Kiwi system babysits Argentine vintages

BY NICK CHURCHOUSE
Last updated 05:00 04/07/2009
TASTY DROP: Juan Pablo Michelini, winemaker at Zorzal Winery, Mendoza, Argentina,  uses the Kiwi VinWizard system
NICK CHURCHOUSE/Dominion Post
TASTY DROP: Juan Pablo Michelini, winemaker at Zorzal Winery, Mendoza, Argentina, uses the Kiwi VinWizard system.

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Young Argentine wineries are extolling the virtues of Kiwi wine technology, providing a base for potential growth in the fifth biggest wine producer in the world.

Juan Pablo Michelini is a third-generation winemaker and in charge of the young wines at one of Argentina's youngest labels, Zorzal.

With his first vintage in the bottle and the second in fermentation, Mr Michelini is a fan of New Zealand-designed wine technology that allows him to control the temperature in his wine tanks automatically.

Spending US$25,000 (NZ$39,150) to install the VinWizard system, designed by Marlborough company Wine Technology, has created options that his traditionalist family is struggling to comprehend.

"My father cannot believe what we are doing here," he said.

VinWizard, now installed in more than 100 wineyards in six countries, provides a complete winery control system through sensors and automatic controls operated through a central computer.

Zorzal uses just the temperature control function, which frees up Mr Michelini from the formidable task of continually monitoring wine tank temperatures throughout the two- to three-month fermentation period.

Wine Technology general manager Bob Richards said the main feedback it was getting from winemakers using VinWizard was that they were able to get more sleep, with the system managing their wine vats remotely.

The on-demand style of the temperature controls system could save up to 50 per cent on power for the wineries too, he said.

VinWizard Argentine representative Pablo Ventura said it had installations in three wineries, providing a reference base for further sales.

A big challenge for wineries was justifying the investment in the recession.

Mr Ventura said he had 12 quotes out to other wineries but plans were on hold because of the global downturn. However the economic crisis could have a flip effect for VinWizard, as wineries looked for more certainty in sales and control over their vintages.

"People say: `I love your malbec, but what about next year can you do it again'?" Mr Ventura said.

Argentina's massive wine production, the fifth biggest in the world, was mainly consumed domestically, but since the 1970s, local consumption had more than halved.

The Argentine wine trade was one of the more organised industries in a country plagued by political instability and rapid economic boom and bust cycles, and with a 20-year plan to focus on export markets to improve sales, higher standards were required.

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Mr Richards said export-focused Argentine vineyards were investing large amounts in planting their iconic grape variety malbec, but little capital was going into their production facilities.

The technology in the Mendoza region was 10 years behind that employed in New Zealand, he said, and the success of their wines was solely due to the quality of their fruit.

"To get from where the technology in Argentina is now to where we are [in New Zealand] is a massive leap."

VinWizard had been problem-free for three years at the esteemed Sophenia winery in Mendoza, building a reliable case for more investment by other vineyards, even breaking through some of the die-hard traditionalist attitudes, he said.

"There is a new way of thinking down there that appreciates what can be done," Mr Richards said.

Assisted by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise funding to enter the critical United States market, Wine Technology was building a sales presence there which could lead to further investment in new markets such as Argentina and Spain.

Nick Churchouse travelled to Argentina with the help of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

- The Dominion Post

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