BEN Thomson started harvesting, and contract harvesting, when he turned 18.
And he’s still doing it even though he’s “bloody nearly 50”.
But make no mistake; Thomson is not your run-of-the-mill contractor.
First and foremost, he is the fifth generation at the helm of Best’s Wines in Great Western.
Perhaps even more importantly, not just for Australia but for the whole winery world, he is a keen, and incredibly hands-on, supporter of Braud grape harvesters out of France.
Not your off-the-shelf stuff either. Our man likes to look at the machinery and then reinvent parts to make it better suited for Australia in particular and the wider world market in general.
Today he runs seven Brauds – four 9090s and three 7090s. He also bought the first Braud de-stemmer and is about to follow that up with the first Opti-Grape – the next generation version of the de-stemmer
Never one to wait he will be travelling to France in September to see the Opti-Grape in action during the northern hemisphere harvest “to see what we need to change, if anything, for our local conditions”.
“The Opti uses an air turbine to blow a controlled current across the intake to the on-board grape storage bins and anything such as bark, botrytis or other rubbish gets blown out the side leaving only the grape berries and any juice to drop into the bins,” Thomson says.
“In France I want to see it working at a premium vineyard so I really understand firsthand how it operates and achieves this,” he says.
“I understand every nut and bolt in these machines and what needs to be modified to make them work more efficiently. I know these harvesters inside and out.
“I have had many discussions with the Braud team in France over the years and we have developed a good working relationship because it’s all about making the machinery even better.”
When he’s not behind a machine with his crew of 10 (during harvesting season) Thomson is also the managing director of Best’s, which has been family run since 1866, enhancing the already strong connection and understanding of his time on the machinery and his time in the vineyard and winery.
“One of the main factors behind my decision to adopt Braud’s new technology is because the work the harvesters do in the vineyard minimises the work we need to do in the winery, sometimes cutting out a process altogether,” he says.
“They create a more cost-effective picking process that delivers higher quality fruit into the winery,” Thomson adds.
With biosecurity high on his agenda, Thomson has his own registered heat shed which kills any diseases that might have been picked up in vineyards by his fleet of harvesters.
He says his machines go through it every time they cross the SA-Victorian border, a discipline and commitment to biosecurity which is not just about his own vineyards.
“It works for everyone and should be something of the highest importance with everyone in the industry,” he adds.
Full story in the August 2014 issue of Grapegrower & Winemaker.