Two years after its inauguration, and having recently launched its new Molecular Biology Laboratory, Gerard Casaubon, Director of Viña Concha y Toro’s Center for Research and Innovation, talks about the Company’s decision to develop this kind major of infrastructure —unique in Latin America— which today presented its initial results..
In the heart of the Maule Region, in the municipality of Pencahue, a modern modular construction with an area of 1,500 square meters has been developed since 2015. Within this building, a team of 18 people, led by Gerard Casaubon, promote excellence and the search for new wine knowledge in order to generate an impact on the global industry.
“Any company would want to be able to access competitive and comparative advantages through knowledge that have a positive impact on its quality and productivity. The Winery understood this a long time ago, when it began to conduct research in collaboration with local Universities”, says Casaubon.
Furthermore, Casaubon explains that innovation is imbued in each of the Company’s areas, and that was “the factor which drove the board of directors to take one step further, and decide to develop the in-house capacity, both in terms of infrastructure and equipment, as well as human capital, which would enable it to accelerate these processes and position the Winery alongside other major global companies”.
The CRI is made up of three buildings, each of which represents a line of development, Casaubon says. The first is the Experimental Winery, equipped with industrial technology which enables small-scale vinification to be conducted to analyze and experiment with new development alternatives for winemaking by the Company and the industry in general.
The second building houses a Chemical Laboratory and a Molecular Biology Laboratory. This first laboratory is focused on agricultural and winemaking research, and brings together researchers who are responsible for conducting experiments and analyzing production processes from a classical and instrumental perspective, enabling aromas, organic acids, metals, polyphenols and pesticides to be determined, among other variables.
The recently inaugurated Molecular Biology Laboratory enable the early identification of grapevine diseases such as grapevine trunk disease, viruses and bacteria, among others, which can be identified in a timely manner through the use of molecular tools. “This laboratory is the only one of its kind in the wine industry, and has latest-generation equipment and technology that will enable us to assess and certify grapevine plant material,” says the Director.
The third building provides a space for extension and learning through conferences, seminars and training. It also has a tasting and sensory experience room. “The Center for Research and Innovation is a meeting point for the exchange of knowledge between the most relevant industry stakeholders, including grape growers, suppliers, universities and neighboring communities,” concludes Casaubon.
“More than 50 initiatives in different stages of progress are currently being developed in the CRI, framed within five Strategic Programs: Strengthening the production area of plant materials; Water resources and scarcity management; Quality assessment of grapes and wines; Instrumentation, automation and IT applications; and New products design.
“At the Center for Research and Innovation, we developed a Strategic Plan 2016-2020, which will serve as a roadmap to position Viña Concha y Toro as a leader in research, development and innovation in the global wine industry. Today we presented progress on research, but without doubt in the future we will achieve concrete results that will have a significant impact on the wine industry,” says the CRI director.
Initial results were delivered on three flagship research projects for the Company: The use of drones in agricultural tasks; the GRAPPE app to support the defoliation process; and the study of suitability of different Cabernet Sauvignon clones in the area of Cauquenes.
“One of the CRI’s areas of focus has been adapting technology that is available in the market to the specific needs of the wine industry. For example, to support the prediction of harvest volume and achieve an accuracy of 90% in the short term, the Center generated a complex artificial intelligence model which receives, processes and stores information. The drone is used to capture vineyard vigor, fundamental information for improving precision,” explains Álvaro González, R&D Manager at the CRI.
On the other hand, the GRAPPE smartphone application was developed to support the vineyard defoliation process, an activity in which leaves are removed from where the grape cluster zone is located in order to control the temperature and light conditions to which ripening grapes are exposed. The app provides a light exposure variation index for the clusters after obtaining images of the foliage before and after defoliation, and strengthen the monitoring and control of the operation.
The performance of Cabernet Sauvignon clones brought from France is the third research topic for which results were presented. Planted in experimental plots in Cauquenes, scientific tests are being conducted to determine which clones produce the highest quality and productivity grapes under local climate conditions in the area.
Together with providing information on preliminary results, the CRI director also highlighted the importance of the extension area, whose aim is to disseminate research findings and generate an impact for the Company’s main stakeholders.
“Since its inauguration, we have conducted a series of activities that are open to the public as part of the extension program that directly benefit the development of the industry. Among these activities, international seminars, theoretical and practical activities directed towards grape growers, and talks with prominent academics can be highlighted. These activities position the Center as a stage for the dissemination, extension and transfer of high-impact research and excellence, and as a space for interaction with the community and the different stakeholders that make up the industry,” says Casaubon.