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Italy Activates Wine-Fermenting Robots

Plus, Champale beer survives Champagne suit, Kuvée set to compete with Coravin, and an English gin born in French vineyards
"Alert! Alert! Concord grapes do not compute!"

Posted: March 31, 2016

Meet Genesis, an Italian-designed wine fermentor used for small-batch winemaking by Dr. Donato Lanati at his applied-research center Enosis in Fubine, Italy. From the outside, the tank looks, well, like a wine-loving cousin of R2D2, with a head, body and handles that look like ears. “The almost-human extraterrestrial has a superior mind, but especially a big heart,” a spokesperson for Lanati hopefully joked. Inside, Genesis hides “an entire cellar” of equipment designed to bring out the best in every grape, working in batches of 100 to 200 pounds.

Lanati designed Genesis to vinify grapes from his experimental vineyards as well as indigenous grapes from vineyards in many Italian regions, including Piedmont, Calabria, Sicily, Sardinia and Tuscany.

To that end, Genesis’ sensors measure data like sugar potential, pH, total and extractable anthocyanins and flavonoids, etc., and then its custom software adapts maceration and fermentation as well as technical functions like oxygenation or délestage based on how the unit has been programmed. The "head" and "body" operate as two separate but communicating tanks, and a Plexiglas hatch allows for observation. Just don't ask Genesis to open the pod bay doors.

Champale Survives Champagne Suit

The once-indomitable Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne has dropped another high-profile match. After losing a trademark case to a clown, Champagne's taken another hit from an English brewer and winemaker named Roger Barber, who successfully convinced trademark authorities to let him use the name Champale for a new beer (or rather, a new beer that's been around a while, since Barber fought two years for recognition).

"We put in the trademark request but got a letter from the French almost immediately telling us that we could not use the name and if we did, there would be serious and costly legal consequences," Barber told the Telegraph. "But we weren't about to give in, so we argued our case and eventually won." In England, Barber pointed out, "champ" is short for "champion," which is surely the connotation Barber is seeking in his drink, made with Champagne-style yeasts for effervescence and sold in Champagne-shaped bottles with wire-caged corks. Unfiltered readers on a beer budget may wonder why in America, Pabst is allowed to sell Champale malt liquor and Miller can market the Champagne of Beers. It's not because we're the Land of the Free (to Trample Trademark Protections), but because the U.S. only agreed to honor E.U. Protected Designations of Origin like "Champagne" and "Port" in 2006—but any product using the terms prior could continue to do so.

Kuvée Set to Compete with Coravin

From canned wine to the Coravin, there's a growing demand to get wine in a single-serving format. Into the fray marches the Kuvée device, a wine-preservation system that looks a bit like the Darth Vader of wine bottles: tall, armored in all black, with some kind of beep-boop gizmo on its chest. The main purpose: "slow down the oxidation so that what would typically happen in a day or two happens in 30 days," founder Vijay Manwani told Unfiltered. Unfiltered played around with the Kuvée unit, and it's pretty straightforward: The wine comes in 750ml metal bottle-shaped canisters (that fit on standard bottling lines to maximize convenience for wineries), which you snap into the Vader-sheath from the bottom and then pour out a glass as the patented system blocks oxygen from backflowing in. On the screen, the label appears, and drinkers can read wine info, tasting notes, winery history, pairing selections and whatever else the winery wants to provide. Icons indicate the remaining amount of wine in the canister and the temperature; as it's wi-fi enabled, you can order more right off the screen.

"It's wine like the winemaker intended. If you go to a tasting room, they're going to serve it at a certain temperature, they're going to suggest food to go with it, they'll make sure it's fresh. If you can replicate that experience at home, it's a big deal for [wineries]," said Manwani. "Now you've taken your $12 by-the-glass at restaurants and made it a $5 glass at home," explained Master Sommelier Michael Meagher, the wine guy for Kuvée. When Manwani initially approached wineries with an idea and a model, one in five could muster enthusiasm, he said; now that he can demonstrate the product, he says it's nine in 10. When the first units ship in October (initially $179, which includes four 750s of wine, though that option has sold out), 12 wineries will be on board. So far, Bonny Doon, Round Pond, B.R. Cohn, Seghesio and Pine Ridge are among them. The company has $6 million in investment cash so far, and Manwani has himself built and sold start-ups before, some for hundreds of millions of dollars.

There were bumps along the way, of course, with the most important mechanical consideration being the speed of the pour. "When you're going to imitate something iconic like a bottle, if you don't do it well enough, you create these unconscious disappointments," said Manwani. And of course, he had to identify his audience—younger, regularly drinks $20 to $30 bottles, not scared off by technology. But the bottles will be very near retail price, the consumer test groups got in the habit of keeping four or five "open" at a time and, empty, the canisters weigh about a tenth of a glass bottle, for minimal carbon footprint.

English Gin Born of Champagne

Until about a century ago, France and Great Britain were basically the U.N.C.–Duke of geopolitical conflict. But eventually the two countries realized they couldn't quit each other and signed the Entente Cordiale in 1904 in the spirit of comity. Now, Champagne house Cattier is bringing France and England together again, this time in the spirit of, well, spirits: Cattier is set to launch a gin called Entente in collaboration with a British distiller, with Champagne grapes as the base.

"The idea was to bring added value to a product which is usually used just for the production of a simple alcohol," Cattier general manager Philippe Bienvenu explained to Unfiltered, referring to the ratafia or marc that is traditionally distilled from Champagne grape pomace (i.e. the leftover skins and pulp following pressing). "We decided to make a gin because this is a growing market everywhere in the world, which could also well complement our production of Champagne," said Bienvenu. "Associating the glamorous image of the Champagne region to gin would be a very unique pairing. And it has always been in our DNA to be creative and pioneers." Indeed: Unfiltered readers who don't know Cattier Champagne are almost certainly familiar with the gold bottles of Jay Z–owned Armand de Brignac "Ace of Spades," made in the cellars of Cattier.

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