Dec 3 6:00 PM

Need to Know: 5 ways science makes for better wine

On this week’s “TechKnow,” contributor Crystal Dilworth travels to Napa Valley, Calif. to learn how Shafer Vineyards is using science and technology to make better wine. Here's a look at some of their high-tech methods:

1. Weather stations

Weather stations throughout the vineyard constantly track temperature, humidity, wind, soil moisture and other variables that affect vine and grape growth. Winemaker Elias Fernandez uses these solar-powered stations to monitor real-time weather information and track trends over time. 

Winemaker Elias Fernandez and Crystal Dilworth check out one of Shafer Vineyards' weather stations.

2. Fruition water monitoring 

Fernandez uses a system developed by Fruition Sciences to optimize irrigation and water usage in the vineyards. The system utilizes thermocouplers attached to individual grapevines to measure temperature changes and analyze how much water is moving through each vine. Using this information, Fernandez can conserve water and produce better grapes.

“By eliminating water at the right times, and by giving water at the right times, we can actually have those berries grow small,” he explains. “The smaller the berry, the bigger the skin to juice ratio is. That means more robust, big, juicy wines.”

Grapes ready to be turned into wine at Shafer Vineyards.

3. Optical sorters

The grapes at Shafer Vineyards are still picked by hand, but a computerized optical sorter is used to select the best grapes to be turned into wine based on shape and color. 

“We noticed a change almost overnight,” says Doug Shafer, president of Shafer Vineyards, of implementing the optical sorting technology. “The wines right in the fermentor, only five or six days old, the aromas were fresher, cleaner, more focused. It was phenomenal.”

4. Air purification

Technological innovation at Shafer Vineyards extends even to the wine cellars, where a NASA-developed air purification system uses photocatalytic oxidation to destroy mold, yeast, and other particles in the air that could have a negative effect on the wine or barrels.

The wine cellars at Shafer Vineyards.

5. Wireless networking

The vineyard's wireless network connects the weather stations and monitors the fermentation tanks, allowing winemaker Elias Fernandez to oversee the entire operation with a few clicks of his mouse. If a tank is running too hot, for example, the system alerts Fernandez to the problem via phone call, text, and email. 

"Believe me, I’ve had them at two in the morning sometimes,” he tells Dilworth.

Shafer Vineyards winemaker Elias Fernandez shows Crystal Dilworth one of the vineyards fermentation tanks.

Watch "TechKnow" Sunday 7:30ET/4:30PT on Al Jazeera America.



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