A quick search of the internet for information on the influence of sound on people’s sense of taste turns up countless studies examining this phenomenon and all come to a similar conclusion. Sound does, in fact, levy a significant influence on the taster’s palate.
So, who should be most concerned with this discovery? If you are in the food and beverage industry, this information should not be taken with a grain of salt. Pun intended.
As an example of how this concept is starting to get traction, Starbucks has recently started developing a soundtrack to complement their coffee. An Oxford University experiment linked high-pitched noises with a sweeter taste to toffee while low-pitched sounds made it seem bitter to participants.
Given this research the idea may hold even higher stakes for the wine making industry. While oenophiles may be able to register the slightest nuance of a wine’s taste, are their palates so highly trained that they can defy the science of sound as an influence on taste? It’s unlikely they have a special immunity and, as the majority of wine consumers have intermediate skills at best, wine makers best take note and give their vintages the best shot at success by controlling the aural environment in their tasting rooms.
This is exactly what the Sandhill Winery in Kelowna, BC (Canada) did in the fall of 2017. They addressed the acoustics in their ‘Viewing Room’, a space used for private tastings for up to ten people.
Sandhill Winery Estate Manager Patricia Leslie explains: “The winery was formerly a cellar storage area for Calona Wines, so it was built to reflect industrial finishings such as concrete floors, glass walls, and metal posts. The cellar space was transformed into an Urban Winery for the Sandhill Wines brand in 2014. The room had very poor acoustics since it had all solid surfaces, so when people were chatting, the sound echoed and guests could not hear what the presenter doing a wine tasting was saying.” The unintelligibility in the space not only made the presenter’s job a challenge, it would certainly also affect the participants’ tasting experience.
The search for a solution came by chance when Sandhill’s winemaker Howard Soon was attending a musical event in another venue in Kelowna where he was sufficiently impressed with the acoustics of the space to inquire about the integration company responsible. He was connected to Chad Johnson of AVcom Technical in Kelowna who immediately appreciated the importance of finding a remedy for the tasting space: “The wine business is much more than just the wine in the bottle; it is also very much about the hospitality industry and providing a holistic, first-class guest experience. Mr. Soon’s main concern was how the acoustics of their new winery were impacting their guest experiences. He wanted to know if we could help make his reverberant spaces sound good for special dinners, winemaker events, and interactive guest presentations.”
While understanding that the ears have an influence on a wine tasting experience it cannot be ignored that the eyes also register in the experience so, how to make adjustments to a room’s acoustics in a tasteful way? It’s been said we ‘eat with our eyes’ so herein presented another piece of the increasingly complicated puzzle in need of a solution. Any acoustic treatment solution would have to complement the aesthetics which Johnson keenly appreciated: “The main factors for us to consider in this project were respecting the strong brand image of the company and the stunning aesthetic of the overall venue.”
Johnson continues: “Sandhill Winery is a very crisp, modern, industrial chic space complete with large flat walls and hard reflective surfaces. The entire look of the venue, from the lighting to the straight clean lines through to the blend of steel, concrete, glass, and natural wood materials has been purposely created to communicate the strength of their brand and heighten their guest experience. Every aesthetic detail is by design and you don’t walk into that kind of an environment and just stick up some ugly homemade looking acoustic baffle. You have two choices; either make it blend in or make it its own piece of art. Our solution involved both.”
Johnson learned of an acoustic treatment panel series from Vancouver, BC based company Primacoustic called the Paintables. Unique to these panels is the ability to actually print high resolution images directly on the panels that look exactly like a blank canvas stretched on a wood frame. “Printing a digital image on the panels opens up a whole new way to implement acoustic treatment.
In the Sandhill Winery application there are two main walls; one is floor to ceiling glass and the other is a wood feature wall. Solid coloured panels wrapped in fabric just wouldn’t have looked right on the feature wood wall. That’s when we got the idea to space the panels out into a large 16:9 layout and put a picture on them that turned them into their own piece of art.”
The image used in the hexaptych is of the King Family vineyard (one of six of the Sandhill vineyards) on the Naramata Bench. Estate Manager Patricia Leslie had actually taken the photo with her mobile phone while out on a bike ride and was especially pleased with the result: “It’s a great product combining a sound-softening panel and a beautiful graphic ..it’s practical art!”
While the printed panels addressed some of the reflections on the wood feature wall, Johnson was challenged to achieve the treatment coverage required to provide full acoustical control of the space but the Paintables also provided the solution: “There were only so many spaces the panels could go. The multiple halogen lights, HVAC ducting, and sprinkler heads meant acoustic clouds were not an option. We had very few options for what we could put up.”
The available surfaces were also treated with Paintables that will eventually be colour matched to the walls. (This was TBC as of time of publication.) The product allows for a very light coating of matching paint to be applied to the panels without affecting their acoustical properties.
Johnson summarizes his experience of using the product, pointing out the other important advantages beyond the aesthetic: “The ease of the installation hardware, impalers and the variety of panel shapes and sizes meant there was a suitable panel for every application. And of course, it’s important to note that the panels are engineered and come with documentation on acoustic performance as well as fire and safety code ratings for use in commercial spaces.
Overall, it’s amazing how a little acoustic work can easily transform a room from unusable into a feature space.” Leslie concurs: “Now the room looks more inviting because there is a large vineyard photo featured, and the acoustic panels above the wall of glass work well with the printed panels on the opposite wall to reduce sound reverberation and volume. The space is now more inviting and usable.”
With the tasting room complete and the mission a success, it is anticipated this will lead to further treatment of the various spaces in winery.
The Science of Treating a Room’s Acoustical Properties
The engineering involved in assessing current room performance and predicting post installation outcomes is simpler than is often thought. Every material involved in the construction of a space has a reflective and/or absorbing coefficient. In most cases, with today’s current hard surfaced design trends, absorption solves 90% of sound issues. Using a calculation based on 15-25% of the wall surface area being the quantity of absorptive material used, is a quantity that is immediately effective. Panel placement takes a backseat to the quantity of absorptive material-if you can get panels at ear level, that is the most desirable but aesthetic concerns don’t always allow this. In most rooms where sound is generated from multiple sources, an even spread of panels throughout the space makes the room sound consistent everywhere in the room. A mixture of wall mount and ceiling mounted clouds (particularly when hard flooring is installed) is a best practice. The thickness of panel will be determined by the way in which the room is used. If the room is used only for speech, a 1” thick panel will suffice, if there is a multi-media or musical component 2 or 3” thick panels are more effective at lower frequencies.