Technology transfer in the wine industry has to grow in importance, given the challenges relating to energy, water, landownership, sustainability and global profitability.
This is where Winetech’s efforts are critical. In addition to being an industry fund administrator, Winetech has evolved and is wearing multiple hats including its research partner hat and also its facilitator hat that brings researchers and the industry together. All of this forms part of the Wine Industry Strategic Exercise (Wise). Key to this initiative is aggressive knowledge and technology transfer within the Technology and Innovation Framework, which in turn forms one of the six key strategic objectives of Wise.
Karien O’Kennedy, technology transfer coordinator at Winetech says, “I’ve always had a huge interest in science, but never saw myself as a researcher for the rest of my life. I started out as a sales representative for Anchor Yeast, but soon realised I’m not a natural salesperson. I’m a scientist and the only way I was ever going to sell anything was by clearly communicating the science behind the use of the products. This forced me to learn how to communicate science in a user-friendly way. It gave me great pleasure to sit down with winemakers and explain complex issues in a way they understood and as a result applied in the cellar.”
Where global competition is concerned, we can learn important lessons from the Australian wine industry. The Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) has, according to its latest annual report, a staggering 18 staff members charged with industry development and support, while we only have a handful. Also, Aussie wine producers pay much higher research and extension levies to the AWRI and these are closely matched by their government. And no, this is not the case in South Africa. Also consider that all AWRI researchers, in addition to the extension staff members, also engage in extension activities. These include talks to the wine industry to share research and its relevance, as well as regular conversations with winemakers. The AWRI also offers researchers regular media training to improve communication within the industry.
Winetech’s vision is about knowledge exchange to bridge the gap between theory and practice with various boundary-spanning activities. Through its research management and science communication efforts, Winetech aims to get researchers, viticulturists, producers and winemakers to talk to and learn from each other.