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A New Way to Determine When to Pick Grapes

Hand-held device reads color accumulation in berry skins
by Kerana Todorov
August 07, 2019
Thibaut Scholasch, co-founder of 360 viti, a division of Fruition Sciences, shows a bacchimeter at the company's Napa office. The hand-held device tracks color accumulation. Photo by Kerana Todorov/Wine Business Monthly

A new hand-held device that reads color accumulation in berry skins may become key to monitoring fruit maturity in the vineyard – and to determining when to pick the grapes.

360 viti, a division of Fruition Sciences, has begun selling the hand-held sensor known as a “bacchimeter” to monitor color accumulation in berries – and indicate how ripe the fruit is. The bacchimeter was developed and manufactured in France based on a body of research.

Australian scientists about a decade ago warned about the “decoupling” of sugar and color accumulations in fruit grown in areas affected by heat spells due to climate change. Under those conditions, color accumulation lags behind sugar levels. “This is very relevant in the world where heat waves occur more frequently,” said Thibaut Scholasch, co-founder of 360 viti, a division of Fruition Sciences, a company based in Montpellier, France.

Brix levels may be sky high and the berry may shrivel because of water loss, not because the fruit is physiologically ripe. “Brix levels can increase if water is lost, regardless of the level of maturity,” Scholasch said.

In other words, the reliance on Brix levels may mislead winemakers and grape growers into picking the fruit too soon – when berries continue to accumulate color – and aromas, Scholasch explained. Color accumulation becomes an index of maturity.

“At the end of the day we need to have something to tell us when the fruit is physiologically ripe,” Scholasch said Tuesday at 360 viti/Fruition Sciences’ offices in Napa. “We use color to indicate physiological ripening. We don’t use color for the sake of color.”

The bacchimeter scans berries’s skins to monitor color accumulation at the same location after veraison. The hand-held device gives a “potential anthocyanin” reading – and how ripe the fruit is. The process is similar to a machine scanning barcodes at a Safeway, Scholasch said.

The data is then uploaded to into Fruition Sciences’ online platform which helps winemaker and grape growers track color/anthocyanin concentration and figure out where and when to taste and harvest the fruit.

Chemical extraction conducted in laboratories determine anthocyanin extraction levels - how much color can leak out of the berry. It indicates how much anthocyanin goes into the wine, Scholasch said. But it is more subjective and is not a measurement of fruit ripening. The amount of anthocyanin extracted is based on the integrity of the fruit’s cell wall. Cell walls may release more color early in the growing season. “Permeability is not a measurement of (physiological) ripening,” Scholasch concluded.

French researchers with the group ForceA developed and manufactured the bacchimeter; 360 viti is the distributor and started selling the hand-held device in the United States earlier this year. The company either leases or sells or the unit along with the Web-based application required to upload the geo-located data. Each bacchimeter unit costs $3,990; the annual licensing fee represents another $1,990, according to viti360. In addition, 360 viti’s web-based application starts at $900 a year.

This article has been updated.


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