Gargantuan technology: Synchrotrons use electricity to produce intense beams of light a million times brighter than the sun. The light is produced when high-energy electrons are forced to travel in a circular orbit inside the synchrotron tunnels by ‘synchronised’ application of strong magnetic fields. Melbourne’s synchrotron, pictured here, is larger than a football field.
WINE INDUSTRY RESEARCHERS are seeing the light with technology being adapted to unlock the secrets of tannin and how its impact on wine can be better understood – and controlled.
Some of Victoria’s best and brightest scientists are using some of Australia’s best and biggest technology to help turn the art of tannins in wine into a science.
The scientists are using the Australian Synchrotron to assist with their world-leading research into the impact of grape tannins on wine.
Based at Clayton in Melbourne’s outer south-east, the Australian Synchrotron is a machine about the size of a football field which accelerates electrons almost to the speed of light.
As the electrons are deflected through magnetic fields they create extremely bright light, which is channelled down beamlines to experimental workstations where it is used for research.
Researchers from the Department of Environment and Primary Industries have been using the
Synchrotron as part of their ground-breaking research into the relationship between tannins and wine quality.
The scientists from DEPI Mildura make up one of just a few groups in the world attempting to
better understand tannins, how they impact on wine flavour and how they interact with the other components in wine.
“This research is highly important to the wine industry because it will enable us to develop tools for grapegrowers and winemakers to manage the amount of tannin in grapes and subsequently in wine,” DEPI plant production sciences research manager Mark Downey said.
“One part of this research involves obtaining a better understanding of the degree to which tannins are soluble and that is why our scientists are using the Synchrotron.”
Tannins are compounds found in the skins and seeds of grapes and are responsible for the astringency in wine, playing a crucial role in the way the wine ages.
“There is, and always will be, a place for art in winemaking but by the same token I think the work this team is doing will also prove valuable for the bulk wine market,” he said.
“Buyers in that range are seeking consistency; I guess it is similar to Coke or beer. They find something they like and they want it to taste the same way every time.
“I don’t think what we are doing will have such an impact at the high end of the market. “People who buy a Hill of Grace or a Grange are actually looking for the whole wine experience; they want the varieties, the high and lows and the full wine journey.
“But for those other consumers it is all about how can we help better meet their expectations because if the winery can’t be consistent it risks losing those people.
“This work is very much for that segment.”
Dr Downey said what the DEPI team is looking at is how tannins behave – in water, in ethanol, in a mix of ethanol and sugars and so on.
Full story in the December 2013 issue of Grapegrower & Winemaker.