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5 named Northern California wine business innovators: ConeTech, Enartis, GOfermentor, InnoVint, M.A. Silva USA

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Innovation often happens when a new or growing problem needs to be addressed, but sometimes it happens just because someone brings a new perspective and imagination to the industry.

In many cases, the innovations build on existing technologies by adapting them into a new context, and however simple they may seem once accomplished, they required daring, vision, and determination to achieve and the wine industry as a whole is better off for having these innovative companies in their ranks. They represent the vanguard of product and service innovation that is essential for the advancement and prosperity of the industry.

Wine Industry Network has provided this information about its eighth annual WINnovation Awards for excellence in wine industry innovation.

ConeTech

In recent years, California wines have been at an increased risk of smoke exposure from wildfires, a prospect that can destroy an entire season if the winery’s wine or grapes are tainted, and can be a massive financial loss.

In response, ConeTech developed a proprietary smoke taint removal process that built on the application of its existing spinning cone technology, and layered on new lab research and methodology to effectively target both the free and glycosidically bound smoke compounds without destroying the wine.

The two-step process begins with ConeTech’s vacuum distillation, which separates the lighter and more delicate essence compounds and leaves the heavy smoke compounds in the wine. Then the wine is tested for over 30 smoke taint compound markers to accurately identify the concentration of the compounds that cause smoke taint and allow for a targeted removal. Once the smoke compounds are removed, the preserved essence is returned to the treated wine, restoring its quality and value.

“The lack of good solutions to deal with smoke tainted wine has quelled the conversation, but with the recent rise in California wildfires, it is a conversation that we can no longer afford to avoid,” says George Christie, president and founder of the Wine Industry Network. “ConeTech deserves great praise for taking on this tough challenge with rigorous scientific research and an innovative adaptation of their spinning cone technology to help winemakers whose wines have been exposed restore quality and value to their wines.”

ConeTech launched this new process in November 2018, and is on track to have restored value to nearly one million gallons of smoke tainted wine using this process.

Enartis USA

BluVite was developed in Europe by BluAgri in response to extreme heat events that caused vines in France and Italy to suffer. With the prospect of climate change making these events increasingly likely, they knew they needed to make the root systems more robust and resilient to diverse conditions. Their solution was to improve the efficacy of the microbiome of the soil and make it more sustainable.

BluVite is a biofertilizer comprised of peptides and minerals that works by restoring the soil’s microbiological fertility, without inoculating external microorganisms, but by stimulating microbes already present in the soil. BluVite helps nutrients become more available to the root system, thereby strengthening it and resulting in a healthier vine.

Enartis USA began trialing it in the U.S. in 2018 and has already helped several large growers in California see significant improvement in the health and resistance of their vines when exposed to severe environmental impacts. Looking to the future, tools like BluVite will be essential to help the wine industry safeguard against climate change’s effects on viticulture.

“Climate change is an existential threat to our viticulture that winegrowers know they have to mitigate for, but are challenged on how to do it. The BluVite approach resonates with the industry’s desire to be sustainable and protect their vines, while also preserving the microbiome that makes their soils unique,” says Christie.

GOfermentor

The GOfermentor is an example of an industry outsider bringing a new perspective and expertise to winemaking and challenging how things are being done. Vijay Singh is a biotech engineer who revolutionized the way pharmaceutical fermentations are done by introducing a single-use sterile bag to replace stainless steel. Now he’s bringing the same concept to winemaking and is harvesting medals for his winery, as well as significant production advantages.

“The wine industry can be slow to change, so it is invigorating to have experts like Vijay Singh come into the industry and bring their fresh approach and knowledge from another industry to winemaking,” says Christie. “It is not often that you see new solutions that are at once cost saving and quality enhancing. The GOfermentor has the potential to cause a paradigm shift for small lot winemaking.”

When grapes are crushed, they are placed into a 1-ton GOfermentor single-use bag and the unit is programmed to automatically perform punchdowns at regular intervals. The automation reduces labor, and the frequent mixing action also eliminates temperature gradients within the fermentation, with the result that sulfides from yeast retooling are not observed. The plastic bag protects the wine from unwanted exposures from yeast, oxygen, smoke and bacteria from the outside environment.

At the end of fermentation, the GOfermentor presses the grapes, leaving behind the pomace in the biodegradable plastic bag for easy disposal. The disposal of the bag means savings on labor and time spent cleaning, as well as a 90% reduction in water usage. The GOfermentor is a paradigm shift in winemaking that many winemakers will likely be hesitant to accept, but the low cost and bare-bones infrastructure required to use the GOfermentor makes it easy to try with a very low investment, but a high risk of falling in love.

InnoVint

Winemakers tracking their production data is nothing new, but there’s a huge difference between having production data and being able to efficiently access and use it. What InnoVint has done is recognize that this can be done better, that there’s an unrealized opportunity to capitalize on when everyone already carries a computer in their pocket, and so they have developed a software solution that brings the ICT revolution to winemaking.

The cloud-based software centralizes the information and makes it immediately accessible from any team member’s mobile device. The real-time flow of information and digital work orders optimize cellar workflows and improve team communication. InnoVint clients have reported upwards of 20 hours of time savings per week as a result; a significant business cost savings.

The software feeds information directly to all dependent aspects of the business, providing real-time insight into inventory cost accounting, reporting and compliance, giving the business a holistic view of the health of its winery and engaging the entire winery team, from executive management to harvest interns. And, as any truly innovative company, InnoVint doesn’t stand still, but has kept adding new features since their launch.

“Information is key to success in winemaking and wine business, but a winery consists of massive amounts of data, and without the proper tools to effectively access and act on that information, it becomes useless. InnoVint has managed to combine their insights into the operational needs of a winery with cutting edged software development to create a solution that greatly advances the efficiency of winery operations. The results can be seen in significant time savings and avoiding costly mistakes caused by miscommunication and depreciated data,” says Christie.

M.A. Silva USA

Cork producers have been able to create clean, TCA-free technical corks for some time. M.A. Silva USA has been using its SARA process to clean cork granules, and there are other companies that have similar technologies. However, when it comes to natural cork, the focus has been on detecting and discarding, an approach that can provide safety from contamination, but at a high cost.

“M.A. Silva’s new SARA Advanced process shows its continued commitment to deliver a closure that winemakers can trust as well as leadership in the natural cork category,” says Christie. “The curative and preventive process of SARA Advanced is both an innovative approach to natural cork and technical achievement that’s worthy of recognition.”

M.A. Silva’s new approach is to build on its existing cleaning technology and adapt it to handle natural cork in a process that’s both preventive and curative. The new SARA Advanced process uses dry steam, temperature and pressure to dramatically reduce TCA and other phenols, and the process is now being used for all its natural cork products.

The process reduces TCA levels by up to 95% and also removes other compounds that could have an impact on wine aromatics making for an overall more neutral and consistent closure that winemakers can rely on to seal their premium wines securely.

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