Wine barrel storage becomes Australia’s new competitive edge against European winemakers
Since viticulture was introduced to southern France by the Romans around 600 BC, European nations (mostly the French) have enjoyed significant advantages to rule global markets. Some of these are historical, such as well established wine barrel storage in underground facilities or caves that have been established for centuries. This natural cooling saves considerable time and money, which has been impossible for many Australian producers to replicate affordably – that is, until now.
The uneven playing field facing Australian wine producers
Temperature control in the barrel hall is important, particularly in Australia with our relatively mild winters and warm summers. In Europe, most of their wine is stored below ground where the temperature hardly fluctuates. The storage of wine is a critical part of the maturation process, impacting quality, production volumes and therefore profits. In the context of global markets, when your competitors have unique, cheap and nearly impossible advantages to replicate, you have a serious problem.
Australian wineries who don’t have access to centuries old storage facilities that require little to no power are burdened with additional costs, such as building storage facilities and paying the world’s highest electricity prices to keep them cool. Refrigeration is typically the largest consumer of electricity in Australian wineries, accounting for 50%–70% of total electricity usage.
Until recently, the main cooling options were refrigerated systems or no systems at all, relying upon insulation and a lot of manual labour to manage the wine. Additional humidity control systems add extra cost and complexity in the pursuit to keep wine storage temperature at a consistent level, so that it is easy to repeat a process for producing wine that meets specific market tastes.
The major downside with this situation for production is excessive wine evaporation through oak barrels, caused by the refrigeration drying out the air. Commonly known as ‘Angel’s share’, evaporation can account for up to 9% wine loss during the ageing process. Any wine lost during the production process is a loss in profit and when you are talking about premium wine, that is a lot of profit literally vaporising into thin air.
Needing to compensate for that by topping up every six weeks or so, increases the cost of production and can compromise the wine quality, because you are topping up barrels with wine from a different environment. Controlling the barrel hall conditions with expensive refrigerated cooling and extra humidification equipment has been the winemaker’s only answer to the extremes of the Australian climate.
The fact that winemakers in Australia produce such exceptional quality is testament to a high degree of skill, dedication, craft and absolute attention to detail in a very ‘fluid’ environment.
How Premium Australian wine makers even up the game
World leaders such as Peter Lehmann Wines, Barossa Valley Estate and Yangarra Estate have been quick to adopt the Climate Wizard Supercool system, which provides exceptional control of barrel hall temperature and humidity.
Climate Wizard’s Supercool now gives winemakers the control over both temperature and humidity to create the constant environment they need, with a drastic reduction of ‘Angel’s share’. Auxiliary equipment, like humidifying systems, are no longer needed. Wineries are now able to operate with cooling costs up to 80% less than they would be, if conventional refrigerated equipment was used.
Peter Lehmann Wines was an early adopter, even in the midst of one of the worst economic times for the wine industry during 2011. At a time when capital investment was extremely tight, the Climate Wizard system was still considered to have strong commercial merits. They settled on installing 12 Climate Wizard units, for three wine barrel halls for maintaining low temperatures and high humidity throughout the harsh South Australian summer, where heatwaves of over 35 degrees Celsius can last weeks.
Another example is Barossa Valley Estate who, as part of their continual improvement program, selected Climate Wizard Supercool for their barrel hall storage to gain easier control of temperature and humidity during the maturation process. The results have been a simpler way to repeat proven techniques to produce super-premium wine.
Barossa Valley Estate’s decision making for Climate Wizard began with a recognition that mechanical cooling systems were required to make the process of storage easier and more repeatable. However, other technologies were either highly expensive to run, too complex or impractical. Embracing Climate Wizard as an innovation came without compromising on age-old techniques used to produce world class vintages.
Introducing cooled, fresh air throughout the wine barrel hall also reduces stale air pockets, or ‘stratification’, from occurring. By maintaining constant temperature and humidity levels, typical stresses on barrelled wine caused by topping up and frequent opening of hall doors for people and equipment, are all reduced.
Seeley International Founder and Executive Chairman, Mr Frank Seeley AM said, “This locally-developed and manufactured technology can operate independently or be integrated with existing, conventional building management systems. Installation of the Climate Wizard lower-energy technology reduces need for power supply upgrades and dismisses the auxiliary equipment, including humidification.”
“Designed, manufactured and supported in Australia, the Climate Wizard system has no hazardous or expensive refrigerants, reduces a winery’s carbon footprint, and creates a cleaner barrel store environment,” Mr Seeley said.
“The Australian wine industry has a global reputation for producing award-winning wines and Seeley International is delighted that our own market-leading Climate Wizard is now very much part of that success story.”