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Winemaker Recognised For Work During Bushfire Ordeal

By Thursday 18 November 2021October 4th, 2023No Comments

Alex Cassegrain, who played a pivotal role for the industry while working with smoke-affected fruit during the terrible bushfires two years ago, has been named Winemaker of the Year by the Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology (ASVO).

Ben Harris of Wynns Coonawarra Estate was named Viticulturist of the Year.

Alex is the head winemaker at Cassegrain Wines in the Hastings River region of NSW.

When damage from bushfires threatened the livelihoods of many growers in 2020, Alex stepped up, looking for a solution to salvage smoke-affected fruit.

This involved working with practitioners and researchers to better understand the organoleptic and chemical effects of smoke taint, and how it can best be treated during and after ferment.

Alex trialled various techniques through bucket ferments in an effort to reduce the impact of smoke taint on the wine, the results of which he shared at the National Bushfire Conference in May.

Cassegrain has recently secured a $1 million grant from the Cooperative Research Centres Projects.

Using these funds, together with industry partners in Australia and NZ, longer-term projects using innovative methods will be implemented and managed, which Alex hopes will add much to the future understanding of the impact of fires in viticultural regions.

Alex is confident in the coming years, through trial and error, innovations and experimentation, the industry will be in a much better position to navigate through the challenges associated with smoke taint as a result of bush fires.

He says that sharing this information, knowledge and techniques will be the most important outcome.

“I strongly believe that this award is one for everyone involved, in particular, to the growers who went through such an ordeal,” Alex says.

“The idea of leaving grapes on the vine due to something quite unknown wasn’t a solution and that’s where we decided to try anything to see if we could turn a negative into a positive, and in some cases we did.

“I am so proud to be the recipient of this award and it has given me the confidence to always push the boundaries and to continue to be innovative and a big thankyou to the ASVO committee for everything you do for the industry.”

Ben is the viticulture manager at Wynns Coonawarra Estate.

Throughout his career, Ben has worked in several roles in New Zealand, Bordeaux and in Australia including technical and management roles in McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek, managing the Penfolds vineyard at Robe and managing the Wynns Coonawarra Estate vineyards.

“Ben’s vision is to continuously improve vineyard performance and sustainability while protecting the vineyards from biosecurity risks,” the ASVO says.

“He wants to leverage the latest R&D, innovation and technology to create real step change, while also applying the key learnings from the past.

“Ben is focused on removing one of the biggest challenges in industry which is bridging the gap between R&D and the practical application of the latest knowledge and technology.”

One of Ben’s innovations has involved partnering with The Yield in 2018 to leverage Treasury Wine Estates data, along with climatic data to improve yield estimation and vineyard management decisions.

Since then, this partnership has been rolled out to all TWE vineyards across Australia and New Zealand in 2020, with harvest quantity and timing predictions being generated for every block (over 9,000 hectares).

Growthstage predictions, long-range weather forecasts and notifications have been established for each site to assist with management decisions and risk mitigation.

Based on the success of this partnership, The Yield have now partnered with other wine companies using predictive models and data analytics to improve their businesses.

Ben says, “The ASVO plays an important role within the Australian wine community, promoting the best R&D, innovation and assisting the extension of research into practice. Many exceptional viticulturists have won this award in the past and it’s an honour to be nominated as a finalist for the ASVO Viticulturist of the Year.”

Other winners…

ASVO Viticulture Paper of the Year – Dr Marcos Bonada, PIRSA-SARDI
ASVO Oenology Paper of the Year – Dr Martin Moran, Mordrelle Wines
ASVO Dr Peter May Award – Dr Meg Whitener, Bell’s Brewery, Michigan

Founded in 1980, the ASVO is a professional society to serve the interests of practising winemakers and viticulturists by encouraging the exchange of technical information.

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