MonthJanuary 2021

Globalization of Wine 2

In the first part of the globalization, I argued there has been many positive benefits of the globalization of the wine industry. The major downside of globalization could be the risk of loosing the unique characters of indigenous varieties or wine styles that over many hundreds of years provided wines for a local market, but are now being lost or seeing plummeting sales due to the proliferation of cheap and cheerful wines from large, warm to hot irrigated regions of the world such as SE Australia, California’s Central Valley or Mendoza in Argentina. From these regions, vast quantities of sunshine in a bottle styles are made, selling for low prices in the grocery channels. These wines typically made from the most popular wine varieties (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon etc) create a vacuum that tends to lead to other regions removing traditional varieties to replant with the international varieties.

This in turn leads to varietal homogeneity, and those interesting local wines can be lost for ever. But we have seen in recent years, a greater desire from educated wine consumers all over the world, sick of the generic nature of the sunshine in a bottle wines, to seek out new and interesting wines from small traditional regions and reinvigorate wine producing regions that were on the wane, regions such as the Loire, Beaujoulas, and the Etna region are examples of this.

But as consumers tastes change, some regions or wine styles will all but disappear in the coming decades, but others will rise from nowhere to deliver something new fresh and delicious, just as NZ did 40 years ago.

Globalization of wine 1

Like many other industries, the wine industry is a global business, and the movement of wine from producing regions to consumers far away has always been part of the industry. Today with much of the volume of wine made in many countries produced by corporate international wine companies, is there really a risk that wine will become homogenous and has globalization been all bad?

I would argue no to both these questions, but preface it by saying I consider wine to be one of the most complex purchases that most consumers make, and how long can we expect supermarkets to have hundreds of different wine SKUs on there shelves?

Globalization has generally lifted the quality of many wines from around the global, the wave of flying winemakers that have travelled the globe bringing a scientific, and modern approach to winemaking has improved winemaking standards, reduced faults and generally provided consumers with fresher, cleaner and more reliable wines to drink. This has been bought some degree of homogenization but the benefits has far outweighed the negatives.

Foreign wine businesses have invested widely in some countries, NZ is a great example, they have provided much needed capital to help the growth of wineries and vineyards, but more importantly provided the all important route to market via their distribution networks to get the wines to the consumers.

Wineworks visit

Again, like the Indevin visit, it was very interesting to visit Wineworks. While I am very familiar with bottling lines, as we have has our own at the 3 wineries I have worked for over the past 16 years. There has been a wave of large wineries closing there own bottling facilities in NZ, (Pernod Ricard, Matua, Giesen etc) and a wholesale shift by these wineries to either exporting wine in flexi tanks and bottling in the local market using company owned bottling facilities (for international corporates), local market contract bottlers or using NZ based contract bottlers such as Wineworks. In a similar fashion to Indevin, Wineworks has grown significantly in scale over the past 10 years to meet the demands of both smaller wineries, and the changes in the corporate businesses.

From my own experience, the bottling line and process, while on the face of it can appear simple, it is very complex and requires specialist skills, high capital costs, and a sizable team of operators to ensure the packaging quality and efficiency needed.

The service provided by Wineworks, from sourcing of glass, through bottling, palletising, warehousing and dispatch presents local wineries with a easy option to get there wines into bottles and out into the market.

Indevin visit

It was very interesting to visit Indevin, tour the site, examine the business and how it operates. As one of NZ’s largest wineries, the industrial scale of the facility is something to behold. With an obvious focus on SB, the winery has grown dramatically since when it first started processing fruit and the current layout of the site shows the importance of through planning when building large wineries. It is during the design phase that the modular systems of wineries can be implemented to allow sites to grow over time. I don’t think the original designer of the winery could have anticipated the scale of the current facility, otherwise things like the location and space for presses may have been designed differently.

The new tank farm including the use of smart bottom access tanks was very interesting and has provided a vision to what we would like to achieve at Cloudy Bay in the future. The integration of technology into tanks via density meters, radar ullage monitoring etc allow the ability to do away with catwalks, minimizing the working at height and earthquake risks to employees.

The system of dry good management at vintage was also interesting, as it removed the risks of vintage cellar hands making incorrect additions to tanks (as did the lock system and shows the systems that must be developed and implemented when dealing with such a large workforce at a winery.

Enhancing thiols in SB

Thiols are some of the key aromatic compounds in Sauvignon Blanc and make up part of the distinctive nature of Marlbourgh SB. At Cloudy Bay we have been testing the thiol levels in our SB for 10 years and were starting to see a drop in the 3MH and 3MHA levels during the period of 2015-2017. This corresponded with a reduction in YANs of the juice from ours and our grower vineyards. This was partials due to widespread use of undervine cultivation for weed control. This lead to a general decrease in vigour, yield and nitrogen status of the vines. There were quality benefits in the weight and concentration of our wines.

We conducted a widespread literature review and used the services of a consultant to unpack the science behind thiols in SB and made some significant changes to our viticulture practices, and some winemaking practices, to enhance the varietal thiols in our wine.

Now with practices such as well timed nitrogen applications at veraison and the use of cold soaking juices before ferment on fine lees, we have been able to regain the desired thiol levels again.

That said, we still have many things to discover as this is a complex area of science with still more things to learn about the interaction on YANs and thiols, and how to maintain the thiols in our wines at our desired sweetspot to enhance the quality of our SB.

Bacteria in wine

Bacteria are both the friend and foe of the winemaker and organisms that winemakers must control to prevent wine spoilage. While the bacterial malolactic fermentation is a friend of the winemaker, there are a range bacteria that can cause wine spoilage that winemakers must content with and control.

Acetobacter are responsible for converting acetaldehyde to vinegar in the presence of oxygen which can soil wine, ullage control and free SO2 are critical for control. Acetobacter can soil grapes that have been damaged by birds in the vineyard even before the grapes make it to the winery making bird control an important part of viticulture.

Brettanomyces is a spoilage yeast that can produce the classic band-aid, and barnyard characters in red wines by feeding on residual sugar while the wines are aging in the cellar. Molecular SO2, temperature, barrel sanitation and filtration are critical controls to limit Brettanomyces growth and wine spoilage.

Surface yeast, while rare can also spoil wine by production of acetaldehyde but are generally easily preventable with ullage control and topping of barrels or tanks. Of course in the rare case of sherry, the flor, which is a particular surface yeast, is a vital part in producing the wines of Jerez.

Appellation Marlborough Wine (AMW)

With no restrictions on varieties, regions, winemaking etc, the New Zealand industry has flourished due to a global market thirsty for our Sauvignon Blanc. While this has been great in providing cheap and cheerful well made wines, a number of local producers became concerned the Marlborough region had become a source of commodity wines and the reputation as a quality wine region, earned in the 1990s and 2000s was being eroded. This lead to the formation of the AMW group who, taking an old world approach, established a group who would champion quality and enshrine a set of rules to allow producers to declare they have met a range a determined criteria with the aim of further promoting and protecting the reputation of Marlborough wine, in particular Sauvignon Blanc. Fruit source (100% Marlborough), varietal use (100% Sauv Blanc) are the corner stones, with yield limits and NZ bottling also added to the requirements to meet the standard and allow the use of the AMW logo on the wine label.

International labelling GIs

In the old world, the region is often the only thing eluding to the style of wine in the bottle, Champagne for instance. The European system has many layers, starting at table wine level, such as Vin de France where the origin of the wine can be far reaching within a country, be limited to a declared region (geographical indicator or GI) such as Vin de Pays where there is no limit of the grape variety. For the prestige wines, not only the region is designated but the permitted grape varieties are required for the AOC mark. In some regions, such as Burgundy, there are further quality ratings of villages, and even vineyards that determine how a wine can be labelled, and often are hallmarks of quality and price. The new world is free of much of these controls which has allowed the exploration of new regions and varieties.