High-tech helps tradition to make Hungary's Tokaj wine

Tue Oct 29, 2013 1:50pm EDT
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By Krisztina Than

TOKAJ, Hungary (Reuters) - The Hungarian tradition of plucking shriveled grapes, sometimes one-by-one, to make pricey, sweet white wine dates back centuries, but growers hope new technology will help them harvest the fruit at its rotten best.

Tokaji Aszu wine, which retails in Britain for at least 20 pounds ($32) a bottle, is one of a handful of wines around the world made with fruit affected by "noble rot", induced by the "Botrytis" fungus that shrivels the grapes and concentrates their sugar.

One of the big Tokaj estates already uses sensors to measure humidity, precipitation and moisture on the vine leaves, data that, along with weather forecasts, can help predict common grape diseases, calculating the best time to spray the vines.

The same technology may soon be used to determine whether the grapes could reach the right stage of "noble rot" that is vital to making the Tokaji Aszu that was favored by the French royal court.

"The Botrytis fungus is an infection as well, one which we can turn to our advantage here thanks to the microclimatic conditions," said Gergely Makai, winemaker at the Hetszolo winery, owned by France's Michel Reybier vineyards.

The "SmartVineyard" system, developed in Hungary, allows users to access the data on smartphones or laptops.

"We have not tried yet, but we'd like this equipment and algorithm to help us predict sometime ahead how much chance there is for aszu grapes, for the Botrytis infection first of all, and then for it to induce a noble rot."

THE MARKS OF AGE   Continued...