No trade wars, no legal fights – it’s been a slow week for wine news since everyone in the northern hemisphere is probably busy with harvest. It doesn’t mean that there weren’t any news, no, there is still plenty to talk about and with a little attention deflected from the usual subjects (that certainly haven’t gone away), it’s also a good opportunity to focus on some of the less covered topics in this week’s edition of the JollyCellarMaster Weekly:
The Prince of Wales and Sustainability, Discoveries in Gaza and Robots in the Vineyard
Byzantine Wine Production
Archaeologists in Israel have discovered the large site of ancient winery that dates back 1,500 years. According to reports, the winery from the Byzantine era is believed to have produced one of the finest white wines of the Mediterranean at the time and known as vinum Gazetum or Gaza wine. Widely praised in Byzantine-era literature, it was exported from the ancient port city near modern-day Gaza. Estimates point to a production somewhere between two and three million liters per year, which is even more impressive if you consider the process of winemaking back in the day. The archeologists found a large complex of five winepresses, four large warehouses where the wine was aged, kilns where the clay wine jugs were fired, and tens of thousands of broken pieces of jugs. Grapes were crushed by foot and collected in compartments for fermenting the wine.
Still, the discoveries don’t stop just there: as part of the digging works, ancient wine presses were found that appear to be even older at 2,300 year and manifesting the longstanding tradition of winemaking in the area.
Technology, Sustainability, and James Bond
If you’ve already seen the latest Bond film, chances are that one of your favourite scenes is the one where he tries to escapes with his modified Aston Martin DB5. First used in the 1964 Bond Goldfinger (a personal favorite of mine), it was equipped with machine guns and other useful gadgets for the everyday work of an international spy.
Prince Charles on the other hand drives a similar model, the Aston Martin DB6. He revealed with great pride that instead of guns and flame throwers his car is modified to be powered by E85, which is made of 85% bioethanol and 15% unleaded petrol. His Majesty stated that at he runs his Aston Martin on “surplus English white wine and whey from the cheese process“. So, yes, technically, the initial headline of James Bond driving on white wine, but hopefully this real-life example can compensate for this little maneuver. It’s indeed good to see that there is finally a solution for the EU wine lake, though Britain is no longer part of the Union. Shame. For sake of completeness, it should also be added that experts in the field of alternative fuels declared that this is a “boutique” case, essentially not scalable as a specific model. To add to the concerns, the scientists said that “on a large scale biofuels do more harm than good, driving deforestation and land use change that worsens the climate crisis.” Let’s hope the Prince of Wales has thought his other ideas about tackling climate change through more thoroughly.
Ater this slight detour in some respects, let’s look at some real innovation in the wine industry. The Wine Industry Advisor posted an interesting article recently, which I only came across yesterday, so I didn’t want to keep it from you despite the slight delay. It covers an overview of the latest in vineyard tech and the green cyber revolution.
The first item it talks about is the electric alternative to diesel-powered tractors. The obvious benefits here are the reduction in carbon dioxide and the savings on the cost of fuel. With regard to the discussion on electric vehicles, I’d like to point out though that the electricity has to come from somewhere as well and that comparing calculations should include the energy necessary to produce and recycle the batteries. Just so we are all on the same page. What’s great about this though is the possibility to collect crop data, remove weed and could be autonomous.
Another item is a robot that combats powdery mildew with ultraviolet light. The autonomous machine applies UV-C to protect grapes without the need to use fungicides. Apparently, the United States of America alone uses one hundred million (!) pounds of chemical fungicides per year, so this should be a big contribution. Other advantages of using the robot instead of spraying with a tractor (or helicopter) are the reduced carbon footprint, less soil compression and its autonomous deployment. It’s still in development and doesn’t look like this particular machine would do well in steep vineyards like the ones we have here in Alto Adige or the ones of the Mosel, but, hey, it’s start, isn’t it?
Sensor technology on the other hand is something already used fairly often. It keeps track of everything from temperature, light, humidity and water availability. Data like this can tell you when it is time to harvest but also when vines need things like water, not a small concern in times of increasing stress from heat and drought. You can also measure the soil, canopy and even smoke taint (see recent California wildfires or bush fires in Australia in 2019), and all that in real time. Pretty great, don’t you think?
Well, that’s it for the week! You’ll be glad to learn that I’ve signed up for the Weinakademiker Diploma, the equivalent of the WSET 4, so I’d better get studying already. If you have an interesting story to tell or simply want to chat about wine as a guest on the Podcast, connect on Twitter or drop me a line. And if you want to stay in the loop about things happening at the JollyCellarMaster and the world of wine, make sure you sign up to our newsletter.
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