What Argentina’s savvy winemakers have known for many decades—that certain vineyards reliably produce superlative wines despite vintage variations—is now scientific fact.
Researchers at the Catena Institute of Wine in Mendoza used a combination of chemometric data and sensory analysis to group a selection of Malbec wines into distinctive regions and identify the specific vineyard site, or parcela, they hailed from with a high degree of certainty.
The study, which is the first of its kind, took its cue from smaller-scale research done in Burgundy and Valpolicella. But it went a step further in analyzing the phenolic profiles of renowned Malbec wines from 23 parcels distributed across 12 geographic indications in the Uco Valley and Luján de Cuyo—located at the foothills of the Andes Mountains at elevations of 900–1,600 meters—that were made under the same winemaking conditions over a period of three vintages: 2016, 2017, and 2018.
By using chemical data and statistical tools to avoid the vintage effect, researchers were able to clearly separate the wines by location and identify distinct terroir signatures—something that wouldn’t be possible using the sensory data alone.
Not only did they predict the vintage of each wine, 48% of the parcelas studied could be identified by chemical analysis with 100% certainty and the remaining 52% could be identified with up to 83% certainty.
To reach their conclusions, the researchers developed fingerprints by matching the individual subregions and parcelas with 27 phenolic compounds in the wines, which included a dozen red pigments, yellow co-pigments, seed tannins, wood tannins, several antioxidants including resveratrol, and different floral aroma compounds.
The most interesting results were observed in the Uco Valley and the high-elevation subregion of Gualtallary in Tupungato, where the parcelas analyzed produced higher concentrations of key anthocyanins and seed tannin.
About 50% of the parcelas in the study belong to Bodega Catena Zapata and the remainder to its contract growers. “Winemakers around the world can tell you that there are differences in their terroirs,” says Dr. Laura Catena, managing director of the family estate, who founded the Catena Institute in 1995 to advance wine quality in Argentina.
Catena Zapata was the first winery to plant in Gualtallary in 1992; its high-altitude Adrianna vineyard sits at 1,450 meters, which is the limit for ripening Malbec. By 2002, Adrianna was the source of its finest fruit, and the winery now has 100 hectares under vine in the subregion.
“Adrianna is Winkler Zone I and sometimes Zone II,” says Catena, “but with more sunlight hours and a longer growing season, we can ripen Malbec.” Pointing out that the study is a culmination of 20 years of research largely inspired by winemaking director Alejandro Vigil, who came to Catena in 2007 as a soil scientist, she adds, “Until now, we really didn’t know if Malbec could transmit terroir to this degree.”
A NEW LAW HELPS PROTECT BIODIVERSITY IN THE FRENCH COUNTRYSIDE
An infamous rooster named Maurice and a gaggle of contented geese have helped ensure biodiversity in France. In the face of complaints about the noises and smells typical of the countryside, the French Parliament passed a law on January 21, 2021, protecting what it calls the “sensory heritage” of its rural areas.
While the primary intention of the ruling is to help local officials tasked with mediating disputes between vacationers and local residents (more on that later), it introduces sounds and smells into the French environmental code as recognized characteristics of natural spaces. In doing so, it’s able to protect them the same way it does the land, the quality of the air, and the biodiversity of plant and animal species.
French Minister for Rural Affairs Joël Giraud celebrated the adoption of the law, which he said aims to “define and protect the sensory heritage of the French countryside”— be that in reference to livestock manure, church bells, the raucous buzz of cicadas, or the growl of diesel tractors.
As residents of the nation where the loosely defined concept of terroir originated, winegrowers in France are increasingly choosing to promote biodiversity in their vineyards. Over the last two decades a plethora of national and regional certification programs—all of which prioritize biodiversity among their initiatives—have been introduced and are being widely adopted. As such, the new ruling represents an unexpected win for them as well.
That includes producers on the small island of Oléron off the Atlantic coast of western France. There, vineyards surround the village of Saint-Pierre-d’Oléron, where Maurice was put on trial in 2019 for disturbing the peace. The rooster has come to symbolize the growing polarization between rural and urban France, and the pandemic has only fueled tensions as city dwellers seek refuge in the countryside during prolonged lockdowns.
Winegrowers in Oléron and the surrounding department of Charente- Maritime produce Cognac, Pineau, and dry wines from Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, Colombard, Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Montils as well as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.
Their websites promote enotourism and the rich biodiversity of their estates. Tourism is the region’s largest industry; vacationers flock to the Atlantic coast to enjoy the beaches and the local seafood, including the highly prized oysters cultivated in Marennes-Oléron, which account for 45 percent of the nation’s oyster production.
Cited by Christophe Sueur, mayor of Saint-Pierre-d’Oléron, as “common sense,” the sensory heritage ruling is not without its caveats. It also entrusts regional heritage inventory services formed to implement the requirements of the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage—in this case the L’Inventaire Général du Patrimoine Culturel for Poitou-Charentes—with the task of identifying and qualifying the cultural identity of rural areas, including their sounds and olfactory elements, to help protect them through heritage professional training programs, funding, public-education initiatives, and the like.
The French government has been given a six month-deadline to present the court with a definition of “abnormal neighborhood disturbances” that may include environmental factors; local elected officials will then be able to use these guidelines to resolve neighborhood conflicts while preserving the terroir.
From the host of functional beverages marketed toward the wellness minded consumer, none are so closely associated with relaxation as spa water. Some believe that the word “spa” is an acronym for “salude per aqua,” a phrase meaning “health or healing through water” that was found on the marble walls of Roman baths known as thermae (though it’s unlikely that the Romans flavored their drinking water with slices of cucumber and citrus or fresh herbs like mint or lavender, as modern-day spas are known to do).
Thanks to those increasingly looking for ways to incorporate healthy choices into their lifestyle, sparkling water is one of the fastest-growing segments of the beverage market, and functionality continues to be a major trend within it. Sparkling waters containing water-soluble, broad-spectrum cannabidiol (CBD) represent the newest sector of a category that encompasses everything from sports and energy drinks to ready-to-drink teas, plant milks, and neurotrophic “smart” drinks.
As companies experiment with new ways to improve water’s hydrating ability while incorporating additional health benefits, they’ve embraced the use of CBD derived from hemp. Its biphasic properties are similar to those of alcohol in that small doses are uplifting, while larger doses suppress mood and energy.
Water-soluble CBD has significant advantages over oils and extracts, as it ensures more accurate dosing. Of the three CBD-enhanced functional waters I evaluated for flavor, all of which source their water-soluble CBD emulsions from Seattle, Washington–based manufacturer SoRSE Technology, Aprch Mint + Cucumber with 30 milligrams of broad-spectrum hemp extract (10 milligrams of active CBD) could well be the standard for functional spa water.
It’s lightly sparkling, with a refreshing and pronounced cucumber flavor that’s subtly laced with mint. With zero calories and zero sugar, it also includes L-theanine (amino acid), vitamin C, and organic, natural flavors. A four-pack of 12-ounce cans sells for $13.
Flavorists at SoRSE have succeeded in using botanicals to mask CBD’s trademark bitterness in the current generation of functional beverages containing broad-spectrum CBD. “Our approach has been to mirror the active ingredients in broad-spectrum CBD with botanical flavors that work,” says expert flavorist Donna Wamsley, SoRSE’s director of research and analytics.
Kleer Water, a Woodinville, Washington-based manufacturer, has a botanical gin–inspired Cucumber Lime sparkling water with 25 milligrams of SoRSE broad-spectrum CBD, 15 calories, and no sugar. Brimming with floral, terpenic aromas of fresh herbs like tarragon and cilantro, it offers a veritable farmers market of flavor and a slight bitterness on the finish. Kleer also offers Passion Orange Guava and Berry Blast flavors at $55 for a dozen 12-ounce cans.
Finally, Santa Monica, California-based beverage company Mad Tasty is the maker of Unicorn Tears, a sparkling water with zero sugar and 5 calories per 12-ounce serving; its ingredient list consists of purified water, 20 milligrams of CBD (labeled as hemp extract), natural flavors of passion fruit and citrus, and citric acid.
“We consider the flavor profile of Unicorn Tears to be the baseline for what consumers like,” says Wamsley, noting its Sauvignon Blanc–like profile and almost IPA-like finish. In addition to Unicorn Tears, Mad Tasty also makes Grapefruit and Watermelon Kiwi expressions for $60 per six-pack.
SoRSE’s success in developing emulsions and flavor profiles that make it convenient for manufacturers to incorporate broad-spectrum CBD into their products is paving the way for more functional foods across a variety of categories. Specifically, says Michelle Sundquist, the company’s director of product management and development, “We see more opportunity in non-alcoholic beverages, confectionery, oral care, and the health and beauty categories.”
The sequence of 400 or so genes that control human olfaction is considered by geneticists to be unusually diverse among animal species. Until recently, researchers thought that any deviations resulting from that diversity led to a reduction in perception, but the results of a new sensory study have revealed otherwise.
Researchers from biopharmaceutical company deCODE Genetics conducted a two-year study on the olfactory genes of almost 12,000 people in Iceland—the largest of its kind. Based on the Sniffin’ Sticks test they administered, which involved identifying everyday smells, they found that genetic diversity does allow for enhanced olfactory ability—specifically increased odor perception and identification.
Participants in the study smelled six odors, five of which are commonly associated with wine: licorice, cinnamon, lemon, peppermint, and banana. They were asked to name what they smelled and to rate the intensity and pleasantness of the odors; overall, peppermint was the odorant most often correctly identified, indicating that it was the strongest odor with the lowest threshold. Crucially, the study found gene variations in participants associated with the perception of licorice, cinnamon, and fish.
People with an increased sensitivity to trans-anethole—a compound found in black-licorice products as well as botanicals such as anise seed, star anise, and fennel—carry a gene that makes licorice odors more intense, more pleasant, and easier to name accurately. (Other studies have found this predisposition to be much more common in East Asians than it is in Europeans.) The genetic variation for cinnamon, meanwhile, influences the perception of trans-cinnamaldehyde, the major ingredient in both Chinese and Ceylon cinnamon.
Tasters with that predisposition find cinnamon more intense and have lower identification thresholds, meaning they can name the odor more accurately. Fish was the sixth odor that subjects were asked to smell but the compounds responsible for salty or shellfish aromas and flavors in wine—umami, salinity, minerality, and oyster shell—can hardly be described as fishy.
For many people, however, the smell of fish can be powerful and unpleasant. Iceland’s national dish of fermented shark, known as kæstur hákar, is considered to be one of the most offensive-smelling foods consumed by humans; its fishy, blue cheese–like flavor has an ammonia-rich aftertaste that can only be described as that of urine.
This pungency is largely due to the presence of trimethylamine, a bacterial metabolite also found in animal and human secretions including semen. The synthetic version used in the study was a molecular compound of trimethylamine with the addition of small amounts of two volatile sulfur compounds. Participants who could not recognize or accurately identify it as kæstur hákar have a gene variant that results in a neutral or pleasing perception of what they may describe as rose, potato, ketchup, or caramel.
It’s safe to say that these individuals would not be able to detect high levels of volatile acidity in wine. Researchers noted that the inability to detect trimethylamine varies by population, occurring in 2.2% of Icelanders, 1.7% of Swedes, 0.8% of Southern Europeans, and 0.2% of Africans. This sheds light on one of the many reasons why fermented shark is well tolerated by many Icelanders. The enhanced perception of cinnamon and licorice also varies by population, leading researchers to believe that the human sense of smell may still be undergoing natural selection.
Written by Guest Contributor Laurie Love, WSET Level 3, FWS
Best known as an easy-drinking sparkling wine that’s also easy on the wallet, Cava and the expanding Spanish sparkling wine category are undergoing a transition that aims to improve both the quality and the image of this largely underrated wine.
The Cava wine category is evolving from its origins as a Denominación de Origen (DO) to the inception of five sparkling wine designations that are in use today: Conca del Riu Anoia, Clàssic Penedès, Corpinnat, Cava de Paraje Calificado, and Espumoso de Calidad de Rioja. These designations seek to improve the overall quality and global image of Spanish sparkling wine by focusing more on terroir and establishing higher standards—for aging, for production, for winegrowing, and more—than the original Cava DO traditionally has.
Original Cava DO (1986)
Cava was established as an official DO in 1986, shortly after Spain joined the European Union. Prior to that, sparkling wine made in Spain was simply called Cava, which means “cave” or “cellar.” The term refers to the traditional method of sparkling wine production used by Cava where secondary fermentation happens in the bottle while it rests in the production cellar or cave. This is the same method used in Champagne. The first traditional method sparkling wine made Spain was crafted in 1872 by Josep Raventós of the Cordoníu family in Catalonia after he had spent some time in the Champagne region of France. Raventós is considered the founder of the Cava industry .
Cava DO wines must be made in the traditional method with a minimum of 9 months on the lees (basic Cava), 15 months on lees (Reserva, 18 months beginning with 2021 harvest), and 30 months (Gran Reserva). Sweetness levels are the same as for champagne; however, Gran Reserva may only be Brut or drier. Authorized grapes include both indigenous (Xarel-lo, Macabeu, and Parellada) and international varieties (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay). The heart of Cava production is the Penedès region of Catalonia. However, Cava grapes can be from any of eight non-contiguous Cava growing regions throughout Spain (including Catalonia), and producers are allowed to buy base wines from other regions.
It is precisely this laxity of sourcing that prompted several quality-focused Cava producers to question the DO’s commitment to terroir specificity and geographic indication of origin. From that arose five new Spanish sparkling wine designations in use today: Conca del Riu Anoia, Clàssic Penedès, Corpinnat, Cava de Paraje Calificado, and Espumoso de Calidad de Rioja.
Conca del Riu Anoia (2012)
A new generation of Raventós, Pepe Raventós of Raventós i Blanc, broke away from the Cava DO in 2012 and established Conca del Riu Anoia (Anoia River Basin) as a potentially separate DO. Pepe felt that Cava DO had become too volume-oriented without focus on geographic origin and terroir. Among other things, Conca del Riu Anoia defines a small geographic area in the Penedès region between the Anoia and Foix rivers. It stipulates grapes must be indigenous, can only come from vineyards that are organically farmed, and are minimum 10 years old with set yields, and wines must age on the lees for 18 months minimum. So far, Raventós i Blanc Winery is the only producer following this designation, which has no legal recognition. However, Raventós is an historic name in Spanish sparkling wine production, so this designation carries quite a bit of clout.
Clàssic Penedès (2013)
At the same time that Raventós was breaking from Cava, 18 Cava producers left the Cava DO and formed a subclassification of the Penedès DO called Clàssic Penedès in 2013. Unlike Conca del Riu Anoia, Clàssic Penedès is a legal designation for Spanish sparkling wine recognized by the Consejo Regulador and the EU, the first such designation outside of the Cava DO. The primary goal of Clàssic Penedès was to establish a premium sparkling wine category from a specific region within the classic growing and production area of Cava in Catalonia.
The rules for Clàssic Penedès require that grapes come from certified organic vineyards, notably the first sparkling wine designation in the world to do so. There are strict regulations against buying base wines from outside the region; all production must take place within the producer’s own premises with the Penedès DO.
Furthermore, Clàssic Penedès wines may be made in the traditional method or the ancestral method, the only Spanish sparkling wine designation with regulations for ancestral sparklers. Traditional method wines require minimum 15 months lees aging (equivalent to the current classic Reserva level of Cava), and all wines must be vintage and include the date of disgorgement. Ancestral method wines may be released after four years on lees, and label with the term “No Degorjat” (or “No Degollat”), indicating it has not been disgorged.
Clàssic Penedès went a long way toward terroir specificity and promoting organic production. But several issues remained: to use the Clàssic Penedès designation, producers had to leave the well-recognized Cava DO. Also, the rules allow for a laundry-list of grape varieties, including international varieties (such as Gewurztraminer and Riesling!) alongside the traditional indigenous varieties, and the designated growing region is still considered too large. For these reasons, in addition to the fact that the name may seem too generic, several premium producers opted to remain in the Cava DO while they worked independently on forming yet another more stringent sparkling wine designation: Corpinnat.
Simultaneously, a band of independently-minded premium producers worked to form Corpinnat. Corpinnat, which means “heart of Penedès,” was formed in 2015 and authorized by the European Union in 2017. Corpinnat was officially launched in April 2018 as a terroir-driven, premium quality-focused collective. It is not a separate DO, but rather a brand and collective of winemakers and growers. Corpinnat wines are certified under the Vino Espumoso de Calidad category, its guidelines are enforced and audited by the European Bureau Veritas, and Corpinnat is an EU trademark.
The rules shine a bright light on grape sourcing: all vineyards must be certified organic, grapes must be hand harvested and grown and sourced from the strictly defined Corpinnat region, a 997 square kilometer area that encompasses approximately 23,000 hectares of vineyards. Additionally, grapes must be minimum 90% indigenous varieties, and there are minimum pricing standards for grapes, protecting growers. Corpinnat producers are required to make their own base wine on their own premises and undergo traditional method secondary fermentation in the bottle for a minimum of 18 months lees aging.
Intentionally, all of these rules effectively exclude large-scale producers. As of December 2020, there are 10 Corpinnat-authorized producers who left the Cava DO in order to use the Corpinnat brand.
Cava de Paraje Calificado (2017)
Meanwhile, in response to the movement started by Raventós as well as Clàssic Penedès and Corpinnat producers away from Cava DO, the Cava DO Consejo Regulador created a new subclassification called Cave de Paraje Calificado (CPC) in 2017. CPC addresses the terroir issue by requiring single estate bottlings from single vintage certified organic vineyards. International varieties are still allowed, but the vines must be minimum 10 years old and owned and controlled by the producer. Minimum 36 months lees aging is required and wines must be Brut or drier.
The downsides are that large-scale producers can still qualify, and participating wineries’ overall production are not taken into consideration.
To complicate things even more, the Cava DO Consejo further changed the rules in July 2020 forming two new “super classifications”: Cava de Guarda and Cave de Guarda Superior. In the Cava de Guarda bucket is basic Cava with minimum 9 months lees aging. The Cava de Guarda Superior category encompasses all of these: Reserva, Gran Reserva (minimum 30 months and only Brut or drier), and the new Cava de Paraje Calificado. At the same time, the Cava DO also increased the minimum required aging time for Cava Reserva from 15 to 18 months, thereby aligning it with Corpinnat.
Espumoso de Calidad de Rioja (2017)
Meanwhile, Rioja DOCa has gotten into the act. Rioja, arguably the most well-known Spanish wine region, is one of the eight regions in Spain authorized for Cava production. As further evidence that quality-focused producers are moving away from the Cava designation, in 2017 the Rioja DOCa Consejo Regulador authorized a new sparkling wine category, Vino Espumoso de Calidad de Rioja, with wines so designated being first released in 2019. The designation is for traditional method sparkling wines only. Aging requirements exceed those for generic and Reserva Cava (15 and 24 months, respectively), while wines aged 36 months or more are labeled Gran Añada. Grapes must be hand harvested and can be any of varieties authorized in Rioja DOCa. These wines are part of the Rioja DOCa, so are not labeled Cava DO.
Throughout the wine industry, consumers worldwide are demanding more terroir-focused wines, with a movement away from mega producers to micro producers with a more personal, hands-on approach. The growth of sales in the grower-Champagne category is a good example of this. The thinking is that smaller production from a more specific geographical area yields better quality wines.
Moreover, savvy consumers are looking for premium wines sourced from certified organic vineyards, and producers are responding by stipulating organic production methods. Organic production requirements are a key and growing trend. These things are becoming more and more important to wine drinkers. On the whole, the changes that have taken place in the Spanish sparkling wine category go a long way towards meeting these market demands.
However, producers opting out of the Cava DO to follow these more stringent terroir-focused categories face an uphill climb to establish these as top-quality sparkling wines. They risk losing market share without the well-known and heavily-marketed Cava designation. Clàssic Penedès, Corpinnat, and Conca del Riu Anoia, are not well-known nor easy to find outside of Catalonia. In addition, the flurry of activity in this category (new designations and subclassifications, changing terminology, zones and subzones, etc.) all but certainly will create confusion in the market. And retailers will need to be educated and prepared to educate consumers on the differences between these designations.
“As a retailer, it’s not necessarily an explanation or conversation I want to get into with every customer who’s looking for a ‘Cava,’” said retailer Andy Booth, co-owner of California-based The Spanish Table. But with time, exposure, and word of mouth, these pioneering sparkling wine producers will reap the benefits of adhering to strict production rules while supporting the all-important and on-trend organic vineyard certifications. In the future, they will be seen as trailblazers that improved the quality and image of Cava.
A compact, smart, electric tractor has been on the wish list of sustainably-minded winegrowers the world over. With no significant advances in tractor technology for more than a decade, the arrival of the Monarch tractor represents the missing link needed to fast track the integration of precision agriculture and address the growing labor challenges confronting the wine industry.
After spending five long years in development at Motivo Engineering and almost two years in trials in Northern California, the Monarch electric tractor (e-tractor) which takes its name from Carlo Mondavi’s sustainability initiative the Monarch Challenge, made a quiet debut at the Unified Symposium in early 2020.
Mondavi is chief farming officer and co-founder with CEO Praveen Penmetsa, founder and CEO of Motivo, and CTO Zachary Omohundro, a robotics expert from the mining industry, of Monarch Tractors. “At a time when we’re pushing for sustainability which requires spending more time in the vineyard, we’re being confronted with a labor shortage,” said Penmesta. “Our technology is a bridge to sustainability.”
With OSHA stepping down the agricultural work week to 40 hours by 2022, there’s an even greater incentive to manage and automate vineyard tasks. The need to do more with less time and manpower is a reoccurring theme for anyone on the front lines of managing a vineyard.
At a base price of $50,000, the driver-optional Monarch e-tractor delivers 70 horse power (at peak performance) in comparison to the standard 25 horse power of most compact conventional tractors. The e-tractor’s low torque gives it the ability to pull large loads at slow speeds. According to Penmetsa, the Monarch’s low-torque electric engine delivers 200 Newton-meters (N⋅m) of torque compared to the 90 – 120 (N⋅m) of a diesel engine.
For winemaker Steve Matthiasson, who talked with the Monarch development team over the course of a few years providing input on functionality, said the realization of an e-tractor nullifies the most commonly levied argument against organic farming. Namely, objections to the carbon footprint generated by mechanical weed control.
The Monarch is equipped with a single universal, three-point hitch that can accept any implement meeting the tractor’s horsepower requirements. Matthiasson uses several different under-vine implements – Clemens weed knife, Pellenc Under-the-Vine weeder known as the “sunflower,” and Gearmore Spedo in-row cultivators – all of which he’ll be able to use with greater precision and without a drop of diesel. “With the sensing capabilities that built in to the Monarch, we’ll be using all of our implements in a more precise way,” he said. “This moves us one step further along on the continuum of sustainability.”
“The bar for sustainability has been set so low,” said Mondavi. “We absolutely need to get rid of diesel and by going electric, you’ll save $45 a day on diesel and maintenance.”
Jesus Hernandez, vineyard manager and grower relations at Artesa Winery, first saw the Monarch at Unified and has since attended several demonstrations to see the Monarch in action and working autonomously for 30 minutes at a time.
Completing the redevelopment of the estate vineyards at Artesa the majority of which are planted to rolling foot hills at the base of Mount Veeder is a priority for Hernandez. With or without a driver, the Monarch helps insure safety through artificial intelligence, roll and collision prevention, 360° cameras and a full sensor suite designed to protect both workers and the vineyard.
Hernandez sees the Monarch etractor as key to applying precision agriculture. “Using data from the Monarch’s sensors we’ll be able to spot treat for outbreaks of mildew, pests and nutrient deficiencies,” he said. Artesa is planning to take delivery of a Monarch next fall and Hernandez sees adding additional vehicles over the next few years as his existing conventional fleet ages out. Artesa is still in the early stages of planning and considering both solar and wind turbines. “For now, we’ll be using the grid to power the Monarch.”
Penmetsa and Mondavi have spent the last year trialing the Monarch at one of Wente Vineyard’s fallow sites in Livermore. According to viticulture manager Niki Wente, the winery was in the right place at the right time. They worked with the Monarch team to submit a grant proposal to the Bay Area Air Quality District for zero-emission farm equipment and were awarded two Monarch e-tractors. “This fits right in with our sustainability goals,” said Wente. “Reducing emissions is ideal for us; it’s ideal for everyone.” The winery anticipates receiving delivery of their Monarchs in March 2021 and initially plans to use the e-tractor’s automation for mowing, vineyard installation and removal.
The wind turbine at Scheid Family Wines in Monterey, Calif. generates two megawatts of power, some of which is soon going to be charging a Monarch. “With the addition of an e-tractor, we’ll be able to complete the story of generating our own power,” said Greg Gonzalez, director of vineyard operations at Scheid, who knew about the R & D but also got his first look at the Monarch during Unified. “One of the true aspects of sustainability is creating higher value for your workers,” said Gonzales. “By transitioning workers from direct management of the vines to managing precision agriculture systems, we’re upskilling and redefining our labor force.”
Gonzalez is already looking to the near future. “In the best-case scenario, we’ll have two implements working simultaneously with the Monarch and get two vineyard tasks done in one pass.”
Producers in the Portuguese winegrowing region of Alentejo— whose vineyards encompass about 18,000 hectares, or almost a third of the country—have made significant gains in sustainability under the guidance of the Wines of Alentejo Sustainability Program (WASP).
Launched as a membership program in 2015 by the Comissão Vitivinicola Regional Alentejana (CVRA), WASP offers a certification path that aims to tackle environmental and societal challenges while reducing operational costs and improving the economic health of its members.
“In developing WASP, we benchmarked the most relevant international schemes on sustainability, being strongly inspired by the OIV [International Organisation of Vine and Wine] guidelines as well as [those established by] the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance and Wines of Chile, due to the similar characteristics of these [three] regions,” says João Barroso, sustainability manager at the Alentejo Regional Winegrowing Commission, which works with the CVRA to implement the program.
“We also received input from the University of Évora and the Alentejo Winegrowers Technical Association as well as individual Alentejo grape growers and wineries.” Since the program’s inception, its membership has grown steadily and currently comprises 411 wineries and vineyard owners representing approximately 45% of Alentejo’s considerable vineyard area.
Much of that growth can be credited to the support and incentives WASP offers free of cost: In addition to consultancy and assistance with implementing and monitoring sustainability-related practices in the field, the program provides training led by Barroso that’s focused on water, energy, and waste management in both the vineyard and cellar, representing a key value-add for the hundreds of members that have participated.
WASP in Action
The program’s impressive gains over the past five years are indicative of an organization that is striving to build a big membership through inclusion. While the majority of members are already certified organic, it’s not required; others are also part of the Integrated Production of Wine—a separate sustainability program launched in South Africa in 1998—which allows for the limited application of synthetic inputs in the vineyard.
Instead of excluding them, WASP opts to focus on reducing the use of herbicides and pesticides by providing education about alternatives such as cover crops to increase organic matter in the soil and the application of natural nitrates.
In addition, the use of sheep, geese, and bats is encouraged for both managing insect populations and pruning vines. “We are mostly focused on promoting biodiversity in the vineyards with auxiliary insects and cover crops,” Barroso explains. “By establishing ecological corridors and buffer zones around our [members’] vineyards, we have increased the number of insect-eating mammals and birds and have significantly reduced the use of pesticides and spraying.”
WASP participants have also decreased their dependence on pesticides by using equipment that captures and recycles spray drift, reducing chemical use by up to 50%. Another top priority is water conservation, as the production of just 1 liter of wine requires 14 liters of water on average. Producers are reducing their consumption by installing water meters, closely monitoring use, and implementing water-management plans while improving maintenance on their irrigation systems; as a result, some are now using as little as 1.2–5 liters of water to produce 1 liter of wine.
For WASP members, an indirect effect of adhering to these sustainability-driven practices has been better wine quality, according to Barroso, who notes that “savings as a result of conservation can be used to invest in better equipment and next-generation technology.”
Among the producers looking to the future is Herdade do Esporão, which has developed a 9-hectare vineyard to test 180 grape varieties (about 150 of which are indigenous to Portugal) in order to identify those best adapted to the warming climate. “Alentejo consistently has the highest average summertime temperatures in all of Europe,” says Barroso. “We are not planning for climate change; we’re living it.”
The Path to Certification
In order to officially verify its members, WASP launched its third-party certification in July 2020. Producers can work with one of four certifying bodies: SGS, Bureau Veritas, Certis, and Sativa. After conducting the first certification audits in late November, Borroso says that “we anticipate having our first certified producer by the end of the year and at least five producers certified by the first quarter of 2021.”
To become certified, producers must reach what’s known as the “developed” level for each of the requirements defined in the program’s 18 chapters; they also must source at least 60% of their grapes from vineyard areas also registered in the WASP program.
WASP’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed: It was recognized by the European Commission with the 2019 European Rural Innovation Award and is now one of the EU’s Rural Innovation Ambassadors for 2020. The program’s initiatives have drawn the attention of researchers and sustainability groups from the University of California, Davis; Wines of Chile; Italy’s Viva la Sostenibilità nella Vitivinicoltura in Italia (VIVA); and many others hoping to draw inspiration from its progress to improve their own practices.
Over the next five years, Barroso expects WASP to continue making gains toward its overall goals as a result of promoting the use of ecosystem-management services specifically designed to make vineyards and organizations more resilient and adaptable to climate change.
“Climate change is not a one-region or one-country fight,” says Barroso. “Alentejo and Portugal have benefited from learning from other world regions, and we are now proud to also be looked at as a sustainability frontrunner.”
Tasting Notes from WASP-member Producers:
Herdade do Rocim 2017 Olho de Mocho Reserva Branco This monovarietal Antão Vaz shows crisp, mineral citrus and a touch of vanilla; the lush body reflects five months of daily lees stirring.
2019 Peceguina Antão Vaz Exotic floral and tropical-fruit aromas point to a ripe style on the palate, with lemon and grapefruit flavors and a saline, mineral finish.
Luis Duarte 2019 Rubrica Branco This blend of Antão Vaz with Verdelho and Viognier offers delicate aromas of white blossom and a creamy body with notes of white peach and young pineapple.
Herdade do Esporão 2012 Vinha das Palmeiras Alicante Bouschet Scents of violets, sweet tobacco, and dark berries announce flavors of red and black plums as well as dark spices in a structured medium body.
Carmin 2017 Monsaraz Alicante Bouschet Bright aromas of black plum, mulberry, and dark earth lead to a medium-bodied wine showing cedar and black pepper as well as tasty, still-youthful tannins.
Studying wine without the experience of tasting it in real-world settings such as trade events and seminars is frustrating at best. One elegant solution, developed by author and educator Evan Goldstein, MS, and his business partner, Full Circle Wine Solutions CEO Limeng Stroh, has quickly become the gold standard of study tools for professionals and consumer enthusiasts.
I first learned of the Master the World (MTW) tasting kits in late 2018, when Goldstein and Stroh mounted a successful Indiegogo campaign to launch their company. The kits contain six screw capped, 187-milliliter bottles of wine selected by a panel of Master Sommeliers and access to both a proprietary online-tasting platform and live webinars led by Goldstein and his colleagues.
“While we had planned for a soft launch once we went live in January 2020, the pandemic accelerated that launch to hang on and grow,” says Goldstein. “[In] the new normal of structured tastings being relegated to the confines of your dining room table or living-room couch, we have seen an enthusiastic response from the trade and consumers alike.”
With travel severely restricted during the lockdown—limiting access to field research—keeping our tasting skills sharp has proven challenging. Here’s how three industry professionals are using their MTW kits to broaden their horizons.
Santa Cruz native Scott Thomasen is vice president of sales Mountain West, air, seas, and export markets for Vino del Sol, a regional importer of Argentine wine. “With a portfolio of 12 wineries, the kits help me understand other regions; they also keep me from becoming myopic and developing cellar palate,” he says, noting that two wines from the Vino del Sol portfolio are included in the kits for Argentina (as they were designed for blind tasting, we can’t disclose the labels here). “Most consumers aren’t aware of these wines, and it’s a great way to introduce them to these regions and producers.”
Wine Enthusiast’s Wine Star Awards 2020 Person of the Year Heidi Scheid can’t wait for her kit to arrive each month. Scheid, who is also the executive vice president of Scheid Vineyards in Monterey County, participates in a tasting group with friends and family members, but she says that it’s not structured enough for someone who wants to constantly keep learning about wine: “When you’re on your own, it can be very hit-or-miss, [but] these kits work on so many different levels.”
Scheid adds that she gets the most out of her kits when she’s tasting along with the live webinar: “The presenters are such gifted speakers, and they make the information very accessible.” Then, when she and her partner taste together, he gets to enjoy the wines and she gets to exercise what she’s learned by acting as his guide. She also has high praise for the kits’ slick design and packaging developed by Goldstein and Stroh.
Kat Thomas, yoga instructor and former wine education and training manager at The Hakkasan Group in Las Vegas, Nevada, is preparing for the Master Sommelier exam and using the MTW kits to replicate the conditions of sitting for the tasting portion. She points to the webinars and online tools—including a “Full Workout” blind-tasting mode for sensory evaluation and a “Quick Picks” mode that encourages tasters to try to guess what’s in their glass—that Goldstein offers with each kit as the biggest value-add: “You have an opportunity to self-check against the tasting notes of the presenters during the live webinar and use the online tool.”
Thomas is also using the kits to lead a private class of eager consumers through blind-tasting sessions, the objective of which is enjoyment. As she explains, “The kits are perfect for exploring on your own, but many consumers genuinely enjoy having a guide.”