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Unified Wine & Grape Symposium

Sacramento Convention CenterLast week I attended the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento, which is one of the world’s largest wine industry trade shows. I had a fantastic time learning about where the wine industry is at the moment, meeting people as excited about winemaking as I am, and checking out oenological and viticultural gadgetry I didn’t know existed!

Inside a breakout sessionThe event is three days long and I attended the breakout sessions on Wednesday. I was able to catch the “State Of The Industry” address which looked generally at consumer trends and the industry’s reaction to those trends. The blog entry I wrote last week covered most of what was reported from the marketing perspective. It was also reported that in response to the public’s current fascination with Malbec and Muscato a huge amount of these varietals have been planted in the last year. It takes three years for a vine that has been “budded over” (had a new varietal grafted onto an existing rootstock) to produce grapes suitable for wine production. Inside the exhibit hallCurrently, 25% of Muscat vines planted in California are not bearing fruit. That means that if it turns out that the popularity of Muscat is a merely a fad then there will be a lot of frustrated growers in the year 2013.

Radoux Tonnellerie's boothThe barrel coopers’ booths were undoubtedly the fanciest at the event. One of the coopers had bought out 8 booths and actually built a living room in the middle of the event! Wine capsules of every shape and color were on display. Branded boxes made of fine paper were being shown alongside more practical wine shipping materials that looked like they could survive Armageddon. I knew that boxed wine is becoming more popular; with higher quality wines now being packaged in cardboard, but it wasn’t until I saw the vast selection of boxed alternatives that I realized how much is really out there. Fancy wine capsulesThese days wine is even being sold in milk cartons and over-sized Capri Sun-style juice pouches. Speaking of alternative packaging, one company offered a one-way disposable substitute for a keg, which was like a giant Christmas ornament. I cringed at the idea of all the trash it created, though they certainly looked futuristic – huge baubles of wine! Deerfield, however, will continue to produce wine in the traditional manner: Wine bottles with natural corks.

Barrel attachment for forkliftsHuge piece of vineyard equipmentOn the viticulture side of things I was impressed by the state-of-the-art equipment that exists to do virtually all the vineyard maintenance. These machines cannot replicate the care that a human being can give to each plant but some of the equipment can help a grower do the job better. For instance, vine tying can be a tedious and time consuming task. Sometimes the sheer repetition can leave a person dazed and unfocused. Showcased at this year’s Unified was a handheld device that a worker can use to automatically do the actual tying of the stem to the trellis.

Beautiful European still for making GrappaFor me, the highlights of the oenological tools were twofold. There was another handheld device that could instantly analyze a cotton swab of a surface and tell you if it is completely sanitized. Around the corner was a fermentation tank, unlike any I’ve seen before, that closely resembled an egg laid by an emu the size of a small skyscraper. Its manufacturer advertised that the egg shape naturally promoted currents in the fermenting grapes, minimizing the need for laborious punch-downs and pump-overs.

I had an absolutely fantastic and informative time at Unified this year and I’m looking forward to next year!

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