Let’s be honest, innovation isn’t the first word that comes to mind when you think of wine. Wine is fancy, mysterious, artisanal and traditional, but its association with creativity, ingenuity and inventiveness aren’t necessarily top of mind. However, wine’s history is one filled with discoveries and inventions that have left a surprising impact on our daily lives. To get you warmed up for BostInno’s State of Innovation celebration, here’s a list of three wine-inspired innovations:
1. Wine Press to Printing Press
In medieval times only the wealthy owned books. This was mostly due to their high cost to make. Books were literally manufactured by someone (usually a monk) copying them by hand. This process took a very long time and severely limited the supply of books in circulation. That all changed in 1448 when a Johann Gutenberg, a goldsmith, invented the printing press. Gutenberg’s design consisted of movable blocks of letters fixed to the underside of a vertical screw press which, when clamped down by a worker, would leave an impression on paper placed underneath. Where’s the wine you ask?
Before there were printing presses there were wine presses, and Gutenberg’s machine was actually an adapted wine press. In Gutenberg’s time, wine presses consisted of a basket with loose fitting staves into which grapes were placed. The grapes were squeezed by a horizontal wooden disc fixed to a screw or lever. The juice ran through the spaces between the staves into a receptacle below. The wine press not only provided Gutenberg with a way to print full pages with one motion, but also a means for squeezing the excess water from the ink out of the paper. Pretty ingenious, huh?
2. The Real Health Benefits to Wine
Louis Pasteur was one amazing fellow. Before Pasteur, no one could accurately explain fermentation. The process by which sugars were converted into alcohol was simply defined as a spontaneous chemical process, or an act of God. At the University of Lille, Pasteur was tasked to help find solutions to the problems of local industries, particularly the making of wine and beer. His research demonstrated that fermentation was the result of the presence of living cells (yeasts), using sugar as their nutrient and transforming it into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Pasteur also discovered that the presence of certain bacteria in wine could lead to its souring, and invented a process of sterilizing a liquid by subjecting it to high temperatures. Thus, “pasteurization” was born. This work got Pasteur thinking that if microorganisms could explain fermentation and spoilage, perhaps they were also playing a role in infectious diseases. Eventually, Pasteur’s work of the effects of microorganisms in the stuff we drink resulted in the creation of his germ theory of disease. With this knowledge, he developed vaccinations for anthrax and rabies, and laid the groundwork for future scientists to discover cures for fatal illness caused by tiny organisms. Not too shabby for someone who started with the problem of fixing bad wine.
3. A Retail Revolution
Anyone who has ever worked in a bar, tavern or restaurant knows that one of the biggest reasons for failure of those businesses can be the “morally casual” attitude of a few employees. This was the case for James Ritty, the proprietor of the Pony House in Dayton, Ohio. Mr. Ritty described himself as a “Dealer of Pure Whiskies, Fine Wines and Cigars”, but today he is best known as the inventor of the cash register. Frustrated with employees pocketing his customers’ drink money, he eventually got an idea while on a steamboat to Europe. Impressed with the way the ship’s propeller automatically counted its rotations, he envisioned something similar for keeping track of transactions at his saloon. He and his brother set to work on a design and in 1879 “Ritty’s Incorruptible Cashier” was patented. From then after, graft declined and the cash register has evolved from a bulky heap on a bar top to a sleek iPhone app. And, it all started in a bar.
There is a old writer’s motto that states, “Write drunk and revise sober.” However, we shouldn’t only think of wine as form of creative inspiration in the internal sense. Gutenberg re-engineered a wine press into a tool that eventually resulted in global education and the democratization, Pasteur found knowledge in his practical study of wine and used it as inspiration to discover cures for infectious diseases, and Ritty enabled small retail businesses to thrive by providing an automated means to keep track of money. This year’s State of Innovation Forum will feature some of the todays most inventive creations and hopefully inspire the revolutionary ideas of tomorrow. Just remember this when you are sipping on a little 90+ Cellars Pinot Noir. The next big thing might be right in your glass.