Pikes was delighted recently to welcome back the men from Vinsonus, a truly innovative and successful South Australian company.
Vinsonus’s High Power Ultrasonic (HPU) barrel cleaning technology has been an invaluable tool in helping Pikes not only improve wine quality but also significantly reduce its spending on new oak products, one of the costliest aspects of producing wine.
Combined with a style shift away from more heavily oaked wines – most Pikes red wines now spend a lot more time ageing in steel tanks – new barrel purchases have decreased by about 25 per cent.
“High Power Ultrasonic cleaning has played a big role in helping us reduce our new oak budget by about $30,000 per year,” Pikes chief winemaker Neil Pike said.
“We now use barrels up to 10 years old with great confidence. We consider them to be healthy wine maturation barrels.”
Vinsonus’s HPU technology is fascinating. It works by creating high-density ultrasonic soundwaves above the range of human hearing. When the soundwaves are applied to liquids or wet surfaces, microscopic bubbles are formed. When these bubbles collapse and implode, a tremendous amount of energy is released and this disintegrates solid material and microfilms which have built up on the barrel’s inner surface.
Just as importantly, the process also kills microorganisms – including the notorious spoilage yeast Brettanomyces.
The barrels are rejuvenated and their life extended by about four years.
“We often had to discard “Brett-infected” barrels but that’s now a thing of the past,” Neil said. “And HPU leads to a greater oak transfer rate, which means we’re producing better wine.”
The application of high power ultrasonics in the wine industry was pioneered by Australian inventors Bill Wright and Andrew Yap, a renowned oenologist. They’ve watched their product evolve from a mere concept into an important winemaking tool. After establishing their first HPU company, Cavitus, in 2005, they founded Vinsonus Pty Ltd last year.
HPU technology has now been used by more than one hundred wineries throughout the world – in Australia, New Zealand, California, Spain and France – and Pikes has been at the forefront of its evolution.
Gawler-based company Wine Barrel Cleaning Solutions, established by Howard and Peter Wittwer in 2009, provides the service to Pikes.
“Pikes has always been receptive to new technology,” Andrew Yap said.
“It was the first winery to participate in trials more than 10 years ago and is the only winery to consistently use it since.
“We value the input of Neil Pike and Steve Baraglia (Pikes senior winemaker) and have appointed Pikes Wines to be the “Champion” of HPU technology in the Clare Valley wine region. In future, demonstrations of the technology will be carried out at Pikes.”
The Vinsonus device doesn’t only clean and disinfect barrels, it can also be used to enhance the extraction of colour, flavour and phenolics from red grape musts, as well as yeast lees stirring, enhancing yeast growth and plank cleaning. In fact, HPU can be used in about 80 per cent of winemaking processes.
The clean technology is compatible with Neil and Andrew Pikes’ commitment to sustainable winery practices. While conventional barrel cleaning and disinfection methods use steam, hot water, and chemicals, HPU is economical and environmentally friendly.
And it underlines Pikes reputation for pioneering and progressive winery practices.
Pikes was the first winery in the Clare Valley to produce an unwooded, dry Sauvignon Blanc (1986), a Sangiovese (1996), a straight Viognier (2000) and a Reserve Riesling (1996).
It was also the first Clare winery to invest in an Enomatic, the revolutionary cellar door product that preserves and serves wine by the glass.
“We’ve never been scared to try new things,” Neil said.