A couple of weeks ago I was watching a wine show on the television, appropriately called “The Wine Show”. One segment of the show caught my attention, it was all about sound assisted wine production in Chile. It featured the Montes Winery in Chile that played recorded Gregorian Chants in the barrel room to the wine, claiming that the music helped improve the aging of the wine, and they have been doing this for 12 years since 2004. Well I nearly fell out of my chair, not knowing whether this was a joke or for real.
The next day I decided to investigate further, so I checked into the Montes Winery on the internet, and much to my surprise this appeared to be real. So I researched further into other wineries doing the same or similar music assisted production or aging of wine. Here is a selection of what I learned:
- Montes Winery in Chile plays Gregorian Chants (choir music) to the aging barrels of wine in their cellar room. Above photo shows barrels arranged in amphitheater style for best listening. The wine gets to listen to only this choir music 24/7. Of course the wine ages faster, it wants to get the hell out of there fast.
- At Seven Stones Winery in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, winemaker George Hanson plays classical music to his wine in the barrel room, using surround sound that plays continuously 24/7. George’s wine prefers Mozart, and George claims that the Mozart sound waves influence the behavior of his wine molecules. When you next have the opportunity to try a bottle of his wine, follow the directions on the label carefully and play Mozart while you drink the wine, otherwise the wine molecules will behave badly and give off strong sulphur fumes.
- In Austria one winemaker plays music during the fermentation process to stimulate his yeast. He claims there is a vibrational match between Baroque style classical music and wine aging, and that as the music stimulates his yeast, the yeast eats more sugar and the wine ages faster. Well I deliberately left this winemaker’s name out of this article so as not to embarrass the man, because stimulating the yeast during fermentation may eat more sugar and speed up the fermentation process, but not the aging process. Aging the wine is a secondary process and our Austrian winemaker is only playing music to the fermentation vats, not the wine in barrels or bottles. So he is not accelerating the aging process. I was left wondering what chemical changes his Baroque music had made to the quality of his wine, since the overstimulated yeast had voraciously demolished more sugar than it normally would. Will his poor wine fall totally out of balance with a lower sugar count, which results in an alcohol percentage similar to beer?
- Christian Butz from Hochstadt in southwest Germany plays Brahms and Bizet to his grape juice during fermentation. This is interesting, and left me wondering if grapes from different terroirs, soils, regions, and countries respond to certain types of music or different composers better than others. Will German grapes respond poorly to French composers? Will French grapes respond to Vivaldi or Tchaikovsky? Will Bordeaux grapes turn their nose away from the composers used with success in Burgundy and the Rhone?
- In Chile Juan Ledesma at Vinas Ineditas uses waterproof speakers in his barrels to play music to his wine to make sure that he zaps all those wine molecules. I am not sure of the details to his installation, are the speakers wireless or if they are not wireless then does he have speaker wires protruding from each barrel. Imagine 500 barrels, each with speaker wires connecting to his barrel room stereo. There is a business opportunity here somewhere as “sound technician” to the wine industry!
- In Piedmont, Italy, Rocche dei Manzoni cellars produce a special Metodo Classico that is aged for 8 years on its lees (with the grape skins, unfiltered) while the wine listens to music 3 hours per day. The winemaker claims that playing music 24/7 to his wine would be too much because the wine needs to rest. This winemaker clearly views his wine molecules as living entities, working out 3 hours daily to the sound of music, then resting up for the next 21 hours. This has got to be some pretty lazy wine, it needs to get a job somewhere, or clean the wine cellar, and lying around the house for 8 years must be very expensive to our winemaker. I wonder if the winemaker gets more money for his tenants when he sells them and gets them out of the cellar for good.
- At the Paradiso di Frassina winery in Montalcino Tuscany, owner Giancarlo Cignozzi organically farms his vineyards and plays Mozart 24/7 to his grape vines, piped through 80 Bose speakers placed throughout the vineyard. The speakers were donated to him by Amar Bose, past Chairman of Bose Corporation.If you look closely at the above photo you can see just above the grapes a speaker mounted on a pole in the vineyard. Cignozzi notes that pest attacks on his vines have been dramatically reduced since Mozart started playing. However, I wonder if vineyard attacks from disgruntled neighbors, tired of hearing Mozart 24/7, have increased.
- The DeMorgenzon Winery in Stellenbosch, South Africa, owned by Hylton Appelbaum, takes the prize for total dedication to music throughout the entire winemaking process. Winemaker Carl van der Merwe has speakers in the vineyard, in the fermentation room, and in the cellar room, playing Baroque music from various artists and composers to his grapes 24/7. Carl claims that the music helps to regulate growth in the vineyard, resulting in later budding, later ripening by about 2 ½ weeks, and sadly, lower alcohol at 12.8% verses 14%. If you want more details, visit their website at demorgenzon.co.za where you will find an entire section dedicated to music. The wine names and labels are musical, see below. You can even review their playlist and listen to the specific works by Mozart, Bach, Handel, Corelli, Biber, Haydn, Telemann, and others on their site. As I listened to some of the music I could feel my roots growing deeper, my molecules flexing their muscles, and I wondered what would become of me if I had to listen to Baroque music 24/7 throughout my entire life.
So let’s summarize what these guys are doing. Some wineries play music to the grapes on the vines, some play music during fermentation, some play only to the finished wine in the barrel room and cellar, and some play music everywhere. Some play 24/7, others believe that this is too much because the wine needs to rest. Some play only Mozart, others only Baroque style, and some play choir music. These guys are all over the place, and clearly there is no consensus.
In my opinion, sound travels very well in a liquid, as any scuba diver will know, so the idea of submersible speakers is a good one. On the other hand, playing music to wine in barrel or bottle in the barrel room is going to be a lot less effective because the wood or glass that the sound must pass through acts as a filter (unless you use submersible speakers). Next time you are at a pool, a lake, or the ocean, put your head under the water and have someone on the surface talk to you while you are under water. You will hear them saying something, but it will be muffled and you will not hear it clearly. Now just imagine adding wood or glass as an additional filter, and don’t be surprised if you do not hear much at all.
In the vineyard sound can be transmitted effectively, but it will be subject to periodic disruptions from wind, rain, overhead planes, outdoor machinery, etc. But who knows, grapes do not have ears, so maybe they will be absorbing the sound in some other non human manner that we are not familiar with. What we really need to see to add credibility to what these winemakers are doing is some science, and some experimentation specific to the wine industry.
Nevertheless, as a gimmick, there is a business opportunity here for the right entrepreneur. Some enterprising sound engineer will have the opportunity of a lifetime to pioneer an entirely new industry as sound and sensory consultants to the wine sector. I see our sound consultant publishing science articles that summarize the positive effects of baroque classical music on wine in vat and in barrel, probably with small mini submersible wireless speakers. Scientific studies will determine whether the music should be played 24/7, 12 on 12 off, 4 on 4 off, or on some other cycle. Of course our consultant will really earn his pay with the playlist, which will vary to suit the type of grapes, type of soil, drainage, sun exposure, and altitude. The high thin air vineyards of Argentina and Chile will need different tunes compared to the lower altitude vineyards of France and the Mediterranean. A separate system will play customized (and different) music in the vineyard, a system designed to play to both the grapes themselves, and the rootstock, perhaps even designed to emit gentle vibrations that strengthen the vines and deepen the root structure, giving 5 year old vines the maturity equivalent of a fully matured vine at age 20.
Just imagine the benefits:
- All vineyard insect pests are eliminated, they vacate the area, they cannot stand Baroque classical, the sound vibrations hit them like a truck.
- With no insects to eat, the birds vacate the area as well, so grape damage from hungry birds is eliminated.
- All vineyards will be organic as no pesticides and fertilizers will be required.
- All wines will become better: grown, produced, and aged under harmonious musical conditions. Happy wines will all drink better, causing fewer headaches and hangovers.
Looking into the future I see the following new trends for the wine production industry:
- A new international wine classification system, where wines produced with musical assistance will need proper identification and labeling. First growth status will be reserved for wines musically enhanced in the vineyard, in the fermentation process, and in the cellar, with submersible speakers to ensure true sound quality.
- First growths will also require music 24/7 (no more lazy wines with music limited to 4 hours daily, those will be relegated to 5th growth status).
- First growths will all have to publish their play lists, which must consist of at least 33% Mozart, 33% mixed baroque chamber music, and the rest customized to suit the terroir, soil type, climate, and location of the wine. This is where the musical consultant recommending the playlist becomes an essential part of the wine production team.
- For that extra edge, wineries may get an extra category boost from say 2nd growth to 1st growth if they use top quality recording artists and labels. The most sought after performers will be people such as The London Philharmonic, Colin Davis and the Boston Symphony, The Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Herbert Von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic, etc.
- Wineries will have to certify that they do not play any of the following: acid rock, disco, country, R+B, hip hop, rap, polkas, and opera.
- Artists/Performers may also be deemed either acceptable or not acceptable, and specific application by each winery must be made to the newly formed International Wine Industry Music Academy to get their own unique play lists approved. It will be illegal for any winery to copy or duplicate another winery’s play list, after all this is what will guarantee diversity within the wine world. Performers like The 3 Tenors will be approved, singers like Frank Sinatra will be approved, while others like Elvis Presley and Dean Martin will not make the grade (Elvis because of his suggestive dance moves, this stimulates some grape types the wrong way, Dean Martin because he drank martinis and not wine, so he is deemed to have been a bad influence). The Academy will make their own rules, which will be highly controversial. This is why a whole new job category as “Musical Consultant to the Wine Industry” will become big business for some people.
- One must remember that grapes and the wines they produce will now be classified as living entities and therefore subject to stress and mood swings, mostly due to the weather, storage conditions, etc. Think of music as a drug prescribed by our Musical Consultant to either sooth or stimulate our grapes and vines, in recovering from weather shock. In the barrel room our Medical Consultant will prescribe a different play list that is customized to suit each particular vintage’s strengths and weaknesses. Lots of work here for our Musical Consultant.
Well enough of this nonsense, the real action is going to take place in the home wine cellar sector. Since your wines have been raised on a steady diet of Mozart and Baroque chamber music, you will be advised to continue playing music to your wines in your own cellar. So for best cellar results you will need your own play list and your own cellar sound system. You will of course need your own wine cellar music consultant to recommend a play list suitable for your own cellar and wine collection (perhaps this is a new expertise that your local wine retailer will provide). If your cellar has more red Bordeaux than anything else, you get one type of play list. With cellars containing mostly California, Australian, or South American you get a different play list. For those collectors with large cellars you will need separate rooms for whites and reds, and for different regions, all with slightly different play lists to ensure happy wines aging peacefully the way they should, based on what music they were born and raised to. Perhaps play lists will be provided on the back label of your top wines for the discriminating consumer.
If this sounds a little fanciful to you, I agree, of course it is. But the wine industry is so large, and so competitive that you can be sure there is a business opportunity here to be developed and exploited. And every large industry needs a new gimmick once in a while to get everyone talking about it and buying the latest accessories. Ah, I think this may be my next career move.
Cheers, and Happy New Year!