A near record number of delegates enjoyed a fascinating mix of technical and topical presentations at the 13th Australian Wine Industry Technical Conference that was held from 28 July to 2 August in Adelaide.

Implications of climate change, global wine markets, securing future water supplies, new wine styles, the Directions to 2025 industry strategy and how to better understand ‘Generation Y’ consumers were just some of the challenging topics discussed before 1,677 delegates (just three delegates short of the record set in Melbourne in 2004).

Among the many technical presentations given by eminent speakers during the conference, a stunning discovery involving scientists from The Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) was among the highlights.  It involved the identification of a previously unrecognized compound as responsible for the spicy pepper aroma in Shiraz – hailed as one of the most significant red wine breakthroughs in a generation.

Conference delegates praised the breadth and scope of the 51 presentations, 56 workshops and 285 posters.  Conference Manager, Rae Blair, said that the post-conference survey results indicated that 91% of respondents were either very satisfied or satisfied with the relevance of the information and the communication effectiveness of the speakers.  “This is an outstanding result, and indicates that the Program Sub-Committee got it right,” she said. “We believed it was essential that delegates come away from the event with information they can use in the winery and vineyard.  The Session and Colloquia Chairs worked with the speakers to ensure that the take-home messages from the program would be effective, and I was pleased to see that 89% of respondents to the survey were either very satisfied or satisfied with this aspect of the program.”

Workshop coordinator, Peter Godden, praised the excellent efforts of workshop convenors and his coordination team, and the hard-working army of volunteers who assisted with the logistics of staging the workshop program. “The most intensive time for workshop coordinators was between 21:00 on the Friday evening and the end of the Sunday workshops at 12:30,”he said “At its peak on the Saturday afternoon, the team of people involved in staging the workshops rose to 49, which were almost exclusively AWRI staff and their relatives and friends.” Peter Godden continued, “There was very strong demand for workshop places leading up to the event,” he said “So it was no surprise to see that 82% of survey respondents considered the workshop program to be a very important or important part of the event.  Over 2,000 workshop places were sold, and we have received a large amount of positive feedback regarding the content and delivery of the workshop program.” The workshop program was very diverse and held in three different locations.  Peter Godden noted that “One workshop included over $500,000 worth of analytical equipment and another required the pouring of 7,000 glasses of wine in a specific order – the effort to put on a program such as this is truly amazing but extremely rewarding.”

The poster section had a record number of posters on display, which proved very popular with many positive comments from the conference attendees.  Poster coordinator, Dr Eveline Bartowsky, said “For the first time, we have made all of the posters available for online viewing by conference delegates, in recognition of feedback received from previous events where delegates have expressed disappointment in not being able to get around to view all of the posters on display.  With so many posters on display this year, if delegates spent one minute per poster, it would take around five hours to see them all!”  Eveline commented on the survey results and noted that “The poster display is considered as either a very important or important component of the event to 74% of the conference attendees who responded to the survey.”

The event was rounded out by the accompanying WineTech 2007 trade exhibition.  Over its three days, initial unaudited figures indicate the exhibition attracted over 2,350 visitors (excluding the 1,677 AWITC delegates – who visited WineTech on multiple occasions throughout the days it was open).  Co-presented by AWITC and Wine Industry Suppliers Australia (WISA), WineTech 2007 featured over 200 national and international trade exhibitors, showcasing everything from the latest in pruning technology, vineyard machinery, winery equipment and water monitoring software.  Of the AWITC survey respondents, 81% considered WineTech a very valuable or valuable part of the overall experience of the event.  More than 20% of visitors (other than AWITC delegates) to WineTech were from interstate or overseas. Overseas visitors came from NZ, Argentina, the USA, France, Hong Kong, Italy, Singapore, South Africa, China, Germany, Japan, Taiwan and the UK.  Managed by Reed Exhibitions, John Gorton, Exhibitions Director – Industrial Events, said that “This level of visitors from outside of South Australia is a very gratifying trend, and augurs well for future editions of WineTech in positioning it as Australia’s only national wine exhibition.  We were also extremely pleased to hear so many positive reports from exhibitors and visitors, despite the fact that the Australian wine industry is currently going through a difficult period.”

In terms of visitor profile, the job functions were noted as senior management and winemakers making up the bulk of visitors (nearly 30% in total), while in terms of industry sectors, winemakers made up 35% of visitors, while grapegrowers made up 15.4%, and these figures all exclude AWITC delegates.

The six-day event attracted delegates from Australia and around the world with international visitors – primarily from New Zealand, the United States, Chile and South Africa – all gathering in the impressive Adelaide Convention Centre to hear 36 Australian speakers and 15 international guest speakers.

In the lead-up to the event, conference chairman Professor Sakkie Pretorius described the six-day gathering as an ideal opportunity for the Australian wine sector to share innovative ideas and hear about important technical advances in grape and wine production, as well as benefit from the latest consumer insights.

“The Australian wine sector is emerging from an extremely difficult 2007 harvest, hard hit by drought, pest and frosts and the 2008 harvest is likely to be smaller,” said Professor Pretorius.  “Innovative dissemination of good information will be crucial to our ongoing success.”

“Wine exports have hit the $3 billion mark and events such as the AWITC are critical to ensure our 2,000 wine producers and 8,000 grapegrowers not only remain sustainable but achieve improvements in profitability.” he said.

Without doubt, the 13th Australian Wine Industry Technical Conference delivered its key objective of fostering innovation and information sharing – and the bringing together of leaders and future leaders like no other industry sector can.