Friday, 06 March 2020 14:25

Bragato Research Institute winery at research frontier

Written by  Sophie Preece
BRI Chief Executive MJ Loza and Establishment Manager Tracy Atkin. Photo: Jim Tannock. BRI Chief Executive MJ Loza and Establishment Manager Tracy Atkin. Photo: Jim Tannock.

With its stainless steel egg fermenter, long line of world-first tanks, customised ferment probes and automated cleaning station, New Zealand’s new research winery is a breeding ground for innovation.

“It’s breaking all the rules and pushing the boundaries,” says VinWizard’s David Gill of the Bragato Research Institute (BRI) winery, which opens in Blenheim later this month. “There’s nothing like this winery anywhere in the world… there are pockets of innovation but nothing on this scale. That’s why I wanted to be part of it.”

Vin Wizard, a wine technology company based in Marlborough, is customising its software for the facility, and for the BRI’s hundreds of world-first fermentation tanks, which enable the option of four smaller trials within each tank, allowing for flexibility and commercial replicability in fermentation trials. The adapted VinWizard software will enable researchers to dock the tanks in any position then select a tank type to change the features available, says David. “For example, if it’s a white tank, the tank has the option of our agitator control, but if it’s a red tank it has automated pump over. If it’s a multi tank with inserts the agitator runs continuously.” The technology will also enable researchers and winemakers to control processes remotely.

The tanks themselves have been designed by BRI and industry experts, and made by Crown Sheetmetal in Blenheim. Several were trialed at the NMIT teaching winery last vintage and the results compared to the same fruit fermented in 5000 litre tanks in commercial wineries. BRI Establishment Manager Tracy Atkin says the great success of that process gave them confidence to order 84 additional 200l tanks and 196 17l inserts, which will be ready for the upcoming vintage. 

Like VinWizard, Crown Sheetmetal is a foundation sponsor of the research winery, and has worked alongside the BRI to develop the tanks. It has also lent the winery a prototype 250l stainless steel egg fermenter to trial in the 2020 vintage. Crown’s Operations Manager Crichton Purdie says the research trial will look at the impact of the egg’s kinetics on winemaking and wine styles, and seek feedback on the perfect shape, volume and configuration. He says manufacturing a sphere out of stainless steel is not a new concept, and egg shaped terracotta vessels have been around for hundreds of years. “However, we think there’s an opportunity to work with the institute to develop the perfect shape stainless tank.” 

Tracy says the winery is already at the frontier of wine research facilities globally, and is set to become a hotbed of innovation, with Plant & Food Research set to run trials there this vintage, and tanks available for industry to test new products, techniques and technology. “Supporting the industry with winemaking innovation is a key driver”, she says. Several commercial companies, domestic and international, have expressed interest in getting involved, she adds. “The use of the tanks to trial wine products for companies will create an income stream for the winery to help it remain financially sustainable, while helping develop new and valuable technology for the industry… This winery will be a world leading testing ground for innovation.” 

The BRI Research Winery has its official opening on 27 February.

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