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 strong year with total sample numbers for 2020/2021 (28,710) 16% higher than the 2018-2020 average (24,754). There were 212 new customers in 2020/2021, demonstrating growing demand for the services provided.
The impacts of fires continued with a total of 4,252 samples analysed for smoke, of which 2,164 (49%) were from the USA. This compares to a total of approximately 600 samples analysed for smoke in an average year. As part of continual improvements to smoke analysis, new instrumentation was validated for the determination of smoke glycosides, and changes were made to the laboratory information system to allow graphical results to be automatically included in reports, allowing easier interpretation of results and reducing turnaround times. Initial trial work was also completed on the application of mid-infrared spectroscopy to screen grape samples for smoke impacts, a method that can return results in minutes rather than days. While not suitable to replace the current reference methods, this technology has the capacity to identify very clean or highly smoke-affected samples, potentially reducing the numbers of samples that need the more time-consuming mass spectrometric analysis, decreasing instrument congestion and improving the speed of the testing service.
Streamlining biological testing
In the applied biosciences area, 1,391 samples were submitted for virus testing (5% fewer than in 2019/2020) and 3,700 samples were submitted for microbiological testing (22% more than in 2019/2020). This year there has been a strong focus on modernising the systems used for virus detection. Streamlined processes within the laboratory have improved efficiency and delivered faster turnaround times. The number of manual steps have been reduced, which not only saves costs but also reduces the chances of errors. Considerable progress has been made towards the introduction of qPCR testing technology, which will further streamline virus testing and improve the certainty of results. Cross-validation studies with the other major virus testing laboratory within Australia were also carried out, demonstrating good alignment of results.
Bringing new services and technologies to industry
The range of technical offerings provided by AWRI Commercial Services to support the Australian wine industry continues to grow, ensuring that the latest technologies and science are available to clients. During the year, a significant number of shelf-life studies were carried out on a range of wine-based products, including some low- and no-alcohol products. In order to better support these types of studies, further work was carried out to optimise and extend the group’s dedicated small-scale packaging facility. This now includes the ability to incorporate bottles, kegs and cans of varying sizes and formats, as well as a range of different closure application tools.
The breadth of sensory services being offered to industry has also been expanded, to incorporate rapid profiling methods such as napping and Pivot©profile, as well as targeted consumer studies, to help inform product development and benchmarking. The development of a customised wine quality assessment procedure for potentially smoke-affected wines has provided a robust sensory method for smoke-related aroma and flavour characteristics in wines and other alcoholic beverages.
Proof-of-performance studies on a number of new analytical instruments were carried out in conjunction with AWRI Commercial Services’ internationally recognised analytical laboratory. These studies will help ensure that instrumentation offered to the Australian wine and grape industry meets the expectations required for the production of high quality and consistent products.