New Blender Tech Could Improve Red Winemaking
Wine is a major contributor to the Australian economy, and much of this success can be traced back to innovations in the market.
A recent report shows that the local wine industry pours in A$40.2 billion to the Australian economy. When it comes to innovation, vintners have been turning to big data and technology to improve not only their wines, but also their grapes.
When it comes to making reds, an academic is taking this drive for innovation to another level by introducing an old but trusted kitchen tool in the winemaking process: the blender.
Red and Blend
A research fellow from the University of Tasmania is doing research on grape skins, particularly about how certain uses and treatment of the skins can help improve the flavour and colour of wines. In turn, this could help reduce labour and improve efficiency in wineries.
Dr. Angela Sparrow carries around a blender in her suitcase, using it to experiment with pinot noir winemaking in Adelaide, Canberra, Mildura, and soon, Tasmania. She uses the blender to show how leaving the grape skins in contact with the wine can improve the blend’s flavour and colours, and make the winemaking process easier.
“Normally with a pinot noir, the colour doesn’t last,” Dr. Sparrow was quoted by ABC News Australia as saying. “That’s why, normally, you don’t age a pinot for 10 or 15 years, because the colour won’t last,” she continued.
She explained that with her techniques and processes, the wines will be more stable down the track, as more tannins and colour will come out of the blending process.
Asked how winemakers reacted to her experiment, Dr Sparrow said, “I think most of the winemakers just go ‘wow’. You can see it makes a difference already and I have said to them that the major difference you will see is in six months, then ultimately, as the years progress, five, ten years down the track.”
Winemakers have always longed to keep the aroma and flavour in their reds, but as many consumers and vintners know, some wines don’t age well. One of the best ways to do this is to keep the grapes intact. But the juicing process makes this difficult as lose many of the good bits (including the colour) are lost once the fruits are crushed.
Dr. Sparrow has been working on this research for five years and she does most of her trials with commercial winemakers. Currently, several commercial wineries are trying out an inline prototype of the blender.
Getting the Red
Red wine gets its colour not from the type of grape, but the way it is fermented. Often, red (or dark-skinned) grapes are fermented with the skins. During the maceration process (when the skins are left with the juice to ferment), the tannins and colour compounds from the skin are transferred to the wine.
For red wines, the skins are left with the juice for the whole fermentation period. White wines (either made from white [light-skinned] or dark-skinned grapes) are usually fermented without the skins. For rosé, the skins of dark-skinned grapes are kept in contact with the wine just long enough to give the juice a pink colour.
When it comes to fermenting red wines, the skins have to be kept submerged in the juice to give it its full flavour and colour. However this proves to be problematic for most winemakers as the skins keep floating upwards.
With Dr. Sparrow’s device, however, it becomes easier to keep the skins at the bottom of the barrel.
Cutting Up the Floating Problem
Dr. Sparrow’s blender promises to chop up the grape skins more finely, resulting in less skins floating. The flavour and tannins are also released faster.
“If you can skip that step (pushing down the skins), that’s a labour saving, and then if you can press it off early and retain your fruit flavours that way, your whole ferment takes up less space. And you can also close it, and retain your flavour and floral compounds,” Dr Sparrow was quoted as saying.
She added that winemakers have shown interest in the blender as it saves money, make the most of limited winery space, and simplify a number of processes more.
Technology aims to make our lives easier, and for vintners, this new equipment could improve some of the 100-year-old practices of the red wine industry. Hopefully, this means only good things for wine lovers the world over.