Technology, the application of a technique and a method, allows the production of wines of higher quality while unavoidably affecting its sensorial characteristics
Technique and technology in vineyard and in winery are subjects that since a long time – since some decades, maybe since ever – start the fire on wine lovers and producers debates. For some both technique and technology are to be considered as the absolute negation of wine and its capability of expression, frequently associated, with disregard, to the concept of adulteration and to the worst industrialization of wine. On the contrary, some consider technology in a more pragmatic way, recognizing to it the basis of knowledge and wine making progress, a scientific and critical way in order to improve wine quality while limiting, or by completely removing, the risks of the formation of faults and negative factors. Any method or principle applied to the work of man can be defined as technique, also in those contexts in which this term is widely criticized.
According to an etymological point of view, the word “technique” definitely has a noble origin. It comes from the Greek téchne meaning art, that is the capability of man to do things by a conscious application and use of rules allowing the realization of an activity, both of practical nature as well as of intellectual nature. In other words, it defines the capability and the expression of man’s talent in every context in which he interacts, including nature, including wine. Also the word technology comes from Greek and precisely from the word téchne to which is added logos, meaning discourse, therefore its meaning is “thematic exposition of an art”. Technology, in its wider sense, is the definition of rules and methods scientifically and artistically making a subject, by allowing not only its understanding but also the conscious application and use.
The 1900 has undoubtedly been the century which mainly contributed to wine making technology. In fact, thanks to the use of technique and knowledge, which progress and science discovered also in other contexts, the phenomena taking place during wine production, as well as their interactions, have been understood in a scientifically and methodical way. This extraordinary journey begins after 1850, when the great French scientist Louis Pasteur – between 1861 and 1862 – for the first time explains and in a scientifically way, the process of alcoholic fermentation by identifying the activity of yeast. His fundamental studies on microbiology have also allowed the understanding of the reasons and remedies to many of the faults happening in wine. For the sake of completeness, it should also be mentioned the great contribution of Louis Pasteur on beer production, whom studies and the application of the very same discoveries, have allowed him to explain chemical, physical and biological phenomena of wine making.
Before Louis Pasteur’s discoveries, wine production was mainly made by the application of empirical methods and traditionally reliable from a wine making point of view, fruit of experiences and observation of the past. These methods were in fact applied in function of their “historical” and proved results, however they did not know, or did not completely know, the principles determining their efficiency on wine. It should be considered, for example, the word “fermentation”, coming from Latin fervere, meaning “to boil”, therefore, in past times, “fermentation” was considered as a sort of “boiling”. The reason comes from the observation of the must during fermentation which recalled the tumult of boiling water, a concept also strengthened by the fact this process also increases the temperature of the must. Today we know, also thanks to Louis Pasteur, the must does not boil at all and the tumult is the result of yeast’s biological activity. However, in some parts of Italy, the alcoholic fermentation is still defined as a “boiling”, precisely, it is said the “must is boiling”.
|Cask is one of the many tools used in wine making technology. When it is not properly used, it can distort the character of a wine|
Wine undoubtedly is the product of technique, expression of the talent and art of man with the fundamental and irreplaceable help of Nature and environment. Without technique, without knowing the wine making and viticultural methods, of every nature and form, wine could not exist, likewise, nothing of the expression of man’s talent could not exist as well. Even those romantic and traditional practices, which are usually associated to natural practices, are the result of techniques and their application. Every time man interacts with natural processes, from vineyard to bottle, he is simply using a method and a technique, of scientific or empirical nature, it makes no difference. The discriminating factor, of course, is how the technique is being used, the borderline between the reasonable and meaningful use and the abuse. A concept valid for everything with no exception: it is the use and abuse to define goodness, honesty and decency of things, thoughts and behaviors.
While noticing, in any way, wine does not exist in nature and it is the result of the fundamental intervention of man, by interacting with Nature and environment, every technique used for the production of the nectar of Bacchus affects the organoleptic profile of wine. From wine appearance to the sensation which can be perceived in the mouth after swallowing, the measure and mode of technical intervention from man have the property of shaping every single sensorial aspect of wine. How the vineyard is cultivated, how the vine is pruned, how grape is crushed and how the must is fermented, how the wine is racked and bottled, how the wine is served, are all examples of the use of techniques which unavoidably affects the organoleptic qualities of wine and how they are being perceived by the organs of sense. It could be mistakenly believed wine is just technique and this would be absolutely wrong. Wine is not technique only: it mainly is the result of the sensitivity, morality, honesty, culture and fairness of a producer and how he uses every single technique in the respect of Nature, vineyard and environment.
Technique is the tool used by man to interact with the processes of cultivation of vine and the production of wine. Technique, in fact, gives the essential tools allowing the prevention of vine diseases and their development, as well as providing a cure for wine faults. Nature, of course, plays an irreplaceable and unrepeatable role, however it is the technique allowing its expression through wine. Every technique, in fact, has the property of shaping wine into a specific style or expression and, despite many of them are fundamental for wine stabilization, they unavoidably end up modifying the organoleptic profile. Defining the border between use and abuse of a technique is extremely difficult and useless, as this is strongly associated to the philosophy and belief of produces and consumers. For example, the use of the so called selected yeast is considered by some a sound practice to get a quality wine, for others it is seen, not only as the opposed expression, but also as a sign of adulteration and standardization.
Yeast, there is no doubt about this, strongly contributes to the organoleptic characteristics of wine and, no matter are being used selected yeast or the ones naturally found in grape skins, their activity is strongly affected by technical factors taking place in the winery. As it is commonly known, Saccharomyces Cerevisiae is the yeast species mainly responsible for alcoholic fermentation of wine. It is not the only species, of course, but it is the one to be mainly favored during alcoholic fermentation. The result of fermentation is the product of the work of many species, in particular in case the producer decides not to use selected yeast which are exclusively made from Saccharomyces Cerevisiae. This yeast species is naturally found in grape skins, as well as in the air, just like any other yeast species. One of the technical factors determining the activity of yeast, of any species, is temperature. Temperature control, a technique widely used in wine making, both by natural producers as well as by wine industry, has the property of strongly affecting the activity of yeast, while working – as a matter of fact – a selection, therefore shaping the organoleptic profile of a wine towards a specific character.
Sulfur dioxide, widely used not only in wine making but also in food industry, is another element strongly criticized in the world of wine. While noticing this chemical element is naturally produced during alcoholic fermentation – in a variable quantity from 6 to 40mg per liter, according to the type of yeast and wine making conditions – it should also be noticed the excess can be cause of health disorders. Sulfur dioxide in wine however offers undeniable benefits, also according to a sensorial point of view. It should in fact be noticed sulfur dioxide, besides offering a good protection to wine, making it more stable, used in right quantity favors the expression of wine aromas. Like already said, the excess of sulfur dioxide can cause health disorders, in particular in subjects sensitive to this substance, it however affects the wine with an evident smell of sulfur, something which can also completely destroy both olfactory and gustatory quality.
Obviously there is an undeniable and substantial difference between use and abuse, between honesty and dishonesty, it should however be noticed that, technically speaking, a wine can be corrected and, in a certain way, shaped according to a desired style. In the winery, a wine can be corrected on every organoleptic aspect, from appearance to taste, there is no wine making aspect which cannot be changed. It should be said, for the sake of truth, although in a winery can be frequently made miracles, it is however undeniable from quality grape it is very easy to make a great wine: in this case the intervention of man and technology can, in some cases, destroy and abuse the wonderful matter offered by Mother Nature. The abuse of technology can however be useful in case of grape of mediocre or bad quality: despite it is not however possible, in this case, to get a great wine, it is possible to greatly improve it and to make it better than what it could not be.
Acidity and astringency, for example, can be corrected in the winery both in case of deficiency as well as in case of excess. Moreover, also the deficiency of sugar in the must can be corrected, either by adding a concentrated must (in some countries, but not in Italy, it is also permitted the adding of table sugar) as well as by removing the excess, which could bring to an excessive production of alcohol. For the sake of completeness, it must be said this correction are permitted by law, therefore – at least from a legal point of view – they cannot be considered as adulteration but as enological corrective practices. In every case, this kind of interventions substantially affect the organoleptic qualities of wine, as well as balance and perception of each stimulus. By using this kind of correction, it is possible to completely change the nature and character of a wine. It could be considered as a sort of “make up” in order to hide imperfections and deficiencies, frequently result of a wrong viticulture or however not respectful for vineyard and environment, or in case of particularly unfavorable vintages.
The same principle is applied to the use of cask and wood containers. While saying the cask is a precious tool for wine production, its abuse, or better to say, its wrong use, has the capability of distorting the organoleptic qualities of a wine. It must be said not all the grapes, not all the territories, are suited for the use of cask or certain types of casks. First of all, wine must have been produced with the aim of standing to the aging in cask, a choice which is strongly affected by viticultural practices and grape varieties. Filtering – a mechanical operation allowing the removal of solid substances, also in order to avoid sediments in the bottle, not always liked by consumers – if it is true it gives a more biologically stable wine and with an impeccable appearance, it can affect organoleptic qualities. Filtering, according to its “rigour”, as a matter of fact, strips some substances off the wine and which could represent a characterizing factor, both in aromas as well as in taste.