AWRI puts latest process sensor technologies to the test

The Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) has completed its 12-month investigation into new process sensors, trialling 4 commercially available technologies, including some new (and largely untried) in the Australian wine community.

Currently, most fermentation monitoring is carried out manually, with wineries having to sample and test multiple ferments every day during vintage; this can tie up significant resources. If ferments – and the rate of change in sugar levels – are not adequately monitored and controlled, then slow or sluggish ferments can occur leading to potential wine spoilage.

AWRI Commercial Services Senior Scientist and project leader Neil Scrimgeour said previous AWRI research had identified that in-process sensors could potentially be used to identify problem ferments earlier than current practice allowed and capture additional ferment data that may be of value to the producer.

The project initially identified 10–12 technologies that could be applied for measurement of sugar levels throughout fermentation.

‘We ruled out some of these technologies due to practical limitations and others were not considered to be fully developed for commercial use or too expensive for application in the wine sector’, Mr Scrimgeour said.

Three sensors were trialled in white ferments during the 2015 vintage at Petaluma winery, in the Adelaide Hills. A trial was also set up for red ferments at De Bortoli Wines, in Riverina.

‘We ended up having a number of process-related issues in the red ferment trial, with the agitation of ferment solids seriously affecting measurement for some of the sensor technologies. Unfortunately, this meant that we weren’t able to collect any quantifiable data from the red trial’, he said.

‘It did, however, highlight the technical challenges and the limitations of sensor technologies with red ferments and solids.’

The white trial was more successful, with the three sensors able to be assessed across a number of ferments.

‘All three sensors showed that they had the capability to be applied in a process environment, but we also identified issues that meant none of the current technologies offered the silver bullet solution wineries are looking for in a process sensor’, he said.

Mr Scrimgeour said the AWRI team had worked closely with the companies providing the process sensors and were keeping a watching brief on developing technologies that may one day satisfy the potential that these sensors could have.

‘Bio-sensors offer a real possibility for targeted measurement of sugar, as well as other important ferment attributes and have the potential to be a lot cheaper and easier to implement, but there needs to be a lot more work in this area before we see viable commercial products’, he said.

‘We need to find sensors that can provide rapid and accurate ferment data and that can be easily retro-fitted to existing fermentation tanks and infrastructure. Ultimately, these sensors will only be implemented on a broad scale when they are reliable and relatively cheap.’

The final report for this project is available online here.

SeptGrapes