Using Science to Pick Grapes

Grape bunch on the vineE & J Gallo is spearheading the automation of picking grapes during harvest in Modesto, CA, by employing spectroscopy and chromatography. This chemical analysis process provides extensive information about the aroma, color, taste and mouthfeel of the grapes, which helps the winery determine the ideal time for bringing in the harvest. Micheal Cleary, senior manager of grape and wine chemistry at E & J Gallo Winery, explains how it works:

Chromatography is a laboratory process for chemically separating mixtures into their component parts. Using this process, grapes can be analyzed for their molecular makeup. Molecules indicative of aroma, taste and feel to the palate can be identified and the grapes then harvested when these molecules are at their highest concentrations.

What does this mean for the wine industry? Well, previous advancements in grape analysis still hasn’t led some winemakers into using them. For example, Helen Turley simply relies on her palate at harvest, not even measuring brix levels like most winemakers. Of course, if you could record data about the grapes when she made her decision, you could ideally match that every year in the lab. The problem is, growing conditions aren’t the same every year, and a winemakers palate may lead them to make different decisions based on experience.

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