The Australian Wine Industry Technical Conference is over for another three years and most delegates came away inspired. Industry members from Australia and from more than 13 overseas countries had a feast on offer with workshops starting on the Saturday; conference sessions, workshops, trade show and posters throughout the next few days; and concluding with workshops again on the Thursday. The conference program was again of the highest quality with 43 Australian and 15 international speakers. Delegates were challenged in many of the sessions to take bold moves with the information they received. The perspectives were broad and the discussions lengthy, and covered the entire value chain from the dirt in the vineyard, to the consumers’ lips, through to the shoe leather to be worn out in countries both exotic and far flung. Many sessions and workshops started at 8:30 am and several continued until past 6:00 pm, but the enthusiasm was maintained from the delegates eager to absorb the information.
The conference was officially opened by Rory McEwen, Chairman of the Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation, and former South Australian Minister, and he urged delegates in his forthright and passionate style to get actively involved in the development of the next GWRDC 5-year plan.
Session 1 kicked off with a thoroughly engaging 45 minute presentation from futurist, Phil Ruthven from IbisWorld. In this, his third AWITC appearance, Phil reminded delegates of the wine industry’s cyclic trends and encouraged us with his prediction, based on more than 100 years of data, that the industry has good prospects ahead in the next five years and even better in the five after that. Kym Anderson followed this presentation with economic data and some advice on how to progress the structural adjustment to ensure the industry is back on a pathway to sustainable long-term growth. Phil Sexton concluded the session with examples of linking technical and marketing innovation from his company’s perspective. Comments from delegates following the next session,
Session 2 was a mix of “confronting”, “uncomfortable”, “scary”, “fantastic” and “essential to hear” as we heard presentations on what messages the general public is hearing about alcohol and wine consumption from the media (as observed by Norman Swan), on the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) approach to alcohol and wine consumption (from Marcus Grant from the USA), on the role and response of policymakers (from Mike McAvoy from New Zealand and Peter d’Abbs from Australia), and on how industry is responding (from Natalie Toohey). Over the past decade, moderate drinking for pleasure and even for health has been overshadowed by heightened reports and attention to those drinking excessively and experiencing harm, both to themselves and others. Thus, these presentations centred on the harms caused by alcohol consumption, and how the WHO is becoming concerned and active in this arena. We were told that wine is alcohol, is alcohol, is alcohol, in the eyes of public health policy leaders and that the WHO and the Australian and NZ governments don’t distinguish wine as ‘special’ or as separate from beer and spirits. We were told that the call to action, over the next two years, is to ensure the wine industry appropriately responds to ensure the WHO doesn’t change its view to wine is alcohol, is alcohol, is tobacco! The session, first up on the Monday was
Session 3, where speakers delved into the technical aspects of wine’s flavour, aroma and mouth-feel, from a grape and wine chemistry viewpoint through to consumer triggers. From the vineyard, Paul Boss cautioned that the flavours in a final wine are not always as predictable as we might think when looking at the grape composition; Jim Kennedy followed this up with explaining how important it is to have a holistic approach to wine flavour, and give some insight into what green tannins may be in terms of their reaction with mouth protein and the resultant perception of astringency; Leigh Francis and Simone Mueller spoke about consumer behaviour and preferences for particular flavours and compounds. Some of the work presented will be able to be applied in the vineyards and wineries to optimise the final wines. We were reminded, though, that it is not just enough to optimise the wine on the inside of the bottle; to be successful in the market the wine and the total package it represents must fulfil the consumers’ expectations.
Session 4 speakers presented information on key issues and the technologies available to produce wine to a reliable style. Gianni Trioli from Italy gave examples of technologies that assist with consistent production and generating efficiencies. Simon Osicka presented results from an industry trial on oxidation, which was followed by a presentation from Liz Waters on the affects of oxygen post-bottling and the impacts of antioxidant and copper additions. Mike Michalewicz demonstrated a software program that optimises the supply chain process, and Karl Forsyth concluded the session by giving some examples of where wine producers can find cost efficiencies, and used Theo Jansen, kinetic sculpture, as an example which reminded us that innovation and art aren’t mutually exclusive. Following a lunch break, many delegates sat in on
Colloquium 1, which presented an in-depth look at Innovation. The concept was examined from the academic, government, industrial and investment angles.
Starting at 8:30 am on the Tuesday morning, delegates settled in to hear
Session 5 speakers talk about practical and innovative viticulture. Stefano Poni from Italy looked at a range of different approaches to designing and managing vineyards in the future, from optimising canopy sunlight interception, through to modulating ripening through using anti-transpirants to slow down the rate of ripening; Derek Morikawa from the US spoke about his company’s prototype robotic pruner. While still in its testing phase, the robotic pruner promises to contribute to efficiencies not only in precision pruning, but similar technology can also contribute to providing more accurate crop estimation. Then from Germany, Manfred Stoll, sponsored by the Stephen Hickinbotham Memorial Research Trust, spoke of the impacts of climate change on German viticulture and presented data on modulating the rate of berry sugar ripening by utilising mechanical defoliation and sever summer pruning. Steve Tyerman’s presentation centred on irrigation scheduling and the maintenance of crop yield and quality in the face of reduced water supply. With increased understanding of the physiology of grapevines, particularly in the way water is transported in the vine, he indicated that thermography and near-infrared spectroscopy may offer improvements in measuring plant water status and therefore offering improvements in efficient irrigation scheduling. The session concluded with a presentation from Mario Pezzotti, also from Italy. Mario, being involved in the French/Italian research team who sequenced the grape genome (Vitis Vinifera L), discussed the potential benefits for the future of growing grapes armed with knowledge of the genome. He discussed the development of sequencing of a range of different grapevine varieties and new insights into how future R&D may be conducted to unlock the linkages to grape and wine quality, disease resistance and using marker assisted breeding to generate new grapevine prototypes that respond to current viticultural, oenological and market pressures.
Session 6 continued much of the theme from the previous session where speakers looked at climate change issues, particularly with regard to reduced water availability. Chris Savage from the US discussed the California’s Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) and the implementation of the Sustainable Winegrowing Program (SWP). He further presented details of the CSWA’s Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing certification program; a voluntary program that provides third-party verification of a producer’s adherence to a ‘process of continuous improvement’. Victor Sadras’ presentation centred on three propositions around grapevine responses to temperature: 1) technology has mitigated potential constraints from environmental issues over the past 25 years; 2) rising temperature has a potential impact on wine balance; and 3) water management is all important. Options for managing heat waves in vineyards was then discussed by Leanne Webb as she presented data from a survey of 92 vineyards following exposure to a severe heat-wave – revealing variation in the level of reported heat-wave impact. Management tools to cope with extreme heat were presented and Leanne discussed the benefits of capturing data from a diverse knowledge base of managers as an effective way to reveal potential adaptive capacity. A presentation from Tim Cummins followed, wherein he discussed the adaptability of grapegrowers who irrigate vines to reduced water supply. Tim discussed the adaptations in the context of commodity price trends, recent seasonal conditions and the allocations of water, water trade and water use for the environment. The session was rounded out with a presentation from Wendy Cameron. Wendy gave a direct presentation which described the economic hurt suffered by Brown Brothers from climate change. Combined with extreme heat waves and lack of water, the industry must deal with increased bush fire events. Wendy described Brown Brothers’ approach to the challenge which embodies adaptability and an attitude seeking solutions. Following a break for lunch, delegates re-gathered in Hall B for
Colloquium 2. Sponsored by the Thomas Walter Hardy Memorial Trust Fund, the colloquium expanded on the previous sessions, with a focus on the environment, water and sustainability. Jody Swirepik, who stood in for Rob Freeman, Chief Executive Officer of the Murray Darling Basin Authority, discussed the key issues facing the Murray Darling Basin, and outlined how the Basin Plan is being developed. The plan, which is being developed through a consultation process during 2010, focuses on development of ‘Sustainable Diversion Limits’, guarantees of water quality , environmental flows. The plan is to implemented in 2011. Amy Russell provided an overview of the status of ‘Environmental Assurance’ both here and internationally. Amy discussed issues around ‘environmental credentials’; their potential market value to producers; and the need for verifying and demonstrating environmental credentials to be as cost efficient as possible. As a way of meeting these needs, Amy highlighted the Entwine Australia scheme. Kerry Wilkinson then outlined the scientific work being undertaken in the assessment of smoke derived taint in grapes and wine. She discussed the aim of the work is to develop a method that might be used better to predict the extent of smoke taint in grapes, and to identify viticultural practices or winemaking techniques to mitigate the concentration or sensory impact of smoke taint. Paul Rasmussen’s presentation focussed on the reuse of winery wastewater. He discussed the opportunities and restraints of wastewater treatment, and the various options and opportunities for better extraction of the value when treating winery wastewater. The next presentation from Ashley Keegan of FABAL, focussed on the trials and tribulations he encountered whilst providing an assured water supply to vineyard in the Langhorne Creek area during the recent drought. With a focus on water quality and availability, Ashley provided delegates with an insight to the value gained by adopting a risk management approach to utilising and optimising water assets in the short-, medium- and long-terms, and with a neat twist presented an emotional tale of the support that he received from local landholders for his project. Sally Davison’s presentation, which concluded the colloquium, then focussed on emissions trading in the agricultural context. Delegates heard that the Australian government’s proposed scheme: Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) will have bigger implications for Australian agriculture than climate change itself. Sally outlined some of the reasons why there is apparent complacency in the agricultural sector with regard to the CPRS and why this is misguided. She outlined why it is now a crucial time for agricultural industries to consider the impact of several policy options. The last day of the conference started at 9:00 am with
Colloquium 3. The talks given in this colloquium – titled Fresh Science: picked, pressed, packaged – are an oral synopsis of several selected posters presented in the technical poster display. The ASVO also awarded a prize for the best presentation within this colloquium. The presentations were given by Daniel Newson (poster 98 titled Innovation mechanisms in commercial vineyard for product quality and financial sustainability); Dean Lanyon (poster 101 titled Wine composition and sensory characteristics relate better to vine size than soil properties); Everard Edwards (poster 88 titled Vine response to, and recovery from, multiple years of deficit irrigation); Tommaso Liccioli (poster 35 titled Improving fructose utilisation in wine yeast); Toni Garcia Cordente (poster 61 titled Developing non-GM, hydrogen sulphide negative wine yeast); Cristian Varela (poster 31 titled Generating wine yeasts for the production of low alcohol wines); Warren Roget (poster 69 titled In-bottle measurement of closure oxygen transmission rates); ASVO Prize-winner: Anthony Saliba (poster 67 titled Targeting wine styles that consumers want); Lauro Melo (poster 105 titled Past alcoholic beverage consumption, behaviour and attitudes: age effects and associations with current wine consumption) and finally Patricia Osidacz (poster 81 titled The effect of repeated wine exposure on consumer preferences). Following the lunch break, delegates re-gathered in Hall D to hear the last two sessions of the conference which commenced at 1:00 pm.
Session 7 focused on the vineyard and comprised presentations on soil health, organics and biodynamics. Robert Schindelbeck from the US talked about the importance of measuring physical, chemical and biological soil health parameters and benchmarking these to better inform management options. Robert presented on the Cornell Soil Health Test (CSHT), which has been developed for assessing soil health in vegetable and other agronomic crops (on a commercial basis). He believed the scoring soil health functional attributes established under agronomic and vegetable production systems could be modified to reflect vineyard soil health status. The influence of soil properties on vine health and fruit quality was the focus of the next presentation by Alf Cass, also from the US (California). He advised that wine quality was hard to directly link with soil health: with some attributes of soil health being quantified by scientific fact, whilst wine quality has is very hard to quantify scientifically; hence linking these inputs and outputs appears irreconcilable. Delegates heard that, holistically, soil heath is described from a chemical, physical and biological viewpoints. Alf presented how important the physical factors, strongly influenced by biological health, coupled with chemical factors and vine attributes interact to enhance fruit quality. A presentation from German, Georg Meissner, followed which compared conventional best practice viticulture with organic and biodynamic viticultural production systems. He presented data from a research project which had only commenced in 2006. The goals of the study are to look at the effects on the biological and microbial activity in the soil; the vegetative and generative growth of the vine; microbiology; the grape and wine quality; and the sustainability of the three viticultural systems. Results thus far had indicated that organic and biodynamic production systems were producing a less dense canopy through reducing shoot vigour. Biodiversity as an integral part of the viticultural production system was the focus on the next presentation given by Stephen Wratten from New Zealand. Stephen’s presentation provided some background, theory and practical outcomes relating to how incorporating additional biodiversity into a vineyard through additional shelter, sources of nectar, alternative prey and pollen is crucial to help maintain more of the natural ecological balance in a vineyard and reduce the need for chemical intervention . This approach has greatly reduced variable and external costs, and provides good marketing opportunities. Toby Bekkers’ presentation debunked the witchcraft myth surrounding biodynamic viticulture. He outlined the misconceptions of biodynamic viticulture as an anti-science or a religion, and presented these as barriers to adoption. Delegates heard that biodynamics can be effective on a larger-scale as the basis for developing a well considered and viable organic farming system. Toby indicated that we need to sometimes put the language aside and realise that not all things can be measured or quantified, and that this fact shouldn’t be used as a means of not trying something different. Session Chairman, Max Allen, then managed a lively question and answer session.
Session 8, the last session of the conference, with a focus on opportunities and stories and talking to consumers, commenced with a presentation from UK wine marketing academic, Lulie Halstead. Lulie confessed that she was a ‘very bad’ wine drinker and went on to explain that by ‘very bad’ she meant that she wasn’t ‘typical’. She then told the delegates that they were also ‘very bad’ wine drinkers. This illuminated the issue that when marketing to consumers, producers can’t use themselves as the typical paradigm and are perhaps not best positioned to make informed decisions based on consumer palates. She presented data on the average age of wine consumers in China, and compared that with Australia, the UK and New Zealand. Her presentation also considered the value of information technology in the marketing mix, and the context in which it is used. A key message was to market wine effectively we must understand the consumers motivation for drinking wine. In an entertaining presentation, Simon Tam, an Australian based for the past 20 years in China, disabused delegates of any notion they might know how to speak to the Chinese market. He spoke of the cultural differences and the very high potential for Australians to inadvertently offend. He gave key insights into how to communicate effectively with this market and highlighted the importeance of cultural sympathy and empathy. Raül Bobet from Spain then presented information on the Priorat region in Spain, and spoke of the extreme difficulties in producing grapes and wine in the region. He outlined a new approach to wine production, the recent success the region has enjoyed and the challenges facing it in the immediate future. ABC radio national host of The Science Show, Robyn Williams AM talked about society’s response to the climate change issue and how it is shaping their consumption behaviour and buying choices. He contrasted wine drinking and other consumption behaviours of the 1960s to what it might look like in 20 years time. The session concluded with a presentation from Nick Blair. He contrasted the ‘heady’ days in the industry of the mid 1980s when exports boomed and profits were good, with today’s reality, particularly in the UK market. His key messages were that the industry needs to be ‘united’; must ‘take back control’ (he highlighted that 45% of new export licences are allocated to non-levy payers, many of who don’t have a long-term vested interest in the industry); must ‘stand for something’, and that the messages must be simple and meaningful; and finally the industry must ‘focus’ – particularly on its key wine styles that Australia is well known for, and that gives us a competitive advantage.
Of course, the conference sessions are only one part of this event. When the sessions were over on each day, delegates had a choice of attending a workshop, viewing the posters or attending WineTech 2010 – the Australian Wine Industry Trade Exhibition. Co-presented by AWITC and WISA, and organised by Reed Exhibitions, WineTech 2010 featured 167 international and national wine industry suppliers. With many of the conference delegates being decision-makers and highly relevant to suppliers’ businesses, many companies took the opportunity to attract interest by launching new products and services at WineTech. Additional to the delegates were some 1,800 other visitors who attended just to view the trade exhibition. Many industry suppliers who invested in participating at the trade exhibition were delighted with the orders taken and the strong business leads generated. This type of result ensures that quality and diversity of industry suppliers participating is maintained for the benefit of producers in forthcoming trade exhibitions. The vibe at the trade show and conference was tangible and several people commented about the upbeat feel and the positive attitude industry members had about the future of the industry.
Whilst delegate numbers were slightly down on previous events, there were many more conference attendees than expected, and those that did attend made the most of their time. It was pleasing to see the continued support of the workshop program, which is testament to the quality of the workshops on offer. The ratio of workshop places taken to delegate numbers remained the same as in previous years. The AWRI staff contingent again worked hard and long and late hours to support our industry, academic and AWRI colleagues who had committed to run workshops at this event. It is a well-oiled machine, delivering a quality learning environment – a credit to the workshop coordinators – which gives confidence to workshop presenters and attendees alike.
The position and layout of the technical poster display optimised access for delegates. With over 220 posters on display, delegates were able to learn about a wide range of existing, new and emerging science and innovation being developed for the industry. Several posters were recognised for their quality, and prizes were awarded and announced during the conference sessions. Maurizio Ugliano from The Australian Wine Research Institute won the ‘Best Poster’ prize (sponsored by the Australian & New Zealand Grapegrower & Winemaker) for his poster The role of copper and glutathione addition and oxygen exposure in the evolution of key aroma compounds of Sauvignon Blanc. The Best Student prize, sponsored by the Wine Innovation Cluster (WIC) was won by Katie Dunne from Tasmanian Institute of Agricultural Research, University of Tasmania for her poster Secondary spread may not be the main driver of within-season increase in the severity of botrytis bunch rot. The ‘Best Colloquium 3 Speaker’ prize (presentation titles were selected from the poster abstracts), sponsored by ASVO, was won by Anthony Saliba from National Wine and Grape Industry Centre for his poster presentation Targeting wine styles that consumers want. If a delegate viewed each poster for 5 minutes, they would need some 18½ hours to have viewed every poster – in recognition of this, the conference organisers have made all of the posters available for viewing by conference delegates via the AWITC website (www.awitc.com.au). Delegates were emailed access details, but they can also contact the Conference Manager for the access code.
Did you miss all of the conference this year, or just some of it? Do you want to see any of the presentations again? The AWRI has arranged for all of the presentations to be recorded and these will be made available on the AWRI website (www.awri.com.au). We expect the presentations to be available for viewing very soon. Delegates have access at no extra cost. Delegates will be notified when the presentations are available for viewing.
Our attention now turns to the production of the conference proceedings, which are edited and published. All delegates will receive a copy of the proceedings in the mail, as part of their registration fee, with an expected delivery date around Christmas. Delegates should ensure that any change of address details are forwarded to the Conference Manager (email: [email protected]).
In his closing summary at the conference, Conference Chairman, Professor Sakkie Pretorius told delegates a story about a boy who held the fate of a butterfly in his hands. He said that events such as the conference equip industry members with crucial information needed to make their businesses sustainable into the future. “What you now do with it, is in your hands.”