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WineCloud provides future direction for winemakers
TRADITIONALLY, WINEMAKING HAS always included analysis of grapes and wine at various stages in the winemaking process and producers use this information to help drive their winemaking decisions and ultimate wine style. Many of these attributes, measured in both the vineyard and the cellar, are generally measured using methods developed many years ago by the pioneers of the industry and their use has only changed marginally over time. Very rarely are new analytical measures adopted broadly, unless they are designed to tackle a particular problem or mitigate risk associated with fruit damage or wine degradation.
The way this information is used by wine producers is extremely variable. In many cases, paper records are filled and filed away and never see the light of day again. A number of the larger and more sophisticated wineries use a variety of electronic systems and tools to capture and store this information. A robust approach would be to interrogate and compare data on a regular basis, ensuring that subsequent vintages are less troublesome and more informed decisions can be made.
Another shortcoming of many production systems is that information gathered by producers is generally considered and analysed in isolation: grapes assessed in the vineyard for certain perceived characteristics; ferments evaluated for nutrient levels to ensure rapid and complete conversion of sugars; wine blends analysed for sulfur dioxide (SO2) and oxygen levels prior to bottling. The real challenge with this information (and this is where the real power of the data lies) is in aggregating and linking these data together, so that key patterns, trends and impacts can be seen. Real intervention at an early stage of the process can then be used to guide (informed) winemaking decisions and achieve targeted outcomes, either in terms of wine style or efficient processing.
For a number of years, The Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) has been developing the concept of a sophisticated, multi-functional and multi-purpose tool that could be used by wine producers to harness this power and support modern-day winemaking in a realistic and meaningful way. We call this vision The WineCloud.
The WineCloud is a web-based platform that will contain a series of multi-functional process support and analysis tools, each designed to provide winemakers with additional capability and value in a distinct area or process. The first two modules to be made available through this platform are the AWRI's Grape and Wine Portals.
Introducing the AWRI's Grape Portal
The AWRI Grape Portal utilises an extensive database and user-friendly interface to measure and compare a range of attributes in grape samples. It is a multi-purpose tool that will allow producers to input, upload, analyse, interpret and securely store grape maturity data for more efficient monitoring and management of viticultural processes and improving logistics associated with harvesting time and winery processing operations. It will also provide direct access to relevant context-sensitive information generated internally by the AWRI through research activities for all industry levy-payers.
For those producers who wish to understand their most prized asset in greater detail, there is an optional component which allows users to generate and analyse their own colour, tannin and phenolics data in red grapes. This capability has been developed through the AWRI's Industry Applications team, with a brand new rapid method involving UV-Vis measurement and application of complex algorithms to determine the level of anthocyanins, phenolics and tannins in the grape homogenates. These data can then be viewed in relation to standard grape maturity measures such as Ph, TA and Brix.
All of this is supported by a suite of graphical tools which allow grape maturity trending for multiple analytes, comparison of grape profiles and benchmarking of grape attributes against those at a similar stage of sugar maturity from other regions or vintages.
The AWRI has developed the colour, tannin and phenolic measurement capability because levels of these attributes in red grapes are well acknowledged to be important in determining the perceived quality of the final wine product.
A number of small-scale vineyard trials, conducted by the AWRI's Tasmania Node, have highlighted the impact that soil type, clone, rootstock selection and weather patterns can have on colour, tannin and phenolics in red grapes during ripening. The ability to measure and easily compare these aspects from year to year during ripening could be used to manage the harvest period more effectively and to target a particular maturation window and phenolic profile in the grapes. It also makes the assessment of vineyard trials much easier as it allows the direct comparison of these important parameters and other commonly measured analytes.
One particular study was carried out to determine the influence of five clones and four rootstock types on Pinot Noir maturation at a site in the Coal River Valley, Tasmania, in 2009 and 2010. Results showed that the choice of both clone and rootstock was important for colour (anthocyanins) and tannin development in the grapes. The clone type had a more significant effect than rootstock on the rate of ripening and resultant phenolics within a particular vintage. The impact of rootstock selection varied with the vintage.
This is just one example of the kind of information that can be generated simply and easily using the AWRI Grape Portal.
The AWRI Wine Portal
The AWRI Wine Portal has been available commercially (as the Tannin Portal) since its introduction in 2010. This was originally launched to provide winemakers with a simple and rapid method to access tannin, phenolic and colour information for red ferments and finished wines. In late 2011, the tool was extended to include additional measures (free anthocyanins and pigmented tannins) that provide insight into the colour stability of red wines over time.
Users of the AWRI Wine Portal have benefited from the extensive database of wines that has been built up (currently over 10,000 samples), allowing them to benchmark the attributes of their wines against others by a combination of vintage, variety and region. Due to the rapid feedback that the tool can provide for winemakers, users are utilising the tool to make real-time decisions on the winemaking process and as a means of achieving specific targeted style outcomes in their wines. It is also allowing producers to much more objectively access the impact of changes to fermentation methodology and other process modifications.
To coincide with the release of the WineCloud, the AWRI has updated and refreshed the look and feel of the AWRI Wine Portal, to provide the same degree of functionality and the same user-friendly interface as the AWRI Grape Portal. This includes the ability to generate fermentation trends and compare profiles of individual wine blends, for colour and phenolic data, as well as basic winemaking analytical information, such as Ph, TA, alcohol etc.
An example of the capability of this tool is its use in a number of trials that have been undertaken in the last 18 months to identify key winemaking processes and variables that have the ability to impact on colour, tannin and phenolics in red wines and to quantify the extent of that impact. The data have highlighted the potential for some maceration techniques to be used to significantly influence resulting wine style and function. This is particularly important for development and retention of stable colour in the wines, especially in demanding vintages when the full potential of the fruit needs to be extracted to maintain winemaker and consumer expectations.
Among the future challenges for winemaking in Australia is how to extract the most value from meaningful process information. If this can be achieved in a simple and rapid way, the full potential of the fruit can be harnessed for optimal outcomes in the wine.
Wine producers should not underestimate the importance and value of process understanding and its role in allowing the winemaking to be controlled in a meaningful way to achieve targeted outcomes in wine style.
Tools such as the WineCloud have an important role to play in supporting the generation of valuable data in real-time and allowing the patterns, trends and impacts to be discovered. Armed with extended knowledge of grape composition and the impact of different winemaking techniques, deficiencies or desired attributes in fruit composition can realistically be addressed or harnessed for maximum impact.
Those who are interested in accessing the WineCloud should contact the AWRI Commercial Services' team at firstname.lastname@example.org or on (08) 8313 6600.
Neil Scrimgeour, Eric Wilkes, The Australian Wine Research Institute, PO Box 197, Glen Osmond, SA 5064 Email: email@example.com
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