The Alsace wine industry has suffered considerable losses this year due to restaurant closures, reduced wine consumption, and a 25% tax on French wines imposed in ongoing the U.S.-European Union trade war. For Jérôme Mader, a 38-year-old winemaker who usually sends his top-rated Rieslings and Gewürztraminers to high-end restaurants and shops around the world, sales have dropped by 50% since December. Without space to stock his unsold wine, Mader is sending away 15% of his inventory to be distilled into ethyl alcohol to make hand sanitizer, a product that is selling briskly during the pandemic. The same is true for Marion Borès’s family business, Domaine Borès, which is sending 30% of its production (19,000 liters) away to a distillery to be converted into flavorless alcohol. In the Alsace region alone, over six million liters (1.5 million gallons) of perfectly delicious yet unsold wine will be distilled down to ethyl alcohol. Francis Backert, head of the Independent Winemakers Association of Alsace, reports that wholesale wine traders are seeing losses of 70% across the industry. In response, the French government is subsidizing the transfer of wine to distilleries for roughly 5,000 French winemakers in an aid effort dubbed “Crisis Distillation.” The last time the French government stepped in with a Crisis Distillation response was during the global economic collapse of 2009.
After a decade, scientists have identified the genome of phylloxera, an insect that can wipe out vineyards and winemaker profits. The research team’s findings, published in BMC Biology, identified almost 3,000 genes that allow phylloxera, a type of lice, to colonize and live off grape vines. Paul Nabity, assistant professor of plant-insect ecology at the University of California Riverside, explains that “In effect, phylloxera creates its own refrigerator on the plant that it can feed from whenever it wants.” The structures it creates also protect the insect from attacks by other parasites. Known as galls, these bumpy structures ruin a grapevine’s ability to feed itself, wound the roots, and increase the vine’s vulnerability to pathogens and fungi. Eventually, it stunts the growth of grapevines and can even kill them. Phylloxera was accidentally brought to Europe from the New World in the 1860s and almost ended French viticulture. Native North American grapevines co-evolved with phylloxera, making them resistant to its harmful effects. However, most of grapes grown for food and drink are European varieties. To sell the most marketable wines, North America growers must graft North American roots onto European grapevines to build the vines’ tolerance to phylloxera. The new genome map may simplify things, helping growers prevent phylloxera infestations and reduce pesticide use in both North American and European vineyards.
Next Century Spirits, a liquor technology start up, has introduced augmentations to traditional distilling techniques with a unique filtering and finishing method. “We use automation and predictive analytics to reduce the chaos, control flavor profiles, and scale precision quality control in the finishing process,” said Nick Scarff, Master Blender and vice president of business development. The company uses sensors, gas chromatography, and materials such as copper to detect chemical profiles, reduce risk, and more precisely determine flavor outcomes. “We can remove impurities or compounds like isopropanol, methanol, butyric acid, and certain sulfur-based chemicals using highly specialized, patented filtering, targeting even microscopic amounts,” said Scarff. “Even just a few parts per million of naturally occurring chemicals will completely change the aroma and flavor of the distillate.” The technology reduces the filtration process of distilling from days to hours, and it can maximize desirable flavor components such as vanillin, syringaldehyde, cinnemaldehyde, and whiskey lactones to create flavors such as vanilla, toasted oak, cinnamon, or coconut in the distilled spirit.
Russia is considering implementing breathalyzers in vehicles and encouraging manufacturers to install them before cars can hit the market. The industry ministry hopes to establish a plan by the end of 2020 to put an end to drunk driving, according to Kommersant newspaper. In the past decade, about 40,000 Russian drivers have died on the road as a result of drunk driving, a number high enough to prompt officials to push for alcohol interlocks. The interlocks require drivers to pass a breathalyzer test in order to start the ignition, but the added cost of installing them could be opposed by car manufacturers as the pandemic strains the industry.
Templeton Rye has developed a reputation as a smooth mixing whiskey, employed by bartenders around the world in countless cocktails. Alas, a truck carrying 12,000 bottles of Templeton 4-Year Rye rolled over last week, causing an estimated loss of $325,000 worth of whiskey. Kevin Boersma, Templeton Rye’s processing manager, says the truckload of whiskey belonged to a distributor and was bound for Fort Smith, Arkansas. But it never made it. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the accident. “It’s definitely the strangest thing I’ve ever had happen with a truckload or shipment,” Boersma said. “You could see on the (news) video that maybe some cases might have made it, but I haven’t heard anything official.” As of now, the truck, trailer, and cargo are considered a total loss. Get the full storyhere at USA Today or here at VinePair.