New Wine Facility at UC-Davis Goes High Tech

A new facility at the University of California at Davis pairs winemaking with Wi-Fi to make the process more precise.

Roger B. Boulton, a professor of enology at the university, says even the best winemakers frequently discard many batches of wine that haven’t developed properly.

The technology in the 152 fermenting vats at the new Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science is an attempt to address that.

Fermentation is the process by which grape juice and sometimes skin is combined with yeast and other ingredients to make wine. At the institute, custom-built probes embedded with microchips measure the sugar density and temperature of fermenting wines every 15 minutes.

The readings are wirelessly transferred to a server at the facility and then displayed on a large monitor. Soon, the measurements will be viewable on the Web and via smartphones, he says. Smartphone users will even be able to scan bar codes on the sides of individual vats to follow their progress.

The fermenting technology at the facility, which officially opened last week and was funded privately, comes courtesy of T.J. Rodgers, chief executive of Cypress Semiconductor Corp., a chip maker in San Jose, according to The Sacramento Bee.

Students and researchers will be able to compare the results of the measurements with expected outcomes for particular grapes, Mr. Boulton says, allowing them to make adjustments as necessary and get a better sense of how different fermenting conditions affect different grape varieties.

“These kinds of systems have taken out the guesswork of fermentation,” he said. “It’s going to have a lot to do with whether you can reliably deliver grapes into good wine.”

The professor says the measurement technology puts the university’s facility years ahead of commercial operations.

The new technology should increase the precision of winemaking and reduce the number of failed batches, he says.

But that doesn’t mean the goal is to make all wine taste the same.

“It’s the ability to convert 100 different types of grapes into the best kinds of wine they can be,” he said.

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