Tamar Valley viticulture researcher reinvents winemaking

Scenes of people stomping on wine grapes in huge barrels might be a thing of past, with winemakers around the world set to use a maceration technique developed by Lanena viticulture researcher Dr Angela Sparrow.

Dr Sparrow has spent the past seven years perfecting a winemaking technique that quickens the development of skin tannins and flavour in wine – and now it has been commercialised by an Italian company.

“I was trying to make the process more efficient. With the weather warming up all the fruit ripens at once, so there is less time to process it,” Dr Sparrow said.

“It’s an issue that is particularly pertinent to Australian winemakers,” she said.

Accentuated Cut Edges maceration, or ACE maceration for short, involves slicing the grape skin into smaller pieces, which increases the number of cut edges.

“Normally the grapes are crushed, but the bottom line is that the good stuff comes from the grape skins. You only need to cut into two or three pieces, but you get the most benefit from up to five cuts,” Dr Sparrow said.

The DTMA machine developed using Dr Sparrow’s ACE maceration technique was launched at SITEVI agricultural machinery event in France.

“It was extremely exciting. We had interest from French wine companies,” Dr Sparrow said.

“I’ve been slogging away at [this technique] for seven years. I’m thrilled it has a practical application. It means I’ve actually contributed something!” she said.

Dr Sparrow’s European audience was filled with those who draw on winemaking techniques developed over hundreds of years, so she had some convincing to do.

“It’s really hard to suggest it should be done differently. Some of the winemakers couldn’t believe it. But it works,” she said.

“I ended up starting my presentation by asking ‘is that any way to treat a wine grape?’”

After the winemakers had tasted the wine made using the DTMA machine their doubt vanished.

“They say they liked the wine treated with my device better,” she said.

“The feedback from the expo and clients was very exciting. They think soon they will be crushing grapes and ACE macerating as well, because that will be the way we make wine,” Dr Sparrow said.

The prototype DTMA machine processes 12 tonnes of grapes per hour, with a larger machine now in development for testing during the coming Australian harvest.

“This one will be more than twice as big and we want to test it in the Australian market so I need to find a medium-sized winery with between 300- and 600-tonne capacity,” Dr Sparrow said.