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I love wine. Sangiovese, montepulciano, zinfandel, chardonnay; the list goes on. A nice bottle of wine has the ability to unfold like a narrative, starting when you first sniff the glass, swirling the contents around to get a feel for the body. After a few sips, when you’ve established a sense of each character in this elusive plot, you reach the climax. Two or three sips remain until the third act, and depending on the quantity you’ve ingested, it’s either pleasant or overly decadent. (You live and you learn.)

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But one thing remains the same – wine is both a solitary drink and a social communion. People of all ranks enjoy wine. Jesus was known to indulge in a glass from time to time and even created wine from water. If you want proof, just read the Bible.

Marriage at Cana; Jesus turns water into wine. Gerard David.

Marriage at Cana; Jesus turns water into wine. Gerard David, circa 1500.

However, what happens when you remove a crucial element from the recipe, like water, for example? A lot can go wrong. This is an issue many winemakers in California have been forced to address over the last few years. Though it’s true the way a bottle is presented and the hype surrounding it will harvest plenty of credibility from pseudo sommeliers, if the taste isn’t right, people are going to notice. Surely winemakers won’t let a drought get in the way of their production; after all, something has to be done to avoid mass scrutiny.

But in order to understand the urgency of Californian winegrowers, one first has to grasp the complex echelons that bind these tasty grape varietals with decades of patience and hard work. So without further ado, I present to you…

An Abridged History of This Ancient Brew

Wine has been around since 5,000 BC, though its exact origin is largely disputed. It wasn’t until Europe, specifically France and Italy, got ahold of this delicious grape fermenting process and began producing quality wines that it received the astute criticism it garners today. The rise of vintage wines amongst the pretentious bourgeois not only suggested the crème de la crème of a vintner’s collection, but also brought attention to a winemaker’s craft. In 1683, this concoction found new roots in Californian soil thanks to Spanish missionaries. Today, the Russian River and Napa Valley regions remain leading world contenders. When it comes to domestic wine production, California takes the cake with a whopping 90% out of all 50 states.

And that is why so much of their reputation is on the line when essential contents (i.e. water) are in short supply. However, California isn’t the only one acclimating to changing times and changing climates. More and more winemakers are ditching the old world traditions of France and Italy, introducing data collection and strange gadgets to help yield better wine. Their efforts have proven exceedingly beneficial for business marketing and consumption as well.

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With close proximity to the Silicon Valley, Californian winemakers appear to be benefiting most from this recent shift. In fact, several winemakers have taken particular interest and precaution in monitoring and controlling water intake. Verizon has taken part in providing solutions for the drought-ridden state with a wireless sensor network as part of the telecommunication company’s new ThingSpace Develop platform. This product has the ability to measure moisture levels in soil and air, predicting the best time to harvest grapes. Overall, Verizon’s sensor network provides winemakers with a blueprint on how to become more efficient in all facets of winemaking. From watering conservatively to yielding healthier grapes altogether, production costs are lowered significantly. All data is stored and managed by a cloud-based server and is accessible to farmers whenever and wherever.

The Ontario-based think tank BLOOM has also taken the initiative to educate the wine industry in water conservation through an online program titled Water & Wine. The program was developed to assist with water management in hopes that wineries adopt more sustainable methods for wine production. Offering free workshops for curious vintners, BLOOM’s dedication to change how the wine industry works is definitely worthy of a toast.

In 2013, entrepreneur Joey Shepp presented to the Silicon Valley Business Journal reasons detailing why the wine industry should invest in social media marketing. Shepp claimed wine’s absence from an online presence was detrimental to product marketing. It seems his advice was heard and taken; a quick glance on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook illustrates the rise of content and media surrounding wine in the past two years. Online magazines and blogs have sprung up solely dedicated to vino love, providing reviews and resources to fellow wine connoisseurs.

What do wine makers gain from this passage into the digital realm? A larger customer base via communication, as users now have the ability to interact with merchants and growers. And while product branding is easily disguised as social media fodder, more individuals appear to be holding their empty glasses at the ready for this new age wine for something as simple as #WineWednesday.

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Heads turned when the Coravin injected itself into the wine connoisseur’s arena with mixed feelings about the needle-siphoning concept. Of course, finding ways to extend the longevity of a wine bottle is useful, but this invention seemed to be hankering for more contenders. Guess what? That is exactly what happened. The rise of the Coravin sparked a succession of tech-inclined devices, bringing forth all types of zany ideas to the wine industry. From mobile apps that assist with wine pairings to managing an online presence, all facets surrounding wine seem to be covered with a simple swipe of your phone.

With an abundance of new resources available online and mobile, anyone can easily become a sommelier thanks to a handful of apps. For instance, Vivino promises to pick the perfect bottle of wine for any occasion, while its online presence provides users with a variety of charts, tutorials and wine-related news and content to add to one’s growing repertoire of regions, flavors and how-tos. It’s an absolute must for wine geeks and those eager to impress a date. Or if you’re at a complete loss as to what you’re drinking, Delectable is an extensive database of almost every wine that exists. Just snap a photo of the label and Delectable does the rest, identifying the wine along with helpful ratings, reviews and suggestions.

So raise a glass; there is a whole world of wine out there, waiting to be explored and tasted. But before you take that first sip, think back to what brought you to this wine? Was it a hashtag? An app? Was the cork removed before filling your glass? How did the vintner manage the grapes? As I mentioned earlier, every wine holds a story. Salute!

Jason Huerta

 

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