As our society advances, there is no doubt that the ways in which we deal and interact with each other have become increasingly technological by the second. Everything from shopping to the food that is produced and sold in stores have in some way been dealt with by other technological forces. Society as a whole has turned to technology to solve our problems with time management and to help get important day to day activities out of the way with more efficiency and convenience. That way we can still get what we want and have more time to spend on things that matter to us. Like our family, our friends, and even ourselves. Every industry you look at from business to health to retail, etc. are all affected by technology. Technology and the way we use it has become a dominant force in our society today and the same can be said the production of wine. It seems weird to think of wine as something that is intertwined with technology, specifically biotechnology. We often do not think of wine as something that deals with those types of industries because for such long periods of time, wine has always been produced using methods that do not necessarily have to deal directly with huge investments in technology, but nonetheless it actually makes sense that as of now wine and technology are crossing paths and here is the reason why!
What is Biotechnology?
Someone who may be interested in the concept of biotechnology and how it relates to wine would probably have to have a firm understanding of what exactly biotechnology is. Before I delve into the information of how biotechnology influences wine, I feel like it is only fair that I first give a good understanding of what this word even means. Based off just hearing the word biotechnology you can have some firm grasp on what the word is referring to. We know just right off the bat that it deals with some sector of biology and some sector of technology coming together. Biotechnology is essentially the application of technology in the area of biology for the purpose of improving or modifying products or processes that result from a variety of industries. Essentially technology plays a role in messing around with certain biological processes or a variety of living organisms and systems, in order to improve that process, make it more efficient, etc. It incorporates an understanding of how biological processes function and then use technology to interfere in those biological processes, systems, or organisms so that there are improvements or modifications in areas of medicine, agriculture, and food production. A great example to solidify this concept is Monsanto. Monsanto is an agricultural biotechnology company that focuses on using biotechnology to increase food production within the agricultural sector. Through this goal they became the first major producer of what is known as GMOs or genetically modified organisms. In this case, organism refers to the seed of crops. Monsanto devised ways to alter the seed of a variety of crops in order to improve them. For example, they could use biotechnology to alter the seed and have it been insect pest resistance or tolerance to droughts. A copy of the gene for the trait is then transferred into a plant. The plant is tested to be sure it is safe for people, animals, and the environment and then over the course of years with additional testing, they can sell these seeds to farmers. Now what exactly does this do for farmers? It makes agricultural food production so much more efficient. Plants are stronger, less susceptible to environmental factors that could harm the plant, and one seed can produce more food than one conventional seed can produce. In the end, we have more chances of successful planting of crops as well as a higher crop yield, which means that food production increases greatly, but farmers still do not have to put in too much effort, time, and money to plant these genetically modified seeds and reap the benefits of the results. Now there are strong opponents and proponents of GMOs and the concept of whether GMOs are actually safe as they claim to be can be debated, but nonetheless this example offers to you the idea of what biotechnology is aiming to do. It aims to make things easier for people who produce food or medicine and provides convenience to both producers and consumers generally.
How Wine Relates to Biotechnology
Now that you have a better understanding of what biotechnology is and the reasoning behind this industry, hopefully you will be able to better understand the role that biotechnology has on wine production. Well to be honest, we first have to consider the fact that wine-making itself is probably one of the oldest forms of biotechnology that exist out there today. Contrary to popular belief, the color of wine is not dependent upon the grapes used for the wine, rather it is dependent on the order of the steps taken to produce the wine. The order of the steps is all controlled by the wine producer thus in this way we see how there is a manipulation of a natural process (fermentation) in order to gain a certain result. For example, grapes that are put into the fermentation process directly and then pressed after end up producing red wine whereas grapes that are first pressed and then put into fermentation after will make white wine. Other ways that biotechnology plays a role in winemaking includes the microorganisms used for fermentation. Wine producers commonly use baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) during the fermentation process so that the final result of the wine is impacted. They use the yeast as a way to alter the fermentation process by transforming the sugar into alcohol as well as manipulating the level of carbon dioxide given off. Secondly, wine producers will sometimes add in bacterial cultures that reduce the acidity of wine. This is typically for a type of fermentation called Malo-lactic fermentation in which species of lactic acid bacteria (Oenococcus oeni) are transformed into lactic acid and carbon dioxide. In addition to this, wine producers stop the natural process of fermentation at a certain point by adding in sulfur dioxide. Sulfur dioxide is typically added to grape juice at the beginning of the process in order to protect the wine from bad cultures and to keep it from browning. They sometimes can also halt the process of fermentation by cooling down the temperature in order to prevent microbial enzymes from working as efficiently.
Other methods are also utilized by wine producers to completely alter the process of fermentation within grapes. There is the use of high degree alcohol like brandy to stop the process and kill microbes. This sort of interference can result in a wine that is fortified. Lastly if wine producers choose to stop fermentation before sugars are consumed then once could expect the wine to be sweet in flavor whereas if you stop fermentation after the sugar is consumed, then the flavor can be considered dry.
Now upon reading these you can probably ask yourself how does this exactly relate to biotechnology and the answer is, it relates to biotechnology simply because wine producers interfere or stop natural processes taking place within the grapes by adding a variety of different ingredients or changing the external conditions to yield certain results. That is what biotechnology does. It incorporates an understanding of how biological processes naturally work and then study how the results of the processes or systems can be altered. Upon these understandings, they apply technology to disrupt the systems, processes, or the organisms themselves so that the intended result is produced instead. This is simply what biotechnology is all about. For example, think about what I have mentioned earlier about how decreasing temperatures can disrupt microbial enzyme activity which results in fermentation being suspended or halted. That is an example of changing the external conditions in order to impact the natural process that takes place within grapes.
Other Examples of Biotechnology on Wine Production
Now that I have given a brief overview of the intersection between wine and biotechnology, I figured that it would be helpful to incorporate more real-life examples of how biotechnology has played a key role in the production of our own wine.
Cold Controlled Fermentation
Prior to the concept of cold controlled fermentation, wine fermentation often took place in ambient temperatures within concrete/tiled vessels that would allow for the incorporation of unwanted bacteria to the fermentation process. This means that fermentation took place at whatever temperature happened to be within those concrete or tiled vessels. This could sometimes pose problems because if the temperature became too high then fermentation would happen too rapidly thereby influencing the bacteria and its flavor. If the bacteria ended up completely killing the yeast than the wine could end up being too sweet – an unfavorable result. To stop this, wine producers often doused wine with Sulphur dioxide to control such infections, but thanks to biotechnology in the early 1980s stainless steel arrived. This allowed the wine producers the ability to control the temperature that existed when fermentation took place. This allowed for wines that were crisper, aromatic, clean, and fresh because of the exclusion of oxygen and the reduction of bacteria. Through this biotech process, society was now introduced to the wonderful 2008 Colom bard, Palimony, Vin de Pays des Cites de Gascoigne
In this particular biotechnology process, wine is altered by climate and temperature in order to produce a certain chemical known as methoxypyrazines. It was found out through the technique of gas chromatography and mass spectrometry that with cooler climatic conditions like those found in New Zealand, there was an increase in the presence of a chemical known as methoxypyrazine, than there would be if the grape was grown in warmer climates. As a result of studies done on this chemical, scientists found out that this chemical at the right balance could lead to a fruit flavored and leafy tasting wine that is very crisp, clean, and sleek in texture. If too little of this chemical was present than it would cause the wine to be very undistinguished in taste, but if the presence of the chemical was too much than the wine would become incredibly unbalanced. Due to this understanding in biology, wine producers were able to figure out the best climatic conditions that yield the right amount of this chemical, so that it can contribute to the green and herbaceous aromas of popular wines such as the Sauvignon Blanc. This biotech concept became a huge hit and pioneer of the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc from McCorquodale in Marlborough, New Zealand.
What Biotechnology Does for Our Wine
It is quite obvious we can now understandably see the important role that biotechnology plays in wine production. It has offered the opportunity to change the ways we know wine to be and to create new avenues of wine with a variety of characteristics that are so unlike others. Thanks to biotechnology, we can now understand how wine has become so versatile in flavor and characteristics that no two wines ever end up being alike. Due to this, there is now a wine flavor out therefore everybody’s palate to enjoy. Nobody’s taste preferences are left to the dust and the options that we have readily accessible to use increase. We as wine consumers are practically overwhelmed at the variety of options that we have for wine. It is absolutely endless. No matter what, as society grows and changes in both its technological capabilities and biological understanding, we know that the ways in which wine is and can be produced will drastically improve as well, offering more wine for us to enjoy and indulge in. With this understanding, we truly see the beauty that biotechnology can offer to us in this day and age. It opens the doors for high yield, convenience in production, and quality products unlike anything we have ever experienced before! With that in mind, I think it is time to pop open your own bottle and indulge in all that wine can offer to you!