useful, particularly in the ability to limit the number of poor vintages through agricultural advances as well as through control of conditions within the cellar, he remains to question whether this tight control ultimately leads to the most transparent and exciting wines.
“I’ve found that being able to control down to the last degree what happens during fermentation and rise can take some of the ‘mystery’ out of wine,” he says.
To illustrate his statement, Rosenthal looks to Jura. “In the Jura, it’s this magical moment when the bacteria rear their heads and take over, and I think the trend now in the region is to make very clean wines, and to start minimizing the significant element of oxidation that has always been there.” , he says, quoting the whole under sail experience as quite uncontrollable.
“I think the traditional classic Vigneron Jura respects [this lack of control] and takes more of a hands-on attitude rather than trying to manage the process at the final scale,” he continues. In addition to too much control through technology, Rosenthal also cites a lack of extended aging as another reason for the lack of ‘magic in some wines. “I think that for economic reasons as well as taste reasons, many vignerons are eager to sell wines earlier than usual, and sometimes the rush to get the wine into the bottle limits the development of the wine’s character. “, he says, citing the ability to control temperature and move some wine processes as reasons for being able to bottle early.
On the other hand, some winemakers feel that technology is essential to making the best wines possible. “My main view is that technology can only be used to improve the terroir,” says Andrea Lonardi, winemaker at Val di Suga based in Tuscany, stating that technology should never be abused, but rather used with open and logical mind. way. “The only time the mystery and magic is captured in a wine is when a glass of wine is a true reflection of the beauty and potential of its terroir—the grape variety, the climate, the soil,” continues Lonardi, saying he believes the wines of produced in Val di Suga are still more artisanal than others, regardless of the winery’s implementation of technology.
“The technology we’re using is only helping us better understand the terroir,” he says, citing DSS (decision support model) and the ability to understand the stress index through the use of technology as an imperative tool for understanding the changing climate and to avoid its negative effects.
To break it down further, Lonardi cites four different types: biotechnology, mechanical technology, sensory technology, and genetic technology.
“I tend to avoid biotechnology as much as possible because it was developed for two main reasons: to fix problems or to develop something like something else,” he says, mentioning cultured yeast and special strains. of bacteria and added tannins as some of the most popular. “However, mechanical technology has helped enormously in terms of machinery in the vineyard and cellar, while sensory technology has helped create instruments to detect energy, stress index and moisture,” he says, declaring a particular propensity for the factor of moisture. notes that vine productivity can be greatly improved through appropriate vineyard management decisions.
© The Efficient Vineyards Project
| Vineyard mapping has become increasingly important to growers and winemakers.
Lonardi says technology is particularly useful in the vineyard, as it can often communicate what the human eye cannot see.
“If you use remote sensing, NDVI maps (power maps) or soil maps, you can figure out which part of the vineyard is the ideal growing site for a particular rootstock,” he says, stating that these types of technology work equally well on both large areas and smaller plots of land.
“Terroir is not just what it is,” says Lonardi, noting that what makes a ‘good’ wine is highly subjective, as well as strongly related to human sensibility. Lonardi thinks that by using technology, winemakers can reduce subjectivity and become more objective in measuring quality markers (acidity, tannic structure, freshness, longevity, etc.). “The beauty of technology is not when it is used to replace human capacity, but when it is used to complement human capacity and sensitivity,” he says.
So does the use of technology qualify as manipulation? The answer really lies in the eye of the beholder. According to Rosenthal, there are never any pros to mess with a wine. “I don’t think there’s ever a positive side to manipulation, that is, using outside influences to change the wine,” he says, citing uniformity and less distinct versions of the wines possible as a general result. However, he agrees that creating much more regular quantities of the right wine is an advantage. “Despite climate change, people are still able to produce consistently good wines year after year,” he says.
However, it robs this wine of transparency of good quality and therefore the lack of authenticity? One could argue such a position.
Lonardi notes that some aspects of genetic technology, such as the ability to introduce resistance to disease or water stress, are ultimately positive, although they can become negative if they are geared towards producing wines with particular flavors. “I can understand the desire to produce wines with more freshness and vitality, but I do not agree with the approach of applying technology to hide or modify terroir,” he says.
Rosenthal thinks that excessive technology also creates an ability to avoid mistakes, and since each vintage is unique, the lack of transparent variation is diminishing. “I’m afraid that the well-educated young person is kind of approaching summer from a point of view where they want to make sure there are no mistakes,” he says. “By rigorously controlling every aspect, you lose the mystery of wine. Surprising things can happen during the height.”
However, for Lonard, the pros outweigh the cons. “Tech is the new tool of contemporary artisans,” he says. “To be contemporary, we have to use technology while remaining very transparent and authentic,” he says, stating that technology has allowed many winemakers to thrive as well as better communicate their unique locations.
So are the wines produced by the technology less authentic? According to Rosenthal, they are not less honest, but less changeable. “The spectrum of tastes, aromas and textures is shortening, which doesn’t make wine uninteresting, but it makes it less interesting – drinkable and enjoyable, but perhaps less memorable,” he says.
Lonardi, of course, feels differently. “Technology is not changing my passion or vision for wine, it is just giving better opportunities to develop it.”
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