Former winemaker and now researcher, Dr Rocco Longo, is taking the guesswork out of creating beautiful sparkling wines at the University of Tasmania.
Rocco is building an instrument that will attach to a grape press and tell winemakers when it’s time to stop squeezing the juice from the grapes.
The system measures the amount of phenolic acids from the seeds and skin of the grape. “The more you press, the more phenolics you are able to extract” Rocco said.
"It's not about replacing the wine expert, but provide him/her with a tool to ensure a more consistent product" Rocco explained.
“Phenolics are good, from one side but from the other side, if you produce sparkling wine or white wine you don’t want too much phenolics because they give you that gritty mouthfeel when you drink the wine.”
Dr Rocco Longo Source: Courtesy of Rocco Longo
To stop the pressing at just the right time, winemakers currently have to taste the juice at regular intervals. And Rocco knows just how hard this can be. “There are so many factors that can influence the winemaker’s testing,” he said.
“Like if the winemaker is unwell that day how can they actually test the juice in a reliable manner? “Or if it’s too cold or too warm, this also can have an impact on the sensory test.”
Rocco’s device uses spectroscopy to determine the concentration of phenolic compounds in the juice. This information is then fed back to the winemaker in real time.
Rocco grew up in Italy and studied viticulture and winemaking at the University of Turin before moving to Australia ten years ago.
“In Australia we are more concentrated on solving practical issues, while maybe Italy is more concentrated on other aspects" and added "the sector here can count on more funds and investments, maybe what we could learn from researchers over there is a more creative approach.”
Rocco’s device will initially be designed for sparkling wines, and will be trialled in a commercial winery.
“The wine industry in Australia is growing and the attention today is on the concept of terroir- the place of origin of wines.”
“Being a young sector, Australia is differentiating its production according to the quality of climate and soil for example as it happens in Europe from centuries.”
“We are researching how the environment impacts on the wine production. Consumers in Australia don’t want a copy of a European product, but a proper Australian wine with its own characteristics and taste.”
Rocco, together with other 13 agricultural researchers have shared $330,000 worth of grants through the Federal Government.
"These innovators are the ones who'll keep Australian agriculture at the cutting edge" Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, David Littleproud, explained "All projects have big potential and we want to see them reach their goals."