AWRI Commercial Services offers routine and advanced analytical and consulting services to grape and wine producers and industry suppliers. It also provides services to the broader agricultural industry and producers of other foods and beverages.
The Commercial Services laboratories had another record-breaking year in terms of services provided, with the laboratories processing more than 25,000 samples for the first time, an increase of more than 6% from the previous year. This was underpinned by a continued increase in customer base, with 172 new customers being added for the year (compared with 148 new customers the previous year). This continued growth highlights the value placed by the Australian industry on the services offered, as well as the importance of a centralised accredited laboratory capable of supplying both highly specialised analytical technologies and more general analysis for smaller producers and those that need internationally recognised certificates of analysis.
A major highlight for the year was finalisation of an agreement with the University of Adelaide to transfer the grapevine virus testing and elimination services previously provided by Waite Diagnostics to the AWRI. The services offered include testing for 12 grapevine viruses and phytoplasmas, and continue to be provided by the same personnel, including virologist Dr Nuredin Habili. Dr Habili has more than 20 years’ experience working with plant viruses and has been involved in the research and development of the services provided. This represents a major addition to the range of services offered by the AWRI, particularly in the area of viticulture. It is also important for the continued health of the Australian wine industry, with only limited alternatives available nationally for testing of grapevine viruses and an increasing awareness of their potential impact and prevalence in Australian vineyards. In its first six months of operation within the AWRI, this new service saw a marked increase in sample numbers compared to recent years. Efforts are continuing to streamline the customer interface and increase the range of information and services provided.
Reflecting the diversification of many traditional winemaking regions into craft brewing and distilling activities, a range of analytical services for beer and spirits have also now been validated and added to current commercial offerings. These include microbiological testing, basic beer analysis, water testing and hops analysis. These services were showcased at the Australian Craft Brewers trade show and the Australian National Amateur Wine and Beer Show and highlight the synergies to be gained from the AWRI’s long experience in beverage analysis.
In a significant collaboration with Treasury Wine Estates (and with support from a number of other major wine industry partners) the laboratory services team validated an alternative method for measuring free and total SO2 to the international ISO 17025 standard using a sequential analyser. The method, originally developed at the Wolf Blass winery, will replace the flow injection analysis technique used at the AWRI for more than a decade, and compares favourably with the reference methods for SO2 analysis. The new method is capable of processing well over 100 free and total SO2 measurements per day with little staff intervention. The method and a summary of its validation data was published in the December 2017 issue of AWRI Technical Review. The laboratories have also added a new sequential analyser for enzymatic analysis. This instrument will allow higher throughput within the laboratory and provide increased redundancy to minimise the impact of equipment breakdowns on service provision.
The AWRI Ferment Simulator, which allows winemakers to track and predict the progress of ferments online, was upgraded to incorporate key enhancements suggested by users during 2017. These new functions were available for use during the 2018 vintage. The software is free for Australian users, and a range of new enhancements are already planned for next vintage. Options for partnering with potential web application partners to incorporate the Ferment Simulator into existing commercial enterprise management software platforms are currently being considered to extend the usability of the tool.
Providing confidence to industry
AWRI Commercial Services continues to provide proof-of-performance services to suppliers to ensure that their offerings to the Australian wine industry meet the expectation of the final users. During 2017/2018, trials were carried out on products including screw cap and technical closures, yeasts and winery hoses. One notable trial involved evaluation of the effectiveness of 14 commercial bentonite products, a trial which was supported by a number of wine producers and bentonite suppliers. The bentonite products were evaluated for their impact on wine colour, protein removal, metal transfer and sensory characteristics. The results highlighted significant differences among the performances of various bentonites and the amounts of some metals, such as lead and aluminium, that they contributed to wine. It has become apparent that bentonite is a major source of lead in many Australian wines and while the levels in wine are well below any risk to human health and Australian regulatory limits, this should still be monitored due to the limits in place in many export markets.
Data mining continued of AWRI Commercial Services’ large datasets from routine analysis of wines to gain a better understanding of Australian wine composition and to identify potential issues that could arise in wine markets. Commercial Services provided survey data to Wine Australia and the peak industry bodies on cyanide and ochratoxin A, which had been identified as being subject to new export restrictions in certain markets. The ability to quickly and efficiently provide such data gives Australian peak bodies and government a significant advantage in being able to respond to regulatory issues in export markets before they affect the export of Australian wine.