Harvest optimisation technology, a smart move for Australia’s viticulture industry
Aussie Wine Group (AWG) creates harvest optimisation technology. Its’ infield sorters remove Matter Other than Grapes (MOG) during the winegrape picking process, which ensures that only fruit is delivered to the winery, significantly improving efficiency and quality within the wine making process.
AWG wants to cultivate a change in relation to sorting systems – to shift perceptions of what can be achieved by implementing them in the winemaking process. By showcasing the benefits to the industry as a whole, AWG seeks to demonstrate how cost savings and wine improvements can be delivered with its infield sorting systems.
The problem: How to increase grape premiums while decreasing operational costs
With mechanical grape harvesting, one of the side effects is that leaves, stems and wood from the vines (Matter Other than Grape, or MOG) will also go into the bins with harvested grapes. This MOG ranges from 1–10% and is harvested and put onto trucks, transported to the wineries, extracted at the winery, then transported away to be dumped or mixed with other matter to form mulch – a series of events that are extremely costly.
In addition, if MOG has to be removed once it arrives at the winery it slows throughput of the winery by up to 40% and will regularly impact critical machinery, such as crushers, causing downtime that can cost wineries thousands of dollars an hour.
From a wine making perspective, MOG also has detrimental effects on the quality and value of the wine, as it creates undesirable bitter and green characteristics.
The benefits of an automated solution
The current solution to removing MOG in the field is to invest in new “selective” grape harvesters with integrated infield sorting equipment, which typically cost between $500-650K. These systems are limited to the volume they can handle (maximum capacity is 15 tonne/hr), which significantly impacts berry integrity, causing maceration and splitting.
The AWG infield sorter offers a viable solution – retrofitted to existing harvesters or attached on top of the grape bin/gondola – with an approximate x10 reduction in cost compared to buying a new harvester. There are four models in the range to adapt to different vineyards, grape and harvester needs, including boom units, bin units and in harvester units, to suit standard, premium and high-volume picks.
With labour shortages in agriculture in markets such as the US, it’s pushing a drive towards harvest automation, and creates a global opportunity for AWG.
Agritech gains traction and impressive metrics for Australia’s wine industry
In Australia, AWG have been running trials with key wineries and growers to obtain accurate ROI calculations to be able to market these savings throughout the industry. The infield sorters have been successfully trialed by a number of the leading wine producers in Australia such as Gemtree, Tamburlaine, Lakebreeze, Treasury Wine Estates and others.
During the 2021 vintage, AWG and Wine Australia collected data to validate the infield sorters and the benefits of clean fruit arriving at the winery. Using a combination of AWG premium and high-volume sorters, AWG were successful in removing up to 97% of MOG harvested with a mere 0.02% MOG left in the sample. Picking a number of winegrape varieties in a number of different regions, on average for the duration of the trial AWG was able to achieve 87% reduction in MOG harvested and 0.22% MOG left in the sample. These results were achieved with no loss of harvesting speed, no additional maceration to the grapes and no downtime due to blockage/breakdowns.
Receiving clean picks processed by the AWG infield sorter also increased operational throughput of the fruit in the winery by up to 50%. It removed the expensive challenge of having to dispose of the tonnes of MOG that pile up as a waste stream at the winery. These savings have a flow on effect for grape growers because the sorted grapes being delivered to the wineries will have a better MOG rating, resulting in an increase in fruit prices – and the decrease in weight of MOG-free fruit is replaced with extra juice at the time of harvest when fans are set correctly.
Wine makers have been especially pleased with the AWG sorters’ delivery of unmacerated and MOG free fruit picks, enabling greater wine quality outcomes.
AWG’s infield sorter trial participants share feedback and benefits
Catherine Wotton - Assistant Vineyard Manager, Treasury Wine Estates, SA
“During Vintage 2021 we trialled the AWG infield berry sorter trailers at our Padthaway vineyard. We found the trailers to be easy to setup, easy to operate and the reduction in MOG, particularly from our older blocks, was at a desirable level. Not only was MOG waste reduced at the winery, we also saved time in the vineyard by way of not having to rake MOG out of loads throughout the pick.”
Troy Elliker - Vineyard Manager, Gemtree Wines, SA
“We’ve retrofitted the AWG infield sorter onto our existing harvester, which has stopped us having to make a massive outlay on a completely new machine – and the fruit we’re delivering to the winemakers is first class.”
Jeremy Kirlew - Vineyard Manager for AustWine, Barossa Valley, SA
“We can set the sorter at the start of the nights pick and know for certain when we arrive back the next morning, the sample will be clean and we won't be looking down the barrel of penalties from the winery.”
Josh Waechter – Winemaker, Gemtree Wines, SA
“The AWG Boom mounted sorter has really increased the efficiency in the Gemtree winery and all the processing that happens in the winery. This has led to purer fruit in the wines, which is a very nice wine making style. It has also meant less waste for us to deal with in the winery.”
Hayden - Operator of AWG infield sorter, SA
“The infield sorter is much easier to use than first expected. The bins don’t get as full as they normally do, this prevents spillage and creates less bins being used overall. The cabin controls and camera monitor make it easy to use, so you don't have to turn around at all while using it. The lighting on the sorters help at night to ensure the correct amount is in the bin.”
Tim Follet – Owner Lake Breeze Wine, Langhorne Creek, SA
“Using the AWG Infield Sorter has allowed us to lower the harvester fan speed, which has stopped the fruit maceration and minimises juice loss from the Harvester. This harvester setting change gives us zero MOG at the winery and increased weight in the bin at the Vineyard."
Aussie Wine Group: Opportunities for growth
The AWG sorters are designed to be retro-fitted to work in conjunction with harvesters with a side discharge arm, of which there are 9,000 across Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile/Argentina and USA. Each harvester requires a minimum of two bins or gondolas during operation, thus the market opportunity in the wine industry alone is significant.
The wine industry’s competitive landscape
Competition from existing wine harvesters is limited as they are in the business of selling new machines with integrated infield sorters at a cost of $500-650k – retrofitting to old machines would cannibalise their new sales. There are small operators in the market that have developed infield MOG removers, but have limited effectiveness when compared to the results of the AWG sorters.
The Aussie Wine Group team
AWG is led by a management team with more than 25 years’ experience in the wine industry, and they’ve invested their own capital to validate the technology in both premium and high tonnage regions in Australia.
AWG’s sorters are manufactured by South Australian winery equipment manufacturer, F. Miller & Co, that have manufactured winery equipment for more than 30 years.
Raising capital to scale agritech adoption
AWG has raised approximately $850,000 to date which has funded trials in Australia and the USA, including branding, advertising, patents and company structuring.
AWG is raising external investment to scale adoption in Australia, and to drive exports to international markets in order to take advantage of the labour crisis in agriculture that’s fuelling the adoption of harvest automation and quality optimisation technologies.
Raising investment capital will enable AWG to establish a marketing program and a strong dealer network throughout Australia, New Zealand, USA and South America, and potentially crossover into the olive industry as well.
Frequently Asked Questions
Through industry consultation AWG Director, Matt Sciancalepore provided the following feedback.
“We get paid for the MOG as well, if it’s removed we will be losing money”
- By lowering the extraction fan speed on the grape harvester, and allowing the sorter to remove the MOG, there is less juice loss, thus offsetting the reduction in MOG.
- Growers can be penalised at the winery for MOG 2 or 3 ratings - using an AWG infield sorter will eliminate that risk by producing a MOG 0 rating.
- Growers can now negotiate a better price for a clean sample going to the winery.
“Infield sorters smash up the grapes, turning them into mush”
- Unfortunately, infield sorting systems historically have been given a bad rap due to poor set up and operating.
- The AWG infield sorting systems can be set to suit different varieties and volumes of grapes to minimise any additional maceration to the grapes being harvested.
- AWG run specific set up training for vineyard staff to ensure the sorters are set up correctly and provide the skills to troubleshoot
"It's just another piece of machinery we need to maintain”
- The AWG infield sorters are very easy to maintain. Just a quick wash down at the end of each pick and you're just about ready to go again. AWG supplies a maintenance booklet with daily, weekly and end of season checks to ensure a hassle-free harvest
- Being made up of basic mechanical moving parts, any vineyard mechanic with the most basic knowledge of these machines would have no trouble in maintaining the units.
- This means no waiting around for a technician to arrive to fix a machine.