Science Fiction Meets Burgundy

Opinion Wine Wine History Wine Industry Wine Region Wine Science Winery

I like science fiction movies and books. Many of the stories involve science ensuring man’s survival after technology ran amok and nearly killed off mankind due to some mad scientist. Spaceships sent to the far reaches of space with the last of mankind, to repopulate a new world, a futuristic Noah’s Ark. Often in these types of stories they show ultra-modern technology juxtaposed to stone-age humans, grubbing out an existence from the dirt, while the space-age men are eating factory produced, perfectly balanced food product. Based on a story I just read by Henry Samuel in The Telegraph online, the wine producers in Burgundy might as well start building wine producing robots.

UC Davis became our NASA, educating our wine makes and growers to be able to produce wines that are out of this world. This was accomplished by taking advantage of every space-age technique we had. From seedling to production, in the (paraphrased) words of Mark Watney, “we scienced the shit out of it”. To be fair, the proof is in the pudding. It is working. We have pulled wine making out of the terroir mud and launched it into the space-age. We even have a startup in San Francisco, Ava Winery, that is making wine without grapes, by combining ethanol and flavors. Take that caveman wine maker!

So what do we do in the new world to ensure the best possible product? We irrigate to make sure the vines are strong, we run wind machines, heaters, and sprinklers to prevent frost, and we blend different wines to have a consistent taste profile. What don’t we do? Alter the weather and climate.

I told you I read Henry Samuel’s article entitled, “Entire Burgundy wine region to be covered by hi-tech ‘hail shield’ to kill storm clouds”. What?!? I had to read it twice before I was sure it wasn’t an article from the Onion. In short, the wine growers in Burgundy France, let me repeat that, Burgundy France, are installing a network of 125 ground generators that cause tiny particles of silver iodide to be dispersed into storm clouds, where they stop the formation of hail.

So a nation and region that has only allowed irrigation of their wine grapes since 2007, and only up to June for some areas, now allows Star Wars type technology to avoid hail. Does terroir matter, or does terroir not matter? I have always assumed rainfall and, well, hail are part of the terroir, silly me. The Certified Specialist of Wine Study Guide, says that the old world view is that terroir is paramount and that grape growers and winemakers should strive to have the grapes and wine express nature’s qualities as closely as possible.  While the outlook developed in the new world argues that grapes are raw material to be molded into the desired form by human artistry and technology.

So while we crazy new worlder wine makers have been finding ways to create world class wines that are economically viable year after year with artistry and technology, we have done it without “crossing the streams” or using particle accelerators to discover a Wine God particle.

I have always admired the French wine makers creating wine like their great-great-Grandfathers. Good years and bad years, it just added interest and mystique to the process that is farming. Will the economics of a “New World” economy change or kill the centuries of growing traditions in Burgundy? I for one, hope not. I want both my high-tech nuclear powered new world fruit forward wines, and my stone-age steam powered terroir driven old world wines.

Mr. Huber, a biodynamic wine grower is quoted in Henry Samuel’s article as saying, “We don’t claim to play God but just want to save our domains and continue to bring pleasure to Burgundy wine fans.”. I don’t think they are trying to play God, but maybe they are trying to play economists. I’m not sure if I’m more sad or more horrified, I guess time will tell.


Steve spends his days living in the software world of Silicon Valley, dreaming of a day when he can live as a wino hobo riding a wine train.