Drinking to success

Published Nov 8, 2017

The next time you pour yourself a glass of your favourite red wine, take a moment to think of the Victoria University of Wellington researchers who may be contributing to its quality in the future. 

Dr Brendan Darby, Dr Matthias Mayer and Professor Eric Le Ru from the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, have spent the last year progressing the development of CloudSpec—a new technology that has the potential to revolutionise colour analysis in the wine industry, thanks to its ability to analyse ‘cloudy’ solutions. 

“Winemakers need to be able to measure certain aspects of their vintage at an early stage to know how the colour—which is inherently linked to taste perception—will end up,” explains Brendan. “But during fermentation wine is is often cloudy and therefore difficult to measure using traditional spectroscopy techniques. CloudSpec is a ‘new generation’ spectroscopy instrument that significantly simplifies the process for measuring wine colour, enabling the cloudy liquid to be analysed more quickly and accurately.” 

Brendan says that if wineries can measure colour ‘early and often’, they can monitor ferments more closely and identify which parameters are impacting colour development during ferment: “Control over the final product is crucial to ensure a consistent blend,” he says. “Wineries ultimately want to understand the factors affecting colour development in wine and having that information early on is vital to tracking the final colour profile in the bottle.” 

Using pre-seed funding from KiwiNet and Viclink, the team spent the early part of this year taking CloudSpec from a concept to a prototype, which they then used to conduct a full field trial during the 2017 New Zealand vintage. “We spent two weeks in the lab with one of New Zealand’s top wineries—and are delighted to report that we were able to prove CloudSpec’s efficacy,” says Brendan. 

The next step, he says, is to develop the prototype into a user-friendly product rather than a lab instrument, working with local mechanical engineers to ensure the highest quality build. 

Because product development is a little ‘out of left field’ for most scientists, Viclink has been closely supporting the team throughout their journey, most recently setting up a Technology Business Unit (TBU)—called MaramaLabs—to ease the transition from early-stage research into a fully-fledged business. 

“Right now we are focusing on building a quality product rather than starting a business, so the TBU idea is perfect for us, providing the right environment for transitioning to a separate business entity,” says Brendan. “Viclink has offered amazing support; we really have appreciated their honesty and transparency and, perhaps most of all, their faith in us.” 

That faith appears to be well placed, as Viclink and the MaramaLabs team believe there is clear market potential for CloudSpec in a host of other industries—including the beer business. 

“Getting the colour of beer right is equally as important as with wine,” Brendan says. “We are only scratching the surface of the number of potential applications with global appeal.” 

For more information, visit the MaramaLabs website or email Brendan or Matthias.