Scientific grape-ripening approach attracts interest

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Members of the Hawke's Bay wine industry were impressed by the results of grape maturing research at a recent workshop.
Members of the Hawke's Bay wine industry were impressed by the results of grape maturing research at a recent workshop.

For the past six seasons Chris Henry has been honing the scientific pursuit of enhancing the maturity of wine grapes, and at a special workshop staged at Te Awa Winery recently he shared the results of what he had brought together.

"It is still in the experimental stage," Mr Henry said.

"I see it as a tool."

It was enthusiastically received by about 20 representatives from wineries and wine companies across the region after "flights" through four wines each of chardonnay, merlot and syrah which had been enhanced by Mr Henry's scientific and more organically-driven approach to enhancing grape maturity.

The wines, taken from a Te Mata vineyard, had undergone the enhancement programme during the 2015-16 season and he said they demonstrated well what could be achieved.

His formulation, trialling and research into what he called alternative chemistry for growing food began after he established a commercial citrus orchard, which achieved organic certification, on the outskirts of Auckland during the 1980s, later exporting fruit to Japan.

He ran into "insect problems" but solved that with his development of two insecticidal and fungacidal products he developed.

The use of them knocked over the insect problem and they also stopped botrytis - an enemy of grapes.

Chris Henry, owner, Henry Manufacturing Ltd - Workshop about enhanced maturity wine grapes at Te Awa Estate Winery, SH50, Hastings. 10 October 2016 NEWS Hawke's Bay Today Photograph by Duncan Brown.
Chris Henry, owner, Henry Manufacturing Ltd - Workshop about enhanced maturity wine grapes at Te Awa Estate Winery, SH50, Hastings. 10 October 2016 NEWS Hawke's Bay Today Photograph by Duncan Brown.

In 1996 he became involved in grape growing "and it has been a journey ever since".

He first began his work with potassium bicarbonate and potassium through what he developed as Protector HML during the 90s and in 2003 he formed his company Henry Manufacturing Ltd, and Protector HML became fully registered for botrytis control on grapes.

He moved to Hawke's Bay early in 2000 to work as a machine operator with Villa Maria Estate at their Joseph Soler Vineyard which was a mix of both organic and chemical control regimes.

Much of what he knows about grape growing today was developed from then.

At the workshop he explained the processes of helping the maturity process of grapes through the strength of what to use and formulating the right time to apply it.

Experimental crops had produced grapes with thicker skin and enhanced colour, and being able to "lift" maturity caught plenty of attention.

Like her colleagues, Pask Winery managing director and chief winemaker Kate Radburnd said she was impressed by what she heard during the workshop and was seeking more information from the research Mr Henry had carried out.

"It was very interesting and as an industry we need to be innovative and look at the possibilities that are out there," she said.

"As a tool to help ripening it looked encouraging."

One of the aspects which caught the winemakers' attention was that Mr Henry's research showed it was possible to spread the ripening process across various sites.

She said one advantage would be that ripening could be spread to avoid what was often a bottleneck of grapes at the one peak harvesting time.

Mr Henry said while the research was still going on he was encouraged by what he said was an "excellent response" from those who attended.

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