Wine has been produced and enjoyed around the world for thousands of years. In that time, the industry has been shaped by innovation, consumer demand, and even accidents. Sparkling wine, for example, was created sometime during the 15th or 16th century, when wine was sealed and stored in stoneware, which caused it to re-ferment, giving it a spritz. Port, Madeira, Marsala, and sherry were all created in the late 1500s when wine was preserved for long shipping journeys by adding alcohol to fortify it.
Now, we’re looking to the future of wine, and how it’s being shaped by today’s circumstances. Whether it’s due to climate change, technology, or consumers themselves, there’s no doubt that how wine is produced and consumed is evolving.
Warmer climates are making it harder to grow grapes
The conditions in which grapes are grown has a huge impact on the taste of the finished product. Fine wine valuators The London Wine Cellar have singled out the importance of weather conditions—such as the amount and even timing of rainfall in a vineyard while grapes are growing, how much sunlight was received, and even the acidity of the soil—can affect how a wine is made. Collectively, these factors are known as the terroir of the wine. But as a result of global warming, the drastically changing climate around the world is causing some distress for vintners. Rising temperatures increase grapes’ sugar content, while dry spells can cause vines to dry out without proper care.
Temperatures are fluctuating year on year, making weather patterns almost completely unpredictable. One year could see grapes being harvested earlier than ever, while the next could have an exceptional frost, destroying the vines. Farmers are now unsure when to harvest their grapes, and they’re forced to drastically alter production schedules on short notice. It was recently reported that 2017 had historically low production due to “unfavourable climate conditions”. Shortages in the wine industry can then lead to the price of wine skyrocketing on the global market, which can put consumers off purchasing a bottle here and there, deterring a wider investment in the wine industry.
Technological advances make harvesting wine easier
As mentioned, a wine’s terroir has a massive impact on its finished taste, something that vintners will, therefore, want to control as much as possible. The inventors at Biome Makers have now created the WineSeq to aid this. The technology looks at the microorganisms present in the soil, which allows it to predict the effect it will have on any wine it grows. According to the company, this breakthrough technology will allow winemakers to “identify, quantify, and compare all microorganisms at work in their soil, grapes, and wine” for the first time. By comparing soil types with finished wine, vintners will be able to determine which bacteria and fungi alter the grapes, giving them more control over the terroir.
Traditionally, grapes used to be sorted by hand after being harvested, which was a long and arduous process. Grapes need to be arranged according to sugar levels, which are determined by how much water they contain, and therefore how much they weigh. Amos Industries have helped to solve this process by creating the Tribaie—which literally translates to “berry sorter”. Grapes are poured into the machine, and sorted together according to density, as opposed to physical properties. It works by placing the berries in a sugar or must solution that’s keyed to the ideal density chosen by the winemaker. Denser grapes have a higher brix (meaning they contain more sugar) and are therefore riper than the chosen solution, causing them to sink, while the less ripe grapes float to the top. Special rollers rotate through the solution in order to catch any damaged or rotten grapes, ensuring they don’t get mixed in with the whole berries. The vintner can then use the separated grapes to blend the wine.
Millennials are changing the wine market
Millennials have been touted as the largest and most powerful consumers in the world. The generation shops with a focus on fair trade and ethical commerce, which many brands are catching onto, and shining a light on.
The millennial consumer’s desire for more companies to be driven by values and ethics is translating into the wine industry. A 2017 survey by Sonoma State University Wine Business Institute found that 91% of respondents would pay $1 more for a bottle of wine produced from sustainably certified grapes, while up to 82% of consumers would pay $2 more per bottle. Now, vintners in Sonoma County are pushing to become the nation’s first 100% sustainable wine region by 2019.
The wine industry needs to grow and develop in order to keep up with the changing demands of this key demographic. The baby boomer generation had more brand loyalty, and would often stick to what they knew and liked. However, millennials are more willing to experiment, meaning that they’re more likely to try new wines following their own research. This gives vineyards the chance to get creative with their wine, whether it’s coloured bright blue, or has been aged in whiskey barrels.
While wine is one of the oldest beverages in the world, the industry is constantly changing in order to keep up with the times. With fluctuating temperatures making good vintages less reliable, technology is helping to overcome any issues with growing and farming grapes. Meanwhile, changing consumer habits mean vintners need to try new things to encourage sales and attract new customers.