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Archive for the ‘Wine’ Category

“Cheers!” The Birth of the Champagne Bottle

January 12th, 2021 by Jon Stein

Filed under: Skolnik Newsletter, Wine

At the start of the 16th century, spurred by the invention of the printing press and a push for overseas exploration, wood had become a critical part of everyday European life. It was used to construct homes and buildings, like fuel for heating and glassmaking, and it was the primary raw material for building ships. But by mid-century, Europe faced a serious wood shortage that would change the course of history. Yet despite its terrible cost, the shortage had an ironic silver lining: the birth of the Champagne bottle.

The origin of sparkling wine itself is a tangled web, most of it considered apocryphal or disputed at best. Perhaps the most famous creation myth is attributed to Dom Perignon, the 17th-century Benedictine monk, winemaker, and cellar master of the Abbey of Hautvillers, whose alleged discovery of secondary fermentation in the bottle led him to proclaim, “Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!”

Others assert that the technique of secondary fermentation, now popularly known as “Method Tradtionelle” and associated with Champagne production, was stolen by Perignon from winemakers in southern France. While likely a tall tale, the southern commune Limoux claims to have created sparkling wine in 1531 predating Champagne production by an entire century. Despite his controversial role, famed Champagne house Moët & Chandon still tends a statue of Dom Perignon on its grounds.

While these famous tales and the ubiquity of Champagne have buttressed France’s claim to sparkling wine, one of the most intriguing origin stories comes from an unexpected source. In England, a royal decree led to amazing innovations in glassware that allowed for the creation of bottles capable of withstanding the rigors of carbonation and may have helped propel the creation of Champagne itself.

In 1615, King James I issued a proclamation prohibiting the widespread use of wood in hopes of preserving forests and keeping the Royal Navy afloat. While the wood shortage would impact all of Europe, it affected Britain first. Economic historian John U. Nef suggests that Britain’s rapidly expanding population was to blame for the shortage there. As Nef wrote in a 1977 article for Scientific American, “The population of England and Wales, about three million in the early 1530s, had nearly doubled by the 1690s.”

In a report by the BBC, Nick Higham writes, “Early modern glassmakers used charcoal made from oaks to heat their furnaces, but the navy banned the use of oak for anything other than shipbuilding.” Working around the new restrictions, England’s glassmakers resorted to coal. In an invention born of necessity, they discovered that coal’s ability to burn at higher temperatures produced stronger glass. The newfound technique produced thick, sturdy vessels — ones in which the pressure from carbon dioxide could safely be contained. It was the red-hot dawn of the Champagne bottle.

“While European counterparts were still using wood, the Champagne bottle as we know it was born in the furnaces of England,” Jai Ubhi writes in a 2019 Atlas Obscura article. He continues, “Not only did these new bottles help spawn an embryonic wine industry, but they became status objects, themselves.”

No matter who invented sparkling wine, the ship-building supply shortage and glassmaking innovations of England’s working-class undoubtedly helped spark the still-burning flame of Champagne, igniting the proliferation of a beloved cultural delicacy around the world.

Could a Tool to Combat Coronavirus Also Protect Grapevines from an Annual Threat?

November 10th, 2020 by Jon Stein

Filed under: Skolnik Newsletter, Wine

Scientists and vintners are exploring using UV lights, now being employed in HVAC systems to reduce the threat of COVID-19, as a weapon against mildew on grapevines.

Writing in a recent Wine Spectator article, Lynn Alley, reports that Jim Bernau, founder of Willamette Valley Vineyards, was installing an ultraviolet light component to his HVAC system in the winery, to protect both staff and customers against COVID-19 when inspiration struck. “The light bulb went off when we started researching the UV light to kill COVID,” said Bernau. “It reminded me of the research I’d been reading about for years on using UV light to kill pathogens in the vineyard.” Alley goes on to write that: “Bernau, like most organic and sustainable growers, uses organic Sulphur to control powdery mildew in his Oregon vineyards. Many other vintners employ chemical fungicides. According to the Robert Mondavi Institute Center for Wine Economics at U.C. Davis, powdery mildew currently accounts for an estimated 74 percent of total pesticide applications by California grape growers. The fungicides are costly and environmentally unfriendly, plus the fungus typically adapts to the fungicides within a few generations, requiring heavier applications or changing formulas.”

An international consortium of scientists known as the Light and Plant Health Project, led by David Gadoury, a plant pathologist at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva, N.Y., has developed an inexpensive answer. Gadoury has spent his entire career looking for ways to keep plants healthy. Although scientists have known for several years that UV light will kill bacteria, viruses and fungi, just exactly how to apply their finds in a working field or vineyard has been a challenge. “Research in using UV light to kill the powdery mildew pathogens is not new,” Gadoury said. “But it has accelerated with the discovery that UV is much more effective when applied at night.” Gadoury and his team have found that mounting UV lights on tractors or sending self-driving robots into the vineyards at night can scramble the mildew’s DNA and kill it faster, safely, and more efficiently than costly fungicides. “What makes it possible for us to use UV to control these plant pathogens is that we apply it at night,” Gadoury said. “At night, the pathogens don’t receive blue light and the DNA repair mechanism isn’t working.”

The team has partnered with SAGA Robotics in Norway to develop the first commercial robot fitted with UV lights. The Norwegian robots are autonomous vehicles fitted with an array of lamps. “Our initial assessment is that an autonomous vehicle will make UV light application far less expensive than the current seven- to 10-day application of organic sulfur via tractor and sprayer with operator,” said Bernau. “There is another significant advantage. Our spray windows vary due to the Willamette Valley’s periodic rainy or windy weather conditions, frustrating the best timing for applying sulfur via tractor and sprayer. The application of UV light is not restricted by weather.”

Here at Skolnik Industries, you’ll see the light with our stainless steel wine barrels. Note that our stainless steel wine barrels are reusable, easy to clean, and recyclable at the end of their service life. Check out the full line of our Stainless Steel Wine Drums here.

Are Bats a New Hero for Winemakers?

October 13th, 2020 by Jon Stein

Filed under: Skolnik Newsletter, Wine

Over the past year, bats have gone from unloved animal to devastating threat, thanks to their suspected role as the original carriers of Covid-19 before the novel coronavirus hopscotched to humans. Yet in Bordeaux, one of the world’s top wine regions, they’re being welcomed as heroes.

Writing in a recent Bloomberg blog, Ross Kenneth Urken reports: “As the 2020 harvest started early, a lot is riding on the region’s vintage amid a spate of challenges. After the United States imposed a 25% tariff on several varieties of European still alcohol last October, the value of Bordeaux wine fell 46% in November, with total sales volume dropping 18% according to the Bordeaux Wine Bureau. Covid-19 has exacerbated these difficulties: High-quality 2019 reds are going for as much as 30% less than the previous vintage, because the pandemic hobbled sales.” The pests, European grapevine moth and Grape berry moth, are what inspired Bordeaux winemakers to turn to local bats to help save the day. While studies are still determining how much the winged mammals have helped boost harvest yields and quality, the region’s winemakers have embraced them, figuratively speaking. Other renowned French wine regions are taking note.

Urken goes on to relate: “Last fall, I traveled to Château Lapelletrie in Saint-Émilion to see the animal-assisted winemaking first-hand. Anne Biscaye, a ninth-generation vintner with the aspect of Juliette Binoche, led me underground, into a former quarry, to check out her collaborators. A pair of bats soon flew overhead. At night, dozens would join them to roam above the vineyard in search of insects.

Biscaye is one of several vintners installing wooden nesting boxes around their properties, adding watering holes and leaving grassy strips between vine rows to create a bat-friendly habitat. They are participating in a long-term scientific study to confirm the impact of local bats on two of the most invasive vineyard pests: the European grapevine moth and grape berry moth. Both lead to botrytis, a destructive gray rot.”

Cécile Mallié-Verdier, the winemaker at Château Brethous in Camblanes-et-Meynac says that by eliminating the moths that create gray rot, she can avoid the moldy grapes that might taint her wines, such as the merlot-cabernet sauvignon blend: Cuvée Arpège. She thinks bats may improve overall wine quality and taste as well by obviating the need for some pesticides that risk harming the grapes aromatic profile.

“Nature has become a real partner of the Bordeaux winemakers,” says Bernard Farges, President of the Bourdeaux Wine Bureau. “Bats are the perfect example of a win-win situation.”

Château Lapelletrie’s, Biscaye is firm in dismissing fears of bats caused by the coronavirus pandemic. “I decided to accept working with nature and—from it—let everything take its place,” she says. “Bats, just like birds, are our friends.”

Here at Skolnik Industries, our stainless steel wine barrels are also a friend to winemakers. Note that our stainless steel wine barrels are reusable, easy to clean, and recyclable at the end of their service life. Check out the full line of our Stainless Steel Wine Drums here.

A Pinot (Film) Noir

September 15th, 2020 by Jon Stein

Filed under: Skolnik Newsletter, Wine

Burgundy has become the site for some of the most harrowing tales in wine cinema. A devastating frost wipes out a vintage. An international supervillain stages an elaborate fraud. But few match the potential Pinot (film) Noir intrigue of “Shadows in the Vineyard”, a true wine drama of threatened vine sabotage and a high-stakes ransom on perhaps the most hallowed ground in wine: the vineyards of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC). Earlier this month, the film company, Landmark Studio Group announced that production would soon begin on a story that will strike fear in the heart of any Burgundy lover.

Adapting Maximillian Potter&rsqo;s book of the same name, the limited TV series “Shadows in the Vineyard” will dramatize the 2010 exploitation case that rocked the iconic estate and all of Burgundy. In January of that year, co-owner Aubert de Villaine received anonymous letters threatening to poison and destroy DRC‘s acclaimed, incalculably valuable vineyard, the Romanée-Conti grand cru monopole, unless a $1.2 million ransom was paid.

Writing in Wine Spectator’s “Unfiltered” blog, Colin Dreizen reports that: “The 2015 book ‘Shadows in the Vineyard,’ provides the foundation for the series. Noah Wyle and Judith Light have signed on to co-star. What followed was a saga unfolding in the usually quiet Côte d’Or.” “Max’s story is many things,” co-producer David Ozer of Landmark Studio told Unfiltered via email. “It is a mystery, a love letter to Burgundy. But I think what the creative team loves is the fact that it is a story of hope—of light triumphing in the face of darkness.” The producers also indicated the story will explore the writer Potter’s own transformative experiences, and a new appreciation for wine, gained during his time in Burgundy researching the book. “Production is planned to start in early 2021. While specific locations have not been decided yet, the producers would ideally film in real-life Burgundy”, Dreizen writes, Potter will be revisiting the story as a co-writer of the screenplay, and his team hopes to involve DRC and Burgundy locals as much as they can. “What the people of Burgundy went through during this event was a real trauma, in many ways,” Ozer said. “We want to respect that.”

But it wouldn’t be much of a wine drama without, well, wine. Wine will be central to “Shadows in the Vineyard”; and the team will be turning to expert wine consultants to get every element right. “We think that this is an incredibly complex, multifaceted story and, like a wonderful grand cru, there is so much to savor here,” Ozer stated. “It needs time to breathe, so as to allow all of these intricate elements to be fully realized.”

Here at Skolnik Industries, there’s no drama with our Stainless Steel Wine Barrels. Note that our stainless steel wine barrels are reusable, easy to clean, and recyclable at the end of their service life. Check out the full line of our Stainless Steel Wine Drums.

French Researchers Unlock a Secret to Wine Bitterness: Oak Barrels

August 11th, 2020 by Jon Stein

Filed under: Skolnik Newsletter, Wine

In a recent article, in Wine Spectator’s “Unfiltered” newsletter, Collin Dreizen reports on a study, and a very unpleasant blind tasting, that reveals how one chemical compound in oak barrels may be the culprit for some less welcome flavors in wine.

Collin writes that: “Fans of full-bodied reds and spicy Chardonnays know they can, in part, thank oak barrels for the toasty, nutty vanilla flavors and smooth textures found in their favorite wines. But could wood be adding a bitter note to tipples? It makes sense: Oak imparts tannins, and tannins are astringent. In a recently published study, however, researchers from the University of Bordeaux focused on a different phenolic compound they believed to be the main culprit for barrel bitterness: coumarins. Where are they, how do they affect your wine—and can anything be done about them? With the help of taste-testers willing to try some very bitter potions, the scientists found some surprising answers.”

“Many plants, including oak trees, contain coumarins, compounds so caustic they can deter predators,” explained Dr. Delphine Winstel, the postdoctoral researcher whose thesis formed the basis of the study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry and titled the “Role of Oak Coumarins in the Taste of Wines and Spirits.”

But Winstel and her colleagues wanted to figure out which coumarins actually make it into oak barrels. They picked up some samples from the master coopers at Seguin-Moreau and successfully identified the five coumarins known to exist in oak—plus, one more, previously undetected. “It is always very satisfying to find a compound that had never been identified in wine,” Winstel told Unfiltered.

How much of a pucker do coumarins really pack in the glass, and at what levels are they detectable? To find out, the team hosted a more-acrid-than-usual blind tasting of coumarin-laced wine and spirit samples for a group of 22 trained tasters. With noses clipped to block the coumarins’ noxious odor, the panel dutifully tasted through. “I’m not sure that tasting bitter molecules in a hydro-alcoholic solution in the morning is the best pleasure in life,” Winstel observed. “But every panelist was diligent!”

Winstel’s group also analyzed 90 commercial wines for coumarin levels, plus some spirits: reds from Bordeaux and Burgundy, whites from the Loire and Alsace, Cognac vintages back to 1970, and more. They found higher coumarin levels in red wines than white, but beyond that, “there is no particular region or appellation that shows a higher level of all coumarins,” Winstel concluded.

Collin summarizes that: “While the team determined how much was too much when it comes to coumarins, and is closer to knowing how coumarin levels can vary between different trees and perhaps even barrels, there’s much work and unpleasant tasting yet to be done. But these new findings could still have a real effect on the wine industry. Vintners might one day work with coopers to limit the coumarin levels in their wines. And any discovery makes for a sweeter day in the world of wine.”

Here at Skolnik Industries, there’s no bitterness in our Stainless Steel Wine Barrels. Note that our stainless steel wine barrels are reusable, easy to clean, and recyclable at the end of their service life. Check out the full line of our Stainless Steel Wine Drums.

What? A Wine Can Shortage?

July 14th, 2020 by Jon Stein

Filed under: Skolnik Newsletter, Wine

The US market has seen sales of canned wines exploding, as consumers can’t get enough of them. This has led to a slowdown in the supply of the cans, as Jeff Siegel recently reported in Wine Business International.

Jeff writes: “Drink Bev, a California canned wine producer, has seen its volume increase eight-fold over the past two years. Which should be a good thing, right? Right — apart from the pandemic-caused supply chain bottlenecks that are hampering can producers of all kinds, be it beer, wine, or soft drinks.”

“What we found so far, having trouble with getting cans, only kicked in recently,” says Alex Butti, the Vice President of Operations for Drink Bev, which makes 250 ml cans for two whites and a rose from California’s Central Coast. “When we were doing less volume, we had no trouble sourcing cans. But when we outgrew our vendors, finding cans in the short term has been difficult.”

The difficulty in finding supply is coming from increased demand from consumers, who have increased canned beverage consumption during the coronavirus lockdowns across the US, as well as the supply chain failing to keep pace with increased demand.

“The can shortage doesn’t seem to be as bad as was the case for toilet paper and hand sanitizer in the early days of the lockdown in April,” says Butti. “It’s smaller companies that are having problems; there are regional shortages and fewer canned beverages at some national supermarkets, though not widespread.”

“Supply chain issues have resulted in longer lead times to get cans for filling — anywhere from one to eight weeks,” says Butti, “it’s not about a supply shortage as much as it is about taking longer for cans to get from manufacturers to bottlers. In addition, inventories at bottlers are significantly smaller than they were at the beginning of the year.” US canned wine producers, package their product in three different sizes: 187 ml, 250 ml, and 375 ml. By comparison, most US beer and soft drinks come in 12-ounce (355 ml) cans.

“Yes, there is a very high demand for the 250 ml format for wine at this time, as it’s a popular size for most beverages, like water and coffee,” says Heather Clauss, Chief Commercial Officer for California’s FreeFlow Wines. “So, some of our customers have indeed had some challenges procuring cans.”

Here at Skolnik Industries, there’s no shortage of our Stainless Steel Wine Barrels. Note that our stainless steel wine barrels are reusable, easy to clean, and recyclable at the end of their service life. Check out the full line of our Stainless Steel Wine Drums here.