Innovations in the Winery
Scientific and technological advances in the process of winemaking also contributed to the overall improvement in the quality of wine produced in postwar America. New research conducted in university departments and winery laboratories helped guide winemakers toward new materials, techniques, and processes that reduced spoilage and resulted in more stable and flavorful wines. Many winemakers adopted the new methods for starting, monitoring, and controlling fermentation, as well as for storing and aging wine.
What we did in forty years, it can be accomplished normally in Europe in four or five centuries.
—André Tchelistcheff, enologist, 1979
André Tchelistcheff, born in Moscow in 1901 and trained in agricultural science and enology in Paris, played a defining role in the rebirth of the California—and American—wine industry. Arriving in Napa in 1938, he was both surprised and dismayed by the primitive conditions of grape growing and winemaking. To raise the standard of wine production, he insisted on better sanitation, new equipment, and the adoption of scientific methods. He established an important laboratory at Beaulieu Vineyard, one of Napa’s oldest wineries. Until his death in 1994, he served as a consultant to many California winemakers, and was instrumental in establishing the modern wine industry in Washington State.
This handmade carrier was used in the enology labs at UC Davis for carrying hydrometers from one work area to another. Winemakers use hydrometers to monitor sugar levels during fermentation.
Stainless Steel and Cold Fermentation
California winemakers were early to adopt stainless-steel fermentation tanks and fittings, one of the major innovations in winemaking of the 1900s. Stainless-steel tanks were easily cleaned and prevented bacteria from spoiling wine. Fitted with temperature-monitoring metal jackets, they also allowed more control over the temperature of the wine during the fermentation process. Winemakers discovered that stainless-steel tanks produced a more stable, flavorful result, especially with white wines.
These fermentation tanks developed by Silicon Valley engineer and winemaker T. J. Rodgers help researchers at UC Davis monitor and regulate fermentations with new precision. In the 1990s Rodgers devised a way to monitor real-time changes in temperature and sugar levels and make adjustments using programmable computer chips embedded in the tanks.
French oak revolutionized the storage and aging of wine, particularly reds. In the 1950s, following the example of winemakers in France, California vintners began experimenting with storing their red wines in small oak barrels instead of large casks, discovering that the barrels concentrated the flavors and aromas. Most California winemakers adopted this technique, and while French oak is still preferred, some have found that American-grown oaks lend a different but pleasing character to wine.
This sheet tracks the history of the wine aged in this barrel before bottling. Other data recorded by the winery included the precise location where the grapes were grown, the sugar level at harvest, and technical information about the fermentation process.
"Damp Earth" and "Burnt Toast"
Wine aroma, taste, and mouth feel (texture) are influenced by a host of factors: variety of grape, characteristics of climate and soil, particular viticultural practices employed, ripeness of the grapes at harvest, type of yeast used during fermentation, and winemaking practices. Researchers have worked to identify the hundreds of volatile compounds that affect aroma and flavor. Wine is meant to change over time, with its aromas evolving in the bottle and even in the glass. The terms on the wheel include aromas as diverse as orange blossom and wet dog.
In 1984, sensory scientist Ann C. Noble developed a lexicon of terms for describing wine aromas. Originally intended for use by her colleagues at Davis, Noble’s “wine wheel” was popularized by wine enthusiasts and translated into various languages.