A Revolution for the World and for Wine
Perhaps last dive into oak barrels wasn’t your thing. Have no fear – this time we’re moving on to something completely different! Our journey into wine aging vessels wouldn’t be complete without considering technology’s deep influence on winemaking. When stainless steel was first invented in the early 1900s, towards the end of the second Industrial Revolution, its effect on society as a whole was insurmountable.
An increase in job opportunities as well as the overall quality of life created a boom for an industry that today accounts for more than $500 billion in economic output. And while it may not be the biggest contributor to stainless steel’s success, the opposite holds true: stainless steel has been a huge contributor to the success of the wine industry.
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A Modern Approach to Winemaking
Stainless steel, first used in winemaking in the 1950s, has since been thought by many as the polar opposite of oak barrel aging – the large, shining silver wine tanks more reminiscent of factory work than the idyllic image of winemakers lovingly pouring their freshly stomped grapes into rustic wooden barrels, then stacked high in a picturesque winery set atop a hill in a pastoral village. But as the wine industry has grown, so has the innovation and drive for new winemaking techniques. And although stainless steel doesn’t come with the historical significance or romantic sentiment of other forms of winemaking, it is important.
Preserving Natural Flavors and Environmental Friendliness
From a winemaking standpoint, stainless steel is a great option for fermentation and aging because it allows a winemaker to highlight the natural flavor of the grapes without any of the flavors or textural influence oak is known to impart. Along with that big factor, it’s easy to clean, can come in virtually any size, lasts a long time, is less expensive to manufacture and purchase than oak barrels, and temperature and oxygen amounts can be easily managed throughout the process.
A Sustainable Choice in Winemaking
Even more importantly, stainless steel is more environmentally friendly. Whereas a new oak barrel may only have a working life of around three to five vintages or so before it can no longer contribute its qualities to wine and becomes “neutral”, stainless steel lasts longer and isn’t made from a perishable resource. Much akin to the movement away from bottles that use corks and towards metal screw caps, the choice to use stainless steel over wood can have a positive environmental impact in a big way.