The University of Adelaide’s Wine Sciences Laboratory
The University of Adelaide’s Hickinbotham Roseworthy Wine Sciences Laboratory at the Waite campus is a state-of-the-art winery and research facility doing valuable work for the wine industry, through education, research and service to the industry. Students, researchers, laboratory staff and wine industry professionals are all involved in the winemaking, in a collaboration aimed at furthering quality, knowledge, and sharing of information, not to mention turning out award-winning wines.
Wine production started in 1998 with less than 10 tonnes being processed, and now has a capacity of nearer 200 tonnes, although the annual average is currently closer to 120 tonnes. There are more than 1,000 tanks, around 100 of which hold over 200 litres. The lion’s share are under 200 litres for small batches to accommodate the various requirements for teaching, research, and catering to industry.
The winery also has a small-scale distillery and a small pot still which is stylishly situated on the research level of the facility, surrounded by a glass casing so that it is possible to view the entire apparatus up close and in safety. The distillery can process 600 litres of base wine per day to produce 100 litres of spirit, although its actual use is a fraction of this.
The range of wines produced includes still red and white wines; sparkling red and white wines; and fortifieds – apera (previously known as sherry) and tawny (port). For making the sparkling wines in the Champagne style with the secondary ferment in the bottle, there are base wines held in storage, and an old-fashioned riddling rack (pictured), as invented by widow Clicquot back in 1816 in Champagne, France.
The winery has the best available small-scale equipment and the standard is being constantly improved. For example, by the end of 2010, there will be a brand new crusher, two presses, and a state-of-the-art must pump.
The three concurrent streams of work
At this facility there are three streams of work, all of which are important and interlinked:
- Service to industry
The University of Adelaide School of Agriculture, Food and Wine offers a range of courses in viticulture, oenology and wine marketing to students of all levels – diplomas, Bachelor degrees, Masters and postgraduate and also offers courses for external students. This facility has had over 800 winemaking students complete its courses over the last ten years, as well as a similar number of wine marketing students. It forms a large part of the training for oenology students – for some it may be their first and only experience of a working winery.
Around 12 groups of students make four wines per year, with each batch being around one tonne of white or red grapes. They make the wine from the vine to the glass.
The students pick the grapes themselves from both university and commercial vineyards. The university vineyards are located within walking distance of the winery, two close to Rose Avenue and others on the north side of Walter Young Avenue. There is also a good relationship with several growers in industry where the students pick the balance, for which fair (market) prices are paid.
Production is on a relatively small scale, and too small for some technologies, such as some centrifuges, crushed flow filters, and so on. However, through connections in the industry, students are taken to larger facilities to view this equipment in operation.
The wine is bottled and elegantly labelled as The University of Adelaide and is sold to winery staff, assisting in the winery being self-financing. Furthermore, these wines have been independently acclaimed, picking up a number of awards (see below).
The winery and laboratory has a strong research presence – both carrying it out at the facility and in assisting other university and industry researchers in their work. The majority of wine batches are for research purposes – from a total of more than 400 individual batches of wine, around 50 are part of the student courses as explained above, and there are some processed on a contract basis to industry (see below), and the remainder are research batches.
These research batches are generally small, commonly just 50kg of grapes which equates to around three vines, and gives around 20 litres of wine (roughly two cases). This is a sufficient volume of wine for multiple experiments and repeats and for sensory analysis. This facility has a great deal of the best small-scale equipment designed to cater to this scale of production. Sometimes researchers will get involved in the winemaking and sometimes the winery does it on their behalf.
Service to industry
The university has a close relationship with the wine industry and operates an essential small winemaking service. The winery bridges an important gap in the market in processing small batches for wineries. Contract winemakers will usually not consider processing batches below 5 tonnes, so the university is filling a niche in the market. The university has about 30 contract customers, and commercial batches of 1 or 2 tonnes is common among these customers.
As well as there being the requirement in the industry for contract winemaking, there is also a demand for product development. The University of Adelaide used to offer this service in conjunction with the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI), and in recent years the Wine Sciences Laboratory has agreed to take on this role. This involves taking grapes, usually in batches of 50kg, and making them into wine, as described under Research above.
As well as offering these services, winery staff can offer advice on wine styles, winemaking techniques and the marketing of the wine, and in doing so have assisted in improving wines and in the overall success of a number of wineries.
Contract customers come from various South Australian regions, including Cleggett Wines (Langhorne Creek); Massey Wines (McLaren Vale); Vinteloper Wines (mainly Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale); and Bowe Lees (Adelaide Hills). The winery has lost some customers for the best possible reasons – they have brought their early or experimental batches to be processed at the university, and ultimately expanded and become successful. Examples include David Blessing (Flinders Ranges), Stephen Clarke and Howard Vineyard.
Since taking on commercial winemaking in 2002, many of the wines have been entered into wine shows under the customer’s labels and the university’s label. These wines have accrued over 70 medals to date including several at the Australian Small Winemakers Show over the years. A cross-section of winning examples are:
- Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show, 2006: Peter Godden’s Arrivo Wines Nebbiolo won a trophy for the best nebbiolo of the show and another trophy for being the best wine of the show.
- Langhorne Creek Wine Show, 2007: Cleggett Wines’ Shalistan – a white-skinned cabernet sauvignon – was named the top white in the show.
- Hyatt Wine Awards, 2007: Howard Vineyard won the consumer’s choice for the best rosé in the show.
- Adelaide Hills Wine Show, 2007: Stephen Clarke’s Axiom Sauvignon Blanc won best sauvignon blanc, beating entries from well-known producers such as Shaw & Smith, Nepenthe and Starvedog Lane.
The winery’s vision for the next ten years is to increase its scale significantly and to remain at the forefront of winemaking and research technology.
Note: The winery is an important element in the University of Adelaide’s contribution to the Wine Innovation Cluster (WIC). WIC has four grape and wine research agencies working together for the future of the Australian wine industry – these are: the University of Adelaide, CSIRO, AWRI and the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI). Wineries taking part include Pernod Ricard, Yalumba, Treasury Wines (Fosters), and Orlando.