HANDS OFF! – Optical Sorting

Just come across the technology of “Optical Sorting” as seems like few of the wineries am going to visit coming  week such as Chateau Mouton, Troplong Mondote etc, are using this newest technology for sorting grapes during their harvest.

If you are not familiar and would like to have a fuller picture of what this machine is, here is a little idea: It is a machine uses image analysis allowing unwanted elements to be removed. Operators can set the machine to remove foreign objects, vegetationor unripe berries by size or color. The fruit moves along a conveyor belt, reads the organic composition of each berry, in a sense taking a microsecond photo that measures color, texture and organic structure. With the picture of the perfect berry “in mind,” the optical sorter can then seek out diseased and desiccated (”raisined”) berries as they emit a dissimilar light wavelength. The sorter blows a strong puff of air (using high frequency, pneumatic nozzles) on the flawed berry, knocking it into a separate hopper. This new sorting equipment promises to sort grapes faster, more accurately and with less manpower.

Depending on the vintage, and the appellation, a harvest can start as early as mid September, or as late as October. The fruit is picked at the top estates by hand and with machines at other wineries.  Some of the largest Bordeaux chateaux may use over 200 pickers to help with their harvest. Selection is usually done by hand at the vineyard and at the winery. However, starting with 2009 in Bordeaux, in fact, St. Emilion being the place leading this technological advancement, Optical Sorting Machines have been used at select Chateaux. Gerard Perse, who owns a myriad of Bordeaux properties, most notably Chateau Pavie, helped develop the optical sorting machine over a 4 year period to aid in harvesting.

It is a welcome advance to many growers but not every wine maker agrees. For example, Chateau Margaux prefers conducting most of their sorting in the vineyards. However, Manual destemming may let growers run the risk of developing rot in the vineyards while waiting for full phenolic ripeness. It might have additional side effects which releases enzymes contained in the rot that could potentially lead to unclean fermentations and a potential loss of color. To combat this enzyme infection, mechanical destemmers, along with optical sorters, have been created to help with the process. The devices work in tandem.

Because of the newness of the machines, their expense, and their limited availability, they are being used primarily in Pomerol and St. Emilion. It is being tested in Mouton and Las Cases too. For Troplong Mondot, they ended up spending less time sorting the 2012 Troplong Mondot because for this year, they used optical sorting on the entire vintage.

From reading more about this sorting machine, it is being said that the next new technology is ultrasound, which can test sugar content of each berries too, isn’t this exciting in a revolutionary sense for wine making!  would be lovely to eye this optical machine at the visiting Chateau soon and come back with more photos!

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