Techie wine

Illustration by Mark Stivers

Newfangled vino: While hundreds of winos queued up for pinot and zinfandel tastings, four falcons observed from their perches and chirped with concern—most of all the smallest fowl named Bebe.

“She’s not happy today,” said Audrey Kerster of Kerster’s Falconry about her favorite falcon. “You can tell, she’s fluffed up, and she got really upset when I tried to pick her up.”

Kerster was one of the exhibitors last week at the nation’s largest wine conference at the Sacramento Convention Center, the 24th Unified Wine & Grape Symposium. An estimated 14,000 attendees congregated over three days to glean insights on the future of vino and scout out new technologies and trends.

The falcons are by no means cutting-edge winemaking tools: The business has been around for decades in Sacramento. The birds are pest control, chasing out the starlings that often nibble through grapes.

Across from the falcons, Mission Clay Products had recently pivoted its 68-year-old business into a neglected application: winemaking. Clay terracotta pots were used to make some of the world’s oldest wine dating back 8,000 years. But for today’s winemakers, oak barrels equal tradition.

“This is never going to replace oak,” admitted owner Bryan Vansell. Clay softens the edges of acidic wines to make them taste more like French wines. Plus, the terracotta is sustainable because it lasts longer than oak barrels. “It’s such a competitive field, so winemakers are always looking for a little bit of a niche,” he said.

Even artificial intelligence and machine-learning have trickled into the slow-to-change industry. Jason Curtis, director of product development at Santa Rosa’s Orion Wine Software, said his company recently added AI to its offerings. Their software collects and learns from data on customers’ habits as well as the inputs and results of each harvest. It can tell which customers would likely pounce on a sale of, let’s say, rosé.

“For the winemakers, maybe they want to predict the SO2 [sulphites] they want to add to wines,” Curtis said.

But change isn’t easy when many of these brands rely on looking old-school and elite.

Nearby, Flexcube USA peddled a next-generation, sustainable wine barrel: a monolithic black polymer box. Salesperson Cameron Black is optimistic that the future of wine will include innovations that make wine more accessible.

“Breaking tradition is something difficult in the wine industry,” Black said. “The future really is having better wines at a lower cost and so that people can appreciate them more.”

Amaro donezo: Following a string of changes on the R Street corridor—including the closure of Nido, Metro Kitchen + Drinkery and Dos Coyotes Border Cafe—the well-liked Amaro Bistro & Bar served its last dinner this past Saturday. It shuttered because of a lack of revenue, according to the Sacramento Business Journal.