By Erika Holmes, Viticulture & Enology
WOODLAND, Calif. – WECO Sorting and Automation Solutions has donated a state-of-the-art optical wine grape sorter worth $71,500 to the new Ste. Michelle Wine Estates Wine Science Center at the Washington State University Tri-Cities campus in Richland, Wash.
Researchers and students at the new $23 million center will use the sorter; it also will be used at collaborating wineries to evaluate its applications.
After stems are removed from grapes, the sorter removes all material other than grapes (MOG). It uses advanced cameras, LEDs (light-emitting diodes) and software technology to identify remaining stems, insects, unripe and damaged fruit and raisins. Unwanted items are removed with precise blasts of air, increasing quality and throughput while reducing labor costs.
“We are so pleased to be in a position to donate our WineGrapeTek Optical MOG Sorter,” said Eric Horner, vice president of WECO (Woodside Electronics Corp.) and a WSU alumnus. “We think the opportunity for WSU students to be exposed to this technology during their education will provide a great understanding of the benefits.”
Due to a hot summer and early harvest, staff and students have already begun processing grapes at the WSU Wine Science Center. It offers laboratory space and the most technologically advanced experimental winemaking facilities in the world while providing classrooms to train technical personnel for the expanding wine industry in Washington and beyond.
Sorting experiments benefit industry
“The addition of a WECO Optical Sorter to the lineup of grape-sorting technologies we have available at the WSU Wine Science Center creates a wonderful opportunity to run experiments comparing sorting methods,” said Thomas Henick-Kling, WSU viticulture and enology program director. “WECO is not only investing in student learning, but also providing technology that will enable WSU researchers to explore the efficiency and variations in resulting wines that different sorting technologies offer.”
Technology is changing wine production around the world, yet few replicated experiments exist because it is too expensive for commercial wineries to run side-by-side comparisons of grape-sorting technologies, said Jim Harbertson, WSU associate professor of wine chemistry.
“At the Wine Science Center, we have a vibrating table that aids winery staff who are hand sorting grapes, and soon we will have the WECO Optical Sorter,” he said. “We can make wines from the same batch of grapes that compare these two technologies against not sorting the grapes at all.
“We might be surprised at the differences in the resulting wines,” he said. “These results could help wineries decide which sorting method is most likely to bring out the aromas and flavors their customers seek.”
Cutting edge technology
WECO started doing trials of the optical sorter in the wine industry in 2010 and has made a number of changes to the design and function. Last year, the company introduced a new camera system that improved performance dramatically.
“We design our machines from the ground up, including the circuit boards and our own custom software, and all machines are built in Woodland, Calif.,” said Don Douglas, president of WECO. “We have been able to leverage our extensive experience in other industries to provide a machine to the wine industry that is compact, easy to use and easy to clean. We are excited about the opportunity to serve the wine industry.”
Based in California, WECO has been designing, manufacturing and servicing electronic sorters for over 30 years and has thousands of units deployed worldwide. The company serves several industries including tomato, walnut, blueberry, cranberry and wine grape. Learn more at http://www.wecotek.com.
Learn more about WSU wine-related research, education and industry partnerships at http://wine.wsu.edu/.