18/12/2020

Technology and tradition are joining forces to protect one of South Australia’s most prestigious industries.

South Australia has established a global reputation for producing some of the world’s most respected fine wines. It’s a reputation the state’s premium winegrowers are deservedly proud of – but one that is under threat.

Counterfeit wine is big business. In China alone, it is estimated that more than 40 per cent of all wine sold is fake, with fraudsters swapping out labels for those of premium producers. Experts estimate that, by 2022, this scam will cost the global wine industry more than $4 trillion.

It’s also happening here in Australia. Late last year, 600 tonnes of Langhorne Creek shiraz was taken to the Barossa Valley on a series of trucks and passed off as Barossa shiraz, netting the fraudsters a $600,000 profit; while shiraz from the Riverland was also passed off as Barossa shiraz.

These practices have a lasting impact.

“It affects the reputation of local winemakers and Australian winemakers, and the Barossa Valley as a brand,” says EnTrust co-founder David Travers.

“If you’re having a special event and are buying a really nice bottle and it’s not that wine, then everyone gets ripped off and the consumer loses trust in the product.”

As a fifth-generation farmer in the Clare Valley, Travers understands the importance of preventing fraud and protecting South Australia’s reputation. His family owns a number of vineyards in Clare and has been selling grapes to wine companies including Kilikanoon, Treasury, Penfolds, Hardys and Sevenhill Cellars for 160 years.

Together with Jeff Grosset, owner and founder of Grosset Wines in the Clare Valley who was instrumental in introducing the screw cap to the wine industry more than 20 years ago, Travers in 2019 launched a three-month trial of an innovative technological solution to wine fraud.

Backed by $50,000 in prize money as winners of the Premier’s Blockchain Innovation Challenge in Adelaide in March last year, the trial involved embedding supply chain information in the wine bottle’s screw cap which tracks the product every step of the way from vine to bottle to confirm its authenticity.

“We ran the trial from February to April this year and had about 15 companies participating,” Travers says.

“We built a small app which allowed wineries to use a smartphone and online platform to follow their produce. We collected about 250,000 litres of wine in various parts of the data set so it gave us the chance to do some analysis.”

The trial proved a success, catching the attention of the dairy and beef industry. Since then, the technology has developed apace.

“We started out trying to stop fraud and that is still very much part of our focus – but, under the hood, the engine room of this is about empowering farmers to take control,” Travers says.

That engine room is a new system called Entrust, which the Premier launched in September. The beta technology, which is currently out for testing in the market, features a hashgraph embedded in the lid which timestamps location – helping eliminate not just fraud but also the endless paperwork involved in farming.

“Most farmers keep their records in a notepad in the ute glovebox, written on the whiteboard or at the back of the filing cabinet – it’s just a mess,” Travers says.

“We‘re working with a hashgraph which is immutable. So if I’m in the vineyard and sending my fruit to Kilikanoon, it records the location I’m in and the time I send it and stores all the information I need in the cloud.”

It’s game-changing technology which can revolutionise the wine industry in South Australia – the only challenge is convincing the old guard to change their ways. “The area of agriculture, especially wine, is so slow to adopt new technology,” Travers says.

“My 83-year-old dad has an old Elders’ notepad which is infamous in the farming community. If you explain this is just like that notepad – you just put it all in there and it’s there for you – you can help them to overcome the fear of something they don’t understand. It’s a little barrier they have to get over but once they see how simple it is … ”

While the wine industry mulls it over, the dairy and meat industries have jumped on board. “We’re hoping to do an alpha trial with 15 dairy producers, which is the whole of the dairy industry in South Australia,” Travers says.

“They’re keen to be the first in Australia to do it, so we’re hoping we can get that deal up and running before Christmas as well.”

The versatility of the technology in its adaptability to all areas of farming makes it a significant timesaver for busy farmers.

“In Clare and other parts of Australia, if you’re a farmer you don’t have one commodity – you might have two or three or five,” Travers says.

“If you’re growing grapes in Clare, you’ve probably got hay and grain as well. So the idea is that eventually we’ll create a universal agriculture supply chain software trust, so as a farmer I can sell my products to the market and record everything in my smartphone.”

Travers and Grossett’s standing in the wine industry adds value to the technology.

“Jeff has been making wine for 40 years, my family has been farming for more than one-and-a-half centuries here in SA, so we understand the thinking behind it and are just adopting what we do now to this,” Travers says.

“We understand it intuitively whereas firms from outside the industry don’t have that knowledge and experience.”

This article originally appeared in Future Adelaide