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High-tech systems prove the perfect drop for wine industry

Publish Date: October 16, 2001
Author: Greg Mayfield


The red-tape that once strangled Hanging Rock Winery, north-west of Melbourne, has been overcome by high-technology computing.

The winery is a perfect example of how enterprises are now meeting the stringent Federal Government requirements for proof of variety and region in their branding.

As one new winery emerges in Australia every 94 hours, the demand for this type of computerised record-keeping is growing rapidly - and at the same time the big wineries are pouring millions of dollars into information technology and even writing their own software programs.

John Ellis, 54, is the chief executive and a main shareholder of Hanging Rock Winery. He has been involved in the wine industry all his working life.

Without hesitation he says the EzyWine computerised system that he installed two years ago is "fantastic".

Until then, the winery was struggling to meet the requirements of the government's statutory body, the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation. "As much as we tried, the diligence that we required was just strangling the winery, we were burying ourselves in paperwork," he says.

The system, which integrates the weighbridge, wine-making, buying, plant servicing and vineyard and grower payment activities, can track every litre of crushed grapes. Whereas hand-written journals were once kept, they have been replaced by keyboards and blinking cursors.

"There is hardly any need for us to have cellar diaries because that information now is all on hand," Ellis says.

He says the rules on branding had only recently evolved. "This technology makes it possible to comply. Without it, we could note."

The winery's computer system, comprising a dozen terminals, is a key element of the processing of about 1000 tonnes of grapes every year.

It keeps track of where every litre of wine is, recording the process and volume, plus monitoring the blending operation.

"It will list every container in the winery and account for it," Ellis says.

Every six months the winery hooks up its modem to download an upgraded version of the program from the supplier, Ezy Systems of Bendigo.

A director of Ezy Systems, Nick Cugura, says almost 160 wineries, including some in South Africa, New Zealand and Europe, used the system. Sales are through "word of mouth", he adds, and no marketing or sales people are on the payroll.

Customers are not charged for improvements to the software, and "we have never lost a client, which is really unheard of in the software industry", he says.

On average, clients using the system crush about 5000 tonnes of grapes a year.

At the other end of the scale, all the big wineries are thought to have invested heavily in computers in the past few years.

The wineries are seeking efficiencies, and an electronic strategy is demanded.

Southcorp is believed to have embarked on a multi-million-dollar investment in the past 12 to 18 months, introducing an SAP system in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia and Britain, while beginning a roll-out of the technology in the United States.

The Sydney-based Southcorp is Australia's biggest wine producer, making one in three bottles in Australia, and is responsible for half of the nation's wine exports, with revenues of about $1.3billion.

A Southcorp spokesman says the computer roll-out is "laying the platform for the future operations of our business".

The system covers production planning, enterprise resource planning and sales revenue.

South Australian-based BRL Hardy is, like Southcorp, one of the top 10 wine producers in the world. The company's group information technology manager, Neil Scrutton, says his own team wrote software programs for internal use.

He says the winery can track "from the finished product to the grower and a patch".

The company hasn't invested heavily in the computing field but has tried to keep pace with developments.

"Spending would be commensurate with our competitors in the wine industry and other industries in general," Scrutton says. "If the expenditure is reasonably significant, then a lot of that expenditures is going into winery-specific applications rather than off-the-shelf and inventory applications."

A spokesman for Barossa Valley-based Orlando Wyndham says the group has some information-systems projects in progress.

"They have achieved a number of things, such as improving grower services, customer services and different facets of the management of grape supply and application," the spokesman says.

The broad scope of information technology in the wine industry suggests computers have truly found a place in one of man's time-honored traditions.


Source: The Age

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