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Funding from the MBIE Regional Research Institutes (RRI) initiative contributed to the purpose-built Bragato Research Winery that opened in February 2020. The winery is located at Bragato Research Institute (BRI) in the Marlborough Research Centre on the NMIT campus, alongside key research and industry organisations.

The Bragato Research Winery facilities and expertise enables industry and researchers to take viticultural trials through to finished wines under tightly managed experimental conditions. Work at the winery involves trialling winemaking processes, new products, sustainable practices, fermentation ingredients, and testing equipment and technologies ahead of industry investment.

The Bragato Research Winery was designed following consultation with experienced winemakers, suppliers, expert consultants, and researchers. The vision for the facility was that it would mirror the vision for New Zealand wine – high quality, innovative, and sustainable. Registered with the New Zealand Green Building Council and certified by SWNZ (Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand™), the Bragato Research Winery models sustainability through recycled water systems and solar powered electricity.

The Bragato Research Winery elevates the standard of wine science excellence in New Zealand. The purpose-built facilities make it possible for BRI to offer customised science services that fill research gaps and provide winemakers with access to expertise. The winery includes custom fermentation tanks that can hold 200 litres and be used for either a single fermentation or have four smaller (17-litre) tanks inserted to house four individual fermentations, all controlled under the same conditions.

Tailoring to client needs, BRI scientists conduct rigorous trials free from the variables that a client might have difficulty minimising if they were to attempt similar research in-house. Before the Bragato Research Winery opened, industry could not access independent winery trials domestically. While wineries can run in-house trials, they are time consuming and lack the benefit of BRI expertise. At the Institute, Research Winery Manager Dr Tanya Rutan is on hand to interpret results for clients and assist with their real-world application.

With the Bragato Research Winery opening a month before the COVID-19 Level 4 lockdown, the first year of operation was not without challenges. Across BRI, the team stepped up and delivered a vintage to be proud of. In total, 13 trials were carried out for local wineries, international companies, and as part of BRI-led research. One of the BRI own trials assessed mouthfeel qualities of Rosé wines when fermented in different ways and another looked at the effects of frozen storage duration for wine research. BRI also completed a pilot study in response to COVID-19, exploring the potential for transforming grape skins and seeds into hand sanitiser.

Following a successful 2020 vintage and with the backing of a supportive wine industry, the Bragato Research Winery reached full capacity in the 2021 vintage. Research clients included seven New Zealand wineries, eight international ingredient and agricultural chemical companies, and four research and education organisations. The facilities were also used for a BRI-led study and Plant & Food Research trials that could not be performed to the same scale in-house.

During the 2021 vintage, the Bragato Research Winery housed 32 trials using 186 ferments. As part of the trials the facility processed 4.2 tonnes of fruit (385% increase on 2020) and received 551 litres of juice (35% increase on 2020). The most popular varieties were Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris, with others in the winery including Lagrein, Carmenere, and Vermentino.

Tipping Sauvignon blanc grapes into one of BRI’s small ‘research-sized’ presses, vintage 2021.

BRI also led their own study investigating the ability of four different interventions applied during fermentation to prevent undesirable reductive odours from forming, while keeping a desirable redox reading. Reductive odours typically lower the overall quality of wines. Once results from the trials are collated, BRI intends to share this knowledge through a workshop, publications, and popular articles.

Decisions made by industry based on results from the 2021 vintage will have lasting economic, social, and environmental effects. For example, trials looking at new products, vegan ingredients, fermentation nutrition, and low alcohol wines will help industry to meet changing consumer preferences and keep New Zealand wine competitive. Increased future productivity has been supported by trialling alternative winemaking practices, sustainable viticulture pest management, and testing technology and winemaking inputs that achieve greater yield and quality.

BRI has employed locals as well as attracted skilled workers to the Marlborough region. The research conducted through the winery benefits all wine-growing regions across New Zealand. Further afield, the institute is becoming well-known by international wine ingredient suppliers who are excited by the opportunity to learn more about the performance of their products when applied to New Zealand wines in context. This is beneficial to our domestic wine industry as they can trust results generated through the independent and local Bragato Research Winery.

The Bragato Research Winery is developing positive relationships with the New Zealand tertiary education sector to the benefit of industry and students. In 2022, the winery will carry out trials in collaboration with University of Auckland, Lincoln University, and University of Canterbury. These trials have been secured on the strength of the expertise within the BRI team and their fit-for-purpose facilities.

BRI is also proud to be nurturing the talent and knowledge of oenology students. Three students came through the Bragato Research Winery during the 2021 vintage. NMIT student Xiuying Liang (Ava) gained first-hand winemaking experience through her employment in the winery and is going on to further study at Lincoln University following the guidance of the BRI Research Winery Manager. Looking to the future, BRI is set to become a platform for students seeking higher education in the science of winemaking.

NMIT student Xiuying Liang works with Research Winery Manager Dr Tanya Ruttan, during harvest 2021.

The Bragato Research Winery provides research winemaking at a scale and degree of experimental control not previously possible in New Zealand. The support of industry and suppliers during the first two vintages is a testament to its design and expertise. With exciting trials planned for the year ahead, strong industry backing, and flourishing relationships, investment in the Bragato Research Winery has successfully established the Marlborough-based Bragato Research Institute in the New Zealand science landscape.