For hundreds of years, winemaking was based exclusively on traditions and processes that were handed down from one generation to the next.
There really wasn’t much to it. During the harvest season, the grapes — whatever type may be growing in a given vineyard — were picked at what seemed like a good time.
Next, they were crushed and put through a simple fermentation process before the juice was transferred into some type of storage containers. Over time, these could include anything from kvevri (egg-shaped earthenware) to amphorae (large clay vessels) to oak barrels.
Before the use of glass bottles became widespread during the 1600s, many people hauled their individual purchases of vino in wineskins, which were made out of animal skins or bladders.
During the 1800s and becoming widespread through the 1900s, science changed winemaking. Value was seen in regulating the temperature of fermentations, DNA fingerprinting more precisely identified grape varieties, and the lab became just as important as the cellar at most wineries.
Making wine no longer was strictly a craft; it also was a process based on science.
Late in the 20th century, technology sped the influence of science, not only in the lab and the cellar, but also in the vineyard. Aerial vineyard mapping made it possible to assess the health of a vineyard so steps could be taken to protect the vines and optimize vineyard productivity.
Technology also has impacted other areas of winemaking, from using machines instead of humans in harvesting grapes, to determining the best yeasts for use in fermentation.
Tradition. Science. Technology.
So what will define the next era of winemaking — the era in which we find ourselves today?
My bet is on sustainability.
In so many aspects of our lives — from how automobiles operate to the ingredients used by restaurants — people are becoming more and more interested in embracing practices that are friendly to Mother Earth.
Now, as a new generation of winery owners, farmers and winemakers is making their presence felt, we’re seeing various forms of sustainable practices being enacted to help ensure that we have wonderful wines to enjoy not only today, but for years to come.
Wine is a topic, and a beverage, steeped in history. Thanks to sustainable practices, a new chapter of that history will be written with each new vintage.