Bragato Research Institute
Bragato Research Institute are contracted by MBIE for $12.5 million excluding GST over 5.5 years to transform the New Zealand grape and wine industry through research, innovation and extension.
MBIE funding details
Successful in their application for Regional Research Institute (RRI) funding in the 2015 call for applications, Bragato Research Institute received $12.5 million (excl GST) to establish and build the Blenheim-based Research Institute over a 5.5 year period from June 2017 to December 2022.
About the research
Bragato Research Institute have been contracted to transform the New Zealand grape and wine industry through research, innovation and extension. Below is the public statement from our contract with Bragato Research Institute.
Read the public statement
Research at Bragato Research Institute will explore every part of the value chain – from vineyard to bottle and from marketing to distribution – to achieve outcomes that are in the best interests of “New Zealand Wine Inc.”
With industry collaboration, Bragato Research Institute has identified issues that are highly technical in nature, require in-depth scientific analysis, and long-term research strategies, including:
- Increasing scale
- Vineyard sustainability and longevityImpacts from pests, diseases and a changing climate
- Changing consumer preferences
- Distribution networks.
Bragato Research Institute will work with a range of local and international research organisations, including commercial providers and established international bodies such as the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI). It will have a project-based focus, and will use a mix of employed and seconded personnel specific to each work plan.
Funding for Bragato Research Institute will come from a mix of public and private sources:
- Establishment support from MBIE
- Contestable research grants
- Commercial income for research services provided
- Direct and indirect contributions from commercial winegrowers
- Ongoing support from the Marlborough District Council.
The vision is that all relevant grape and wine research will be driven through Bragato Research Institute, which will also serve as the repository for industry knowledge developed from the research.
In addition to driving industry growth, Bragato Research Institute presents opportunities for the Marlborough region and New Zealand as a whole, through increased investment in viticultural and wine science and the associated educational and economic benefits.
Recipients of RRI funding are required to report yearly on the progress of their work programme. Below is the public update from Bragato Research Institute's annual report.
Read the public update from the 2020/21 annual report
As New Zealand Winegrowers’ research arm, Bragato Research Institute’s (BRI) vision is to transform the New Zealand grape and wine industry through research, innovation and extension. BRI focusses its research on the short- and long-term priority areas identified by our members, and then drives industry uptake of research outcomes.
In its initial three years of operation BRI has established strong governance and management, put in place effective systems and infrastructure, and attracted top science capability. BRI’s national Research Winery in Blenheim – a facility unique in the Southern Hemisphere – opened in February 2020, providing new capability to deliver impact and science excellence.
Over the past year, BRI has worked with industry and our research partners to progress research aligned to our strategic goals, with a total of 35 grape and wine research projects underway or committed, some of which are described below.
With wine exports for the year to October 2020 topping $2 billion for the first time, finding ways to sustainably increase the scale and profitability of the industry is pressing. BRI’s research contributed to that via the Pinot Noir Programme, which seeks to break the yield/quality trade-off which is the accepted wisdom for that grape variety. This research is undertaken with the University of Auckland, Plant & Food Research, and Lincoln University. Other research sought to minimise cost and increase profitability through technology, with work to develop a Grape Yield Analyser, in conjunction with Lincoln Agritech.
Vineyard sustainability and longevity remain a key focus for BRI. The soil health programme has supported growers, as has BRI-led research into buffering the effect of herbicides in the under-vine area. Progress continues with the final year in the field of the Vineyard Ecosystems Programme, a seven-year project which compares current vineyard management with a reduced agrichemical alternative. These complex ecosystem relationships are explored with the University of Auckland and Plant & Food Research. This year also saw investigation into optimisation of irrigation, including sub-surface.
Mitigating the impact of pests and diseases is addressed via a comprehensive programme of research and extension. In 2013, research recorded grapevine trunk disease (GTD) in 80% of 20-year-old Sauvignon Blanc grapevines. Research into preventing GTD continued this year with projects on both pruning wound protection and remedial surgery, the latter undertaken with Linnaeus. Improving the outcomes of insecticides on mealybug was progressed with Plant & Food Research, as was a monitoring campaign to track Harlequin ladybird, a potential source of wine taint at harvest. BRI’s research into preventing and treating botrytis was shared with growers.
Two BRI-led projects continued our work on addressing changing climate. Frost events in North Canterbury and Hawkes Bay provided an opportunity to study use of foliar fertiliser for grapevine recovery. Similarly, hail in Nelson allowed for investigation into options for managing the effects of hail events. Research with the University of Auckland into the microbial community and vine responses to increasing temperatures in the New Zealand context continued.
Changing consumer preferences were explored in a joint research programme with Beef+Lamb NZ, researching how consumers in key export markets viewed regenerative agriculture, and what potential that might hold for NZ Wine. The 7-year Lighter Wines programme on lower alcohol products concluded this year, with a final workshop and presentation to industry.
A key rationale for establishing BRI was to grow the industry’s research capability. BRI now employs 10 scientific staff: Research Winemaker, Data Co-ordinator, Principal Research Scientist, Viticulture Extension/Research Manager, Soils/Environmental Scientist, Science Strategy Manager, two viticulture research/extension technicians (hired Nov 2020) and Cellar Manager (Oct 2020), plus a new Programme Manager (January 2021) who replaced two senior staff with responsibility for the Vineyard Ecosystems programme and the Pinot Noir programme, which are each approaching their end.
Delays in contracting our next SFFF programme (grapevine improvement) delayed recruitment of several additional science staff, but we expect this to progress before the end of 2021. This programme will also see BRI acquire, and make available to the research community, new-to-New Zealand gene sequencing technology. Negotiations for the appointment of two of our researchers to university teaching positions are underway.
BRI supervises projects for three PhD students, two at the University of Auckland and one at the University of Canterbury. BRI was also pleased to sponsor three University of Canterbury Industrial Design students with an interest in the wine sector. One of these students won first prize in the annual UC Design Awards for her weta guard.
Although applications for contestable funding from both the Ministry for Primary Industries’ SFFF (soil health) and the Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund (te Reo and terroir) were unsuccessful, BRI did secure approval from SFFF to proceed to contracting a Sauvignon Blanc Grapevine Improvement Programme. This research programme aims to introduce diversity and country-specific resilience into grapevines. Lack of diversity currently limits the industry’s ability to select traits to accommodate a changing environment, market opportunities and biosecurity threats. The programme proposes a total investment of $18.7 million over seven years.
BRI continues to benefit from annual investment of $150k by the Marlborough District Council. That funding finishes in 2021, and BRI was unsuccessful in seeking replacement funding under the MDC’s next long-term plan.
Vintage 2021 was the second year of operation for BRI’s Research Winery. The winery was busy both with its own research projects and with trials for commercial clients, proving that it catered for a previously unmet need. For vintage 2021, this meant the winery fermented 186 different wines, up from 67 in 2020. The ferments provided winemakers with cost-effectively produced trial wines made under tightly controlled conditions. Further detail on the Research Winery’s operations over vintage can be found in this Case Study(external link).
BRI missed its KPI target of 4 peer-reviewed publications authored by BRI researchers. Publisher decisions, and a delay in analysis of samples contributed, as did delay in starting the new SFFF programme. Two studies which BRI researchers co-authored were published. These were published in OenoOne, in October and November 2020 (IF 2.831). BRI has had four other papers accepted for publication.
BRI receives guidance from an External Science Panel of Prof Dr Astrid Forneck, (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna) and Dr Andrew Waterhouse (Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Research, UC Davis), who met with project managers to review progress and challenges. According to their report: “[With] research benefitting the NZ Wine producing industry as the main objective, BRI has been successfully managing, developing and completing exciting and highly diverse research projects, with highest scientific standards and realistic resources and funding.”
BRI’s Extension team added two new staff this year. The team communicates research to members, ensuring information and tools delivered by research programmes are adopted deliver benefits to industry. This has included organising workshops and webinars, creating and updating factsheets, devising financial calculators, preparing newsletters, contributing to magazines, case studies(external link), and other communication tools. The main industry research conference, Grape Days, was held in June 2021, and attracted 926 attendees over three regions.
Industry members were welcomed into the Research Winery for BRI’s first Open Day in September, introducing them to BRI’s available technology and services.
Prof Charles Eason, formerly the Chief Executive of the Cawthron Institute, joined the BRI Board on 1 July 2021, replacing founding director Peter Holley. Eason’s appointment means 3 of the 5 BRI directors now have a strong science background. In May 2021, the founding BRI CEO resigned and was replaced by Jeffrey Clarke (formerly NZW GM Advocacy & General Counsel) in an interim capacity. Clarke was subsequently confirmed as the permanent CEO from 1 July 2021.
The full-day Vision Mātauranga workshop held last year resulted in actionable initiatives that are being explored by BRI in its research partnership journey with Iwi and Māori. This included a focus on building relationships at the local level with mana whenua (initiated by the previous CEO and continued by the new CEO); and BRI and Rangitāne working together to bid into the Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund, looking at te Reo and the expression of Aotearoa New Zealand’s terroir.
A commitment to Vision Mātauranga in education was put into practice with the inaugural Puhoro STEM Academy summer intern spending three months at BRI. The intern presented her experience at Massey University and won the Vision Mātauranga prize for her graphics and poster on grapevine trunk disease. The programme’s success means BRI will be offering to renew its commitment for this coming summer.
With BRI’s establishment phase coming to an end, and almost $11.5 million of its $12.5 million establishment funding now invested, assuring BRI’s ongoing financial sustainability is the top priority for the Board and CEO.
BRI has identified three broad areas of focus to drive BRI’s financial sustainability:
- delivering and managing high quality research for the benefit of winegrowers (including securing contestable funding);
- building and retaining winegrowers’ support though engagement and extension (and securing industry investment); and
- growing and diversifying commercial revenue across the business.
In the past year, BRI launched its commercial services offerings. In addition to research winery trials, BRI now offers wine sensory services, soil consulting, and molecular genomic testing to paying commercial clients.
The Research Winery has also attracted support from the wider industry, with cash sponsorships by Hill Laboratories, Fermentis, and WineWorks, signed this year, and generous in-kind support (such as donation of grapes and lab equipment) from many others.
Industry support for BRI’s activities remains very strong. In the 2021 NZW members survey, 80% of respondents rated Research as 'important or very important'. In its FY21 budget, NZW agreed to increase its annual funding of BRI by $400,000 – a 19% increase. In addition, industry members agreed to invest over $2.1 million of their own cash and $3 million in kind into BRI’s new SFFF grapevine improvement programme.