A Visit at the 17th Australian Wine Industry Technical Conference
By Dr. Helene Hopfer, Assistant Professor of Food Science, Department of Food Science
In late July of 2019, I was fortunate to be able to participate at the 17th AWITC in Adelaide, Australia. I was invited to speak about our sensory regionality study on commercial Riesling and Vidal blanc wines from Pennsylvania.
Last year, Dr. Kathy Kelley wrote about her sabbatical leave in Australia, and provided an excellent overview into Australia’s wine industry, therefore, this blog post will focus on the presentations and posters at the conference.
TheAustralian Wine Industry Technical Conference & Exhibition (AWITC)is happening every three years, organized by The Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI)and the Australian Society of Viticulture & Oenology (ASVO). Combining plenary sessions, workshops, poster presentations and a large trade exhibition, the AWITC attracts a large audience (over 1,200 participants this year) primarily from the Australian wine industry. Over 4 days, every aspect of grape growing and wine making, from vineyard to grape vine to enology and wine consumers is covered, providing scientific stimulation and lots of discussion for the industry. Intended to present the latest research findings while at the same time being approachable and transferrable for industry members, the AWITC hosts a wide variety of speakers (academics, industry members, governmental speakers, as well as forward-thinking leaders from other industries). Proceedings and video webcasts of all talks will be made available online on the website, where also all past proceedings are made public. Lots of participants also live-tweeted from the conference, so many impressions can also be found on the official event twitter handle @The_AWITC.
The conference started out with a traditional welcome by a local Aboriginal leader from the Adelaide Plains people. Providing a Welcome to his people’s land and an invitation to learn and work collaboratively, his inspiring speech was a great kick-off to the event, followed by the official opening by the Australian Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development.
In the first two sessions, the supply and demand for Australian wine and its future were evaluated. Following the official outlook from Wine Australia, Warren Randall provided a thought-provoking talk on China very soon becoming the number 1 wine-consuming nation in the world. Although individual wine consumption for Chinese is estimated to reach 1.6 L per person per year (compare to US consumers averaging to 3.1 L per person per year), the sheer number of Chinese middle-class consumers leads to an estimated additional need of 850 million L within the next 5 years. This additional need equates to 1.2 m tones of grape, about 71% of Australians total annual production! The Chinese will remain to be a net importer, particularly for quality wine – the question is though whether Australia will be able to satisfy this demand, especially with the severe drought many Australian grape-growing regions face.
The subsequent talks reiterated the importance of China as a major Australian wine importer as well as for Australian wine tourism: Brent Hill from the South Australian Tourism Commission presented compelling research showing that wine tourism improves brand recall and sales, independent of winery size. For example, international marketing campaigns in combination with direct flights to Adelaide led to tripling visits from China to wineries in South Australia. Wine tourism also aligns nicely with consumers’ demands for personalized products that align with their values. Health and Well-being are driving consumer preferences and will continue to do so, as presented by Shane Tremble from the Endeavor Drinks Group, a major alcoholic beverage retailer in Australia.
The afternoon session was dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusivity in the wine industry. Our own unconscious biases create barriers to enter the wine industry, especially for talents from underrepresented groups. Diversity, equity, and inclusivity is not just about social justice, but is a real business loss, especially as the wine consumer base becomes more and more diverse. How can we make sure to meet the needs of our consumers if we don’t really understand them and their needs?
A large portion of the meeting was dedicated to different aspects of climate change and how the wine industry will be able to continue doing business. A representative from a major insurance company presented on her company’s strategy to climate change, and managing risks associated with a changing climate – from special loans for businesses to lower their carbon footprint and greenhouse emissions to ways to manage physical risks such as flooding and bush fires, this presentation was eye-opening. Tools already available for growers, such as high-resolution weather data, provide action-able data for e.g., harvesting or irrigation. Clonal selection, vine training systems and better suited varieties and rootstocks are another tool in the toolbox to adapt to climate change, particularly to higher temperatures and increased incidences of drought, as demonstrated by Dr. Cornelis van Leeuwen from Bordeaux Sciences Agro.
Ending with the conference’s gala dinner, this first day proved to be full of insights and what the future may bring.
The next day started off with the fresh science session, including research on how changing climate will also change insect and disease pressure: Using the example of sooty mold and scale insects, Dr. Paul Cooper presented data and models that show how warmer temperatures will influence occurrence of scale insects and subsequent sooty mold. Similar scenarios could become more prevalent in PA as well, as for example late harvest insect problems could appear at an earlier stage during berry ripening (see also this blog post by Jody Timmer).
On the enology-side, several presentations were given to look at smoke-taint remediation of wines, alternatives to bentonite fining with grape seed powder, and the mechanisms underlying autolytic flavors in sparkling wines. A particular interesting, but also terrifying talk was given by Caroline Bartel from the AWRI on increasing SO2tolerance of Brettanomyces bruxellensis strains: Over the past 3 years, the AWRI has seen an increased number of Brettanomyces strains that show greater tolerance to SO2, some exceeding 1 mg/L molecular SO2!
Biosecurity is a big topic for Australian grape growers, as almost all vineyards are own-rooted, including some of the oldest productive vineyards in the world being over 100 years old! This history is however under threat, as phylloxera has arrived in Victoria and New South Walesa few years ago. Managing the biosecurity threats and best practices to protect vineyards from not just phylloxera but also grapevine viruses was the overarching theme of this session. Showing data from the Napa Valley, Dr. Monica Cooper from UC Extension highlighted the importance of clean plant material when it comes to managing grape vine diseases: in a newly planted vineyard, not enough certified disease-free material was available, and hastily organized vines, infected with red blotch virus, were planted alongside healthy vines. Within a few years, 100% of infected vines had to be removed to avoid spreading of the disease into other parts of the vineyard and adjacent vineyards.
The last talk in the session was given by Dr. Antonio R. Grace from the Portuguese Association for Grapevine Diversity, who argues that clonal selection of grapevines may increase efficiency but decreases resilience, complexity, and diversity.
A particular interesting session was focusing on Agricultural Technology or AgTech – robots, drones, and intelligent robot swarms! A particular impressive and eye-opening talk was given by Andrew Bate from SwarmFarm, a farmer in Queensland who now develops and sells farming robots that oppose the trend for “bigger is better”: using a swarming approach (i.e., many smaller robots that operate autonomously for maximized efficiency and adaptability), he showcased how his approach is forward-thinking and sustainable, and fueled by his own experiences as a farmer and grower. If you can check out the videos on the website!
In a similar inspiring manner, Everard Edwards from the CSIRO presented on low-cost drones and sensors and how to use them in the vineyard to support decision-making: for example, a go-pro camera mounted on a small cart, driving along rows, could be used for yield estimation. The technology is already there, but we are still lacking the data algorithm to make sense out of the data.
The day was finished up with the flash poster research presentations of wine science students. From glycosylated flavor compounds locked up in grape skins, to vintage compression and the effect of very high temperatures (over 50°C/122°F) for a short time on grape berry development and tannin content, these talks showcased the breath of wine research in the various Australian research institutions. Following the evening’s theme, the next day’s fresh science included a talk on how to remediate reductive aromas in wines. Among the tested treatments (DAP addition post-inoculation, donor lees added after malo-lactic fermentation, copper addition, macro-oxygenation, and a combination of copper and macro-oxygenation) macro-oxygenation once a day of 1.5 L/min O2for 2 hours yielded the most promising results while copper addition increased the risk of reductive characters developing post-bottling. Similarly, how to easier measure total and free copper in wines and juice was the topic of Dr. Andrew Clark’s presentation. Working at the National Wine and Grape Industry Centerin Wagga Wagga, Dr. Clark developed an easy spectrophotometric method to accurately and precisely measure free and total copper in wines.
Last, a genetic study on Chardonnay revealed that the same clones (clone 95) shows a different number of mutations depending on where it is from.
Besides the many fascinating talks and the impressive trade show, the meeting also offered lots of opportunities to taste Australian wines. I was lucky enough to participate in a guided tasting of a type of fortified wines unique to Australia: Presented with an impressive number of Rutherglen Muscatwines of all ages and classifications, I was able to experience this special wine style, and must admit that I brought back some bottles of these “stickies”. Made from Muscat a Petit Grains Rouge grapes (literally Muscat with little red berries), very ripe grapes, accumulating very high sugar content, are fermented and fortified with grape spirit, then aged from 3 up to 20+ years in barrels. Wines undergo a solera blending, transferring wines slowly from barrel to barrel until bottling. Flavors range from floral, honey and orange peel all the way to viscous, toasted and caramel flavors. If you ever have the opportunity to taste such wines, I would strongly encourage you to do so – even if this is not your style of liking, it is for sure a worthwhile sensory experience!
Outside of the Conference I also had the chance to visit three remarkable places: The National Wine and Grape Industry Center (NWGIC) in Wagga Wagga, University of Adelaide and the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) in Adelaide, and last, but not least, Penfold’s original winery in the Adelaide Hills for a special tour and tasting of the most expensive wine in Australia, the Grange.