Although wine making is one of the world’s
oldest professions, new technologies and unique approaches to
the cultivation and fermentation of grapes are constantly
being developed. Innovation is common from the start of
operations with the design and the development of the wine
cave and it continues throughout the growing, harvesting, and
aging processes. Even bottling, packaging, and shipping
methods are innovative.
While producers are innovating to create the next batch,
consumers are using cutting edge wine cellars and clever
gadgets to store, cork, and even access their wine without
popping open the bottle at all. Wineries and innovative
businesses that design and create new methods of production
and technology may be eligible for federal and state R&D
tax credits to stimulate the efforts.
The Research &
Development Tax Credit
Enacted in 1981, the Federal Research and
Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit of up to 13
percent of eligible spending for new and improved products and
processes. Qualified research must meet the following four
New or improved products,
processes, or software
Technological in nature
Elimination of uncertainty
Process of experimentation
Eligible costs include employee wages, cost of supplies, cost
of testing, contract research expenses, and costs associated
with developing a patent. On December 19, 2014 President
Obama signed the bill extending the tax credit for the 2014
year. Similar extensions are likely moving forward.
Developing the Wine
Modern technology is increasingly being
used in the construction of state of the art wine caves.
Today, caves are built to provide a perfectly controlled
environment for a consistent tasting wine despite what mother
nature says. Other technologies allow developers to
achieve shorter construction times.
Wine Caves in Comptche, CA uses patent pending,
preformed, interlocking concrete designs to bring down
construction costs and time. Another patent-pending
technology by CC Wine Caves is the Cut and Cover method of
building underground structures. Using Cut and Cover, projects
can be completed quicker and more economically than the slow
and expensive process of a drilled cave or conventional
Patented or patent pending technology is usually a very strong
candidate for the R&D tax credit.
Developing land for wine cultivation often
involves technical challenges requiring novel
innovations. California produces 89% of all domestic
wine in the country. However, the state also has the
largest water shortage problem in the nation.
According to an economic analysis by the UC Davis Center for
Watershed Sciences, “The 2014 drought is responsible for the
greatest absolute reduction in water ever seen.” The
study notes that an estimated 430,000 acres of crop land will
not be farmed this year due to the drought.
California farmers face challenges in competition for precious
water resources every year. In Napa Valley, it takes about 100
to 200 gallons of water to irrigate one vine per season.
Most vintners realize that the future of viticulture will be
sensitive to water shortages and innovative technologies will
be necessary to maintain proper irrigation on the vineyard
One innovative solution involves a recent development in the
common drip irrigation method. Deep-Root
Irrigation (DRI) was developed by Napa Valley grape
grower Jeff Ciudaj, who has been field testing the product
with success for three years. The Deep-Root Irrigation
method provides a more efficient water delivery system to the
vine and according to Jeff Ciudaj,
DRI system puts control back into the hands of the grower,
allowing them to solve many of the problems actually created
by traditional surface watering methods.”
The product reduces water usage by about 50% by delivering
water directly below the root zone where it matters the most,
and then percolating the water back up through the rest of the
Many technologies are available to help
modern vintners achieve the exact wine they are aiming for and
distribute it to their clients at the most optimal time.
Powerful analytical software is one example. Analytics
helps vintners identify the chemical compounds of the wine,
tailor the right blend, manage inventory and distribute and
keep compliance records.
Another example is the innovative software product, Blend
Production by Orion Wine Software. The
Windows-based, bulk wine tracking and reporting system is
designed to help vintners manage their entire wine production
process. With this software assistance, producers no
longer have to search through years of history compiled by
different people in different ways in order to compare one
vintage to another. The Blend Production system retains the
history of every vintage in an easily accessible database.
HANNA Instruments in Rhode Island offers wine makers an
assortment of wine testing equipment for wine analysis.
HANNA Instruments has several photometer models that determine
the concentration of reducing sugars (RS) in wine
samples. The concentration of reducing sugars is one of
the most important parameter that needs to be measured during
the wine making process. Tracking the increase of RS
during the maturation of grapes is one of the critical
components in deciding when to start the harvest, which in
turn plays a significant part in determining the quality of
the wine. The company also offers a range of
agricultural products that measure soil pH levels and
Automated grape picking machines are being
utilized and re-designed within the wine industry.
Historically, they were seen as good alternatives to human
labor for wine makers whose grapes did not require the dexterous human hand that is able
to pluck grapes with very sensitive care. That concept
is now changing as innovative solutions are coming to market
that allow grapes to be separated from the vine without
causing damage to the fruit.
One solution involves a machine that uses a targeted puff of
air to shake the grape from the vine and then inspects each
grape with an assortment of small high definition cameras that
have the ability to identify imperfections.
Gene culture research within the wine
industry aims to enhance the typical characteristics of grapes
by identifying the more suitable parameters for each desired
product and then altering the gene makeup of the grapes
Metrics company, Enologix in California, has several
patents for their innovative wine quality development
processes. One such invention involves the development
of new yeast that is obtained by fusion between Sacoharomyces
cerevisiae and Schizosaccharomyces pombe. The end result
is the creation of a new yeast that has the ability to degrade
malic acid. This is particularly applicable to the wine
industry because excess malic acid can cause an imbalance
between sugar and acid content, something that is not desired
in quality wines.
Research efforts in gene culturing for the wine industry are
not just limited to quality and taste but includes health
benefits as well. Scientists from the University of
Illinois are working on develop a wine product that does not
produce a hangover. The solution is thought to lie in the
ability to reduce toxins in the drink that cause suffering the
next day. Another innovation involves producing wine
with more resveratrol in it. Resveratrol occurs
naturally in red grapes and is thought by many to be the
compound that promotes heart health and prevents blood clots
leading to heart attacks and strokes.
Microbial spoilage is a serious concern for
most wine makers. Spoilage can result in undesirable
textures as well as odors or flavors in the finished
wine. Often times, vintners will spend considerably on
consultants in order to find an appropriate solution to
spoilage. These methods however are not completely
effective and can result in wine inconsistencies.
Several novel approaches have been recently developed to deal
with this issue.
One potential solution involves using ultrasound technology to
send ultrasound waves through a liquid and create small
bubbles (cavitation). The cavitation process creates high
temperature pressure zones which cause breakdowns in microbial
cell walls. This process makes bacteria more susceptible
to hydroxyl radicals, which ultimately destroys them.
Another innovative approach involves the use of microwave
technology in order to remove the spoilage organisms from the
cracks and crevices of an oak barrel so that it can be
reused. Besides the initial cost savings from not having
to purchase a new oak barrel, there are other quality benefits
to recycling the barrel. Using older barrels is
sometimes a style choice since older barrels create a more
delicately oaked wine that is well desired among many wine
consumers. Advocates believe this microwave technology
could potentially solve the spoilage issue in oak
barrels. What’s more is that using microwave technology
to remove spoilage organisms would reduced the water and
energy consumption compared to the high-energy blasts of water
needed for conventional filtration.
Innovative technologies are emerging that
aim to preserve wine even after the bottle has been
accessed. The Coravin Wine Access System, for
example, provides users with the ability to take wine from the bottle without popping the cork at
all. The system looks similar to a tire pump, it
attaches to the neck of the bottle and uses a small, steel
needle with holes on the side to penetrate the cork, allowing
the user to pour out a stream of wine. After the pour, a
lever on the top opens a valve that releases argon gas into
the bottle at high pressure, thereby filling the space vacated
by the liquid.
Once the user has served a glass and removed the Coravin, the
cork automatically reseals. The system’s
innovation is helped by the cork’s design. Corks have
the ability to expand back to 98% of its size even after it
has been compressed down to 10%.
Wine blending offers vintners the ability
to adjust sweetness, improve color, and enhance aroma. The
wine blending process usually begins with a specific goal in
mind however, blending involves an experimentation processes
in order to achieve the intended result.
Wine blending techniques involve meaningful changes in core
ingredients for wine products, which requires laboratory
activity. Some wine manufacturers have contingents of
chemists, scientists, and nutritionists constantly developing
solutions to improve quality, achieve target alcohol level,
improve shelf life, and increase nutritional
For example, researchers at UC Davis are integrating new
technology with traditional techniques to create desired
blends. The research effort utilizes fermentation tanks
equipped with Cypress Semiconductor Corp.’s technology. At the
12,000 square foot research facility, the 55 gallon tanks
monitor sugar levels, control temperature, and transmit data
wirelessly. The technology helps to automate tasks that
winemakers typically spend hours each day on. Data
collection via sensors and predictive analytics allows wine
makers to reduce uncertainties.
Efforts are also underway to make wine
packaging less expensive, more varied, lighter weight, and
more high-tech than ever. Synthetic labels,
environmentally friendly twist caps, containers with
analytical capabilities, and mini barrel shaped containers are
just a few of the innovations in this sector. Wine
producers cannot rely on quality to be the sole
Wine Partners has developed a unique packaging
innovation that brings wine a step closer to catching up with
the rest of the beverage market. The patent-pending Mini
Barrel design includes a plastic cylinder resembling a mini
wine barrel designed with “feet” to prevent it from rolling.
The cylindrical three liter bag-in-barrel was designed by 585
Wine Partners’ co-founder and director of packaging design,
Katy Leese. The Mini Barrel product also features a
built-in opti-flow incline that helps the wine drain toward
the spout without the consumer tipping the package.
Additional innovations in wine packaging have been gaining
recent media attention. Shark Tank aired an episode in
December 2014 showcasing an innovative wine-to-go product
called ZIPZ, developed by Andrew McMurray, VP of
Zachys Wine and Liquor Inc. The product sealed the
largest deal in Shark Tank history. ZIPZ’s recyclable,
single serving wine packaging aims to become for the wine
industry what the aluminum can is for the soda industry.
The patent-protected product is about the size of a wine glass
and shaped like one too. The BPA-free plastic design is
versatile for outdoors, indoors, and on the go. The
product is covered in patented clean wrap technology which
helps deliver a fresh taste and clean glass with a long shelf
New technologies and unique approaches to
wine harvesting, production, and packaging are emerging in
every segment of the industry. Federal and state R&D
tax credits are available to support and stimulate these