What is in this article?:
- UC Davis is processing wine with the world’s first wireless fermentation system.
- Researchers can now undertake experiments involving many different vineyard sites to better understand how climate, soil, grape clone and viticultural practice interact to influence wine composition.
In another advance for innovative winemaking, students and faculty at the University of California, Davis, are now processing wine with the world’s first wireless fermentation system, thanks to a recently completed $3.5 million network designed, built and donated to the university by Silicon Valley semiconductor executive T.J. Rodgers.
Rodgers, a wine lover and winery owner, is founder, president and CEO of San Jose-based Cypress Semiconductor Corp. Now in its third generation of refinement, the initial assembly of custom-designed stainless steel fermentors was installed just in time for the winery’s first crush in 2010. Since then, Rodgers and his crew of engineers and computer experts from Cypress Semiconductor have continued to fine-tune the innovative fermentation system to meet the needs of the campus's two-year-old Teaching and Research Winery, known for its environmental and technical sophistication.
“UC Davis is the foremost center for enology and viticulture in the world," Rodgers said. "Our goal was to provide it with the most advanced winemaking equipment in the world.”
In December 2010, the 34,000-square-foot Teaching and Research Winery received official LEED Platinum certification — the highest environmental rating awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council. It is the first winery in the world to attain this level of certification. At the time of the winery’s completion, it was the highest scoring of any university LEED projects.
The new wireless fermentation network, now with 152 fermentors, puts the UC Davis winery in a class of its own technologically, as well.
“This radically new fermentation system is unlike anything available at the moment to commercial or research wineries,” said Professor Roger Boulton, the Stephen Sinclair Scott Endowed Chair in Enology at UC Davis.
“It equips us, for the first time, to perform reproducible fermentations with precise temperature control and uniform mixing, which is critically important for consistently producing quality wines,” Boulton said.
Rodgers remembered how he learned about winemaking. “I had a passion for red Burgundy, as well as degrees in chemistry and electrical engineering — but zero knowledge of winemaking — when I decided to plant our first pinot noir vineyard,” he said. “Professor Boulton at UC Davis took my calls to ask him questions about a paper of his I had read, and UC Davis graduates like John Kelly taught me how to make wine.”
“When I had an opportunity to help the school that helped me, I took it,” Rodgers said.
The 200-liter fermentors — now referred to as “TJs” in the UC Davis winery — are individually equipped with automated temperature control, an automated system for pumping juice over grape skins when making red wines, and a sensor that monitors fermentation progress in degrees Brix — a measurement of sugar content.
Data from each fermentor is transmitted wirelessly to a nearby computer control room at a programmable ratio of up to once per minute and automatically graphed on a large monitor in the control room.
Rodgers’ $3.5 million investment in equipment and engineering is the most significant gift to the Teaching and Research Winery since its construction. And it is a gift that has left faculty and staff in UC Davis’ Department of Viticulture and Enology still shaking their heads.
As plans for the new winery began to gel in 2009, Rodgers expressed interest in playing a philanthropic role in making the vision of the winery a reality.