How Gravity-Flow Wineries are Taking Grapes to New Heights

The nerve center of Palmaz Vineyards gravity-flow wine system, proving low-intervention doesn’t mean low-tech / Photo by Nicola Majocchi

Somewhere between industrialized winemaking and the full-on natural/no-intervention movement, there are a growing number of producers using the environment—and more importantly, gravity—to refine their winemaking technique. Many believe that removing pumps or motors from the winemaking process preserves better fragrance and flavour. Some wineries have even gone so far as to build their facilities underground or on sloped land to bypass machinery and let gravity better work its magic.

Are these environmental efforts the future or just a fad? Owners and winemakers from five wineries around the U.S. and Canada speak about how their environmentally-friendly production techniques influence the quality of the resulting wines.

“By avoiding shaking, bruising, emulsion [or] oxidation, we are able to preserve the purity of fruit and negate astringency and compromising flavors. Aromatics are kept within the wine.” –Jean-Laurent Groux, winemaker, Stratus Vineyards

Stratus Vineyards

Jean-Laurent Groux, or “J-L,” is the winemaker at Stratus Vineyards in Niagara, one of the few completely pump-free wineries in the world.

“By avoiding shaking, bruising, emulsion [or] oxidation, we are able to preserve the purity of fruit and negate astringency and compromising flavors,” says Groux. “Aromatics are kept within the wine.”

To do this, Stratus utilizes a four-story production facility, certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) organization, which allows for the movement of wine from the upper levels of the facility to those lower, while keeping oxygen contact and aeration to a minimum. In addition to their production design, Stratus also makes a point of using 100% hand-harvested grapes.

“The pursuit of optimal quality and form following function drove the entire process at Stratus,” says Groux. “As we were a completely new build, we were able to incorporate ‘ideal’ scenarios for the noninterventionist movement of fruit, juice and wine. [The harnessing of] gravity, being an age-old concept, [is] still highly relevant to premium winemaking.”

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