No one really likes to talk about it, but technology plays an important role in a good bit of modern winemaking. And, in many cases, it is largely responsible for the significant uptick in quality around the world: Better conditions in wineries, a deeper understanding of what’s happening inside the grapes while they’re still growing in the vineyard, even the selection of yeasts and the environments in which they are allowed to do their magic: All of these, at some level or another, can be attributed to technological advances of some sort.
The question, though, is where does technology cease to be beneficial and start to alter the essential nature of wine to its detriment. After all, the interaction between grape and earth and climate that produces what is ostensibly a unique wine-expression year after year is a delicate thing; when it is too drastically altered, are the results desirable?
I ask this because of an article recently posted on forbes.com called “When Smoke Gets In Your Wine,” about an Australian company that has developed the technology to remove certain major flaws from the wines it processes. The article begins:
“Taking alcohol out of wine seems a bit like taking the fun out of a day at the beach—and certainly very un-Australian. But that is how Memstar, a Melbourne business, is making money. Memstar uses high-tech membranes (hence the first part of its name) to remove unwanted elements in wine, right down to the molecular level. Removing alcohol is the major use of the technology, but with a switch in the process other unwanted elements can be removed, including smoke taint from forest fires. Both problems, rising alcohol levels in wine caused by excess sugar in grapes, and smoke from such fires, have been blamed on a warming climate.”
Technological advance or unnecessary manipulation? The answer is likely to be as personal as your taste in wine. Either way, it’s worth thinking about, because this is a technology that could be here to stay, and will likely affect the wines we drink for a very long time to come.