Winemaking is an industry that can trace its history back for thousands of years. Furthermore, adherence to tradition has often been important to many winemakers and consumers, with many companies making sure to emphasize their use of traditional methods as part of their processes in order to demonstrate the authenticity of their wines. In fact, the DOC plays a large part in maintaining these values and ensuring that winemakers do not stray too far aware from the concepts and ideas of old.
However, that does not mean that there is not room for innovation in Italian, or global, winemaking. In fact, the ability of the great winemakers to innovate is one of the reasons why the industry has grown to its current size.
With that in mind, we thought we would take a look at some of the great innovations in the history of the industry. Some have long been superseded by inventions that came later, but many of the innovations you will find on this list are still used in the modern industry.
In recent years, the concept or organic and biodynamic wines has become increasingly popular, especially amongst newer producers who wish for the qualities of their land to be more accurately demonstrated through the wines that they produce.
By limiting their dependence on chemical fertilisers, synthesizers and other man-made products, winemaker who follow the biodynamic ethos create wines that often contain noticeable mineral notes that are more representative of the regions that the grapes are grown in. Though the concept is fairly new, there are many winemakers who have adopted the innovation and, as is often par for the course for the wine industry, biodynamics has both proponents and opponents.
The Printing Press
The importance of the humble label in winemaking is often underestimated, but it is with this that consumers first gain a little bit of insight into the origins of the wines that that they purchase and the people that have made them.
None of this would be possible, certainly not on a mass-scale, were it not for the innovation of the printing press. While nobody is making the argument that printing was an innovation that derived from the industry, there is no denying the enormous amount of influence that it has had in the years since printing became widespread. With millions of bottles of wines produced every single year, the role of printing facilities is as important today as it has ever been.
Onto an innovation that has often been utterly rejected by wine purists. Wine served in cardboard boxes has been around since the mid-1900s, though the innovation didn’t really catch on until the 1980s. Despite many seeing such wines as being of lower quality, with very few being available in countries with rich winemaking traditions, such wines have achieved a measure of popularity in the United States and, to an extent, the United Kingdom.
Though often associated with cheaper wines, there are actually some tangible benefits that are related to box wine. The environmental aspect, in particular, is often pointed to by proponents of the packaging choice, as the cardboard that is used to hold the wine can be easily recycled. However, many make the counterpoint that this same cardboard can have a negative effect on the wine itself, resulting in the stigma of poor quality wine being boxed never truly being shaken free. The fact that no major producers create boxed wines that they are willing to put their names to is also a major factor.
Interestingly, researchers are still finding new and unique uses for wine even in the modern age. Research into the area of biofuel, particular those making use of wines and their waste products, has become particularly intense in recent years, with even Prince Charles getting involved and supporting the ground-breaking idea.
The concept is still in its very early stages, but the potential environmental impact is enormous. The process of creating biofuel using wine produces hydrogen, which can be used to operate engines that are specially designed for use with the gas. However, most importantly, the waste product is water. Should the technology become widespread, we may soon live in a world where the issue of carbon footprints has disappeared entirely, replaced by a type of fuel that is completely clean and derived almost entirely from wine.
Now we return to an innovation with very ancient roots, though it is still as important today as it ever was. Many place the responsibility for the creation of sparkling wine square at the feet of Dom Perignon, who came up with the process of creating white wines using red grapes, which is key to the production of Champagne. However, records show that the first sparkling wines were actually more likely to have been produced around 1600 years ago, rather than during the 1600s when Dom Perignon was conducting his research.
Regardless, the innovation has been critical to the success of the Italian and French wine industries, particularly in the modern day. One need only to look to the sales figures of Champagne and Prosecco to see how important this innovation has been and, disputed origins aside, a genuine argument could be made for this being the most important innovation in the history of the industry.
Of course, some of the most daring innovations have come from those within the industry who have taken upon themselves to shake up the status quo and innovate within, and often just outside, the established framework.
The efforts of those who first innovated the Super Tuscans and the innovations that led to the Barolo Wars are just some of the more recent examples of changes in production methods leading to resentment and consternation within the industry. However, it is this continued focus on production techniques that has allowed for the creation of some truly stunning wines that may not even have been possible a century ago. As such, the work of winemakers themselves, especially those who choose to eschew tradition, should not be understated.