Wine: The Food of the Future
Viticulture is part of our nature and our culture. For thousands of years we have cultivated the vine to produce grapes for different uses; one of them is to obtain wines. Wines that provide a sense of a place, that transport us to where we can bear witness to its landscapes and its traditions. Furthermore, when we came to this world (those of us who inhabit it today, those who were born in the last 100 or a little more years), the vine has already been growing within it. Domesticated and transforming our lives; it was already part of nature. The same nature that we inherited and with which we humans established a deep relationship.
This viticulture that we love so much is going to face, and is already doing so, threats. Well…changes. It will depend on what we do whether those changes remain threats or become opportunities. Some of those changes are brought by what is happening to our planet’s climate, as the number of intense and unforeseen environmental events continue to increase. Others have to do with what happens within our cultures: not long ago, in my native Mendoza, people took naps after lunch, generally accompanied by a good amount of local wine. Today, many eat something quickly, on-the-go, have a non-alcoholic drink and the nap seems like something from their grandparents’ era.
The Vines of the Future
One of the most important changes will have to do with productivity. That is, what we get in exchange for the resources we use (land, water, nutrients, etc.). For centuries we have cultivated most of the varieties that we know today. Since the end of the 19th century, we have also added the rootstocks of species resistant to Phylloxera. With some exceptions, mainly in very cold areas or with high pressure of fungal diseases, there has not been a great innovation in new varieties. At the same time, we live in a world that has introduced great changes in crops, mainly extensive crops, developing genetically modified variants to produce more with fewer resources. Until now, most of these modifications involved the introduction of a DNA fragment from another species in the crop to improved it. How are we going to react to the possibilities that gene editing offers and its impact on natural biodiversity? Will we accept that a Cabernet Sauvignon is modified to have resistance to viral and fungal diseases, maybe even Phylloxera? Or that yields are multiplied by two or three, freeing up resources for other crops?
A Glass with Water, Please
Water is increasingly scarce. In a world with more and more inhabitants, we will have to be very cautious with the use that we give to the water suitable for crops. Not only the water used in irrigation, but also the water that is stored in underground aquifers or even rainwater. What will happen when we have to choose between irrigating a vineyard or irrigating a corn or wheat field? Regarding the vineyards that are not allow to be irrigated today, will local growers have to choose between illegally irrigating their plots or breaking the laws to be sustainable? In some places, those questions are not in the distant future, but here and now. Food production using biotechnology could help alleviate this problem somewhat. Today, we find hamburgers that taste like hamburgers but do not come from cows. But… will we accept wine that does not come from vines? What is the opinion of the younger generations, who will be the main wine consumers in the coming years, about these dilemmas? Have we asked them enough?
A waste-free planet is surely something we all dream of. On one hand, having crops use inputs that do not affect the health of people: consumers, workers or nearby populations. This is a huge challenge that can even jeopardize productivity and sustainability. Zero risk implies assuming costs that could make growing a crop prohibitive in some regions. When we take a plane or drive our car, do we have zero risk? What commitment are we willing to make to achieve healthy and sustainable productions? On the other hand, there are certain by-products of viticulture and enology that, many times, are treated as waste, although they are highly rich in bioactive compounds (antioxidants or natural colorants, for example). The world demands more natural food and viticulture could provide organic, kosher, halal ingredients, also suitable for vegans, vegetarians, celiacs… extracted from pruning waste and pomace.
Wine as Food
Ultimately wine is food. It is part of the diet of millions of people every day. Like all the food we consume, we must do so in a balanced way, integrating it as part of a balanced and healthy diet. If we think of viticulture as a provider of food, we will realize that there are many people in the world who want to drink and eat healthy things that are good for them and the planet. We have the opportunity to explore the production of increasingly healthy wines, non-alcoholic beverages that come from grapes and even natural functional ingredients extracted from by-products of viticulture. At the same time, we will be protecting the beauty of natural landscapes and soils from erosion, as well as rural life and tourism. We can build a great future for the next one hundred years, as long as we co-create that future with the new generations, those who drink wine and those who don’t.
Executive Director of the Catena Institute of Wine
Winemaker of Nicolás Catena Zapata
President of Bodegas CARO (joint venture Catena Zapata – Chateau Lafite-Rothschild)
I am a fifth-generation winemaker from Mendoza, Argentina. A few more generations of my family were related to grape and wine in Italy as well! We have faced a great deal of challenges to sustainability…and here I am.
I have worked with renowned international wineries, including Domaines Barons de Rothschild [Lafite], Catena Zapata, and my family winery, Famiglia Bertona. I also co-founded a boutique project called Tierra de Dioses, which is now owned and managed by my original partners. I have worked, and continue to work in Argentina, Italy and the United States and have completed more than 20 harvests!
Tim Atkin named me Young Winemaker of the Year in 2018 and James Suckling selected one of my wines, CARO 2012, as one of the top 3 in the world.
Research (to find solutions to the challenges of viticulture) fascinates me. I lead one of the most innovative teams in the industry at the Catena Institute of Wine and founded Qualab (qualab.co) to serve as a bridge between producers and the scientific community.
I graduated from UC Davis, California and worked alongside one of my mentors: Roger Boulton. Our studies focused on the existence of terroir and how to measure it. Our research lead to the most extensive study of Malbec in the world, documenting over 40 wine growing sites across two hemispheres. All our work has been published, and this is one of my favorite papers: https://bit.ly/MALBEC-UCDAVIS.
I also share what I know and continue to learn. At UC Davis, I taught “Physical and Chemical Stability of Wines” and I am a head professor of “Wine Operations Management” at the Wine MBA of the J.A. Maza University in Mendoza.
My vision of winemaking is holistic. I want to help triple impact plant, grape and wine producers to become sustainable, achieving profitability by making the world a better place to live in.