Napa’s Fermenting Your Wine With Submarine Technology
WIRED MAGAZINE 9.16.16 | BY LARISSA ZIMBEROFF | PHOTO BY CHRISTIE HEMM KLOK | ORIGINAL ARTICLE
IN A TRADITIONAL wine fermentation tank, if the yeasts start acting weird, it might be days before anyone smells or tastes the damage. But at Palmaz Vineyards in Napa, California, staff can detect risk factors before they develop into wine-spoiling problems. That’s thanks to the Fermentation Intelligence Logic Control System, a Minority Report–style setup that tracks the vino at a molecular level, giving the winemaker the information needed to adjust temperatures in different parts of the tank with incredible precision (control over heat = control over yeast). The system is based on a submarine-industry technology called sono-densitometry: A tuning-fork-like probe inside each tank measures vibrations 10 times per second, yielding millions of data points about the density of the liquid. That tells you the sugar and alcohol levels, and thus the rate at which fermentation is occurring. Then software slurps up this cloud of data to show, say, temperature variations. That’s projected on the dome of Palmaz’s fermentation cave—a curved display of charts and graphs showing an ancient process in far-out detail. A geotagging system means that the tanks even “know” exactly which person is standing in front of which tank, so the projections a particular winemaker is working on follow them around. It’s like Big Brother for big cabs.