This Winery's Sorting Robot Only Has Eyes for the Tastiest Grapes

Bad grapes only lead to sour wine, and wineries know they must be discarded before they ruin the batch. Yet, even in Northern California's multi-million dollar wine industry, separating good grapes from bad is still done by hand. That's why one local winery now employs a single machine capable of doing the sorting work of a dozen people.

The device is known as the Delta Rflow high flow rate sorting table, and it was built by Bucher Vaslin. It measures about ten feet long and utilizes high speed photography to quickly cull two tons of freshly-picked grapes in just 12 minutes. "Most wineries can sort about two tons an hour, using 15 human sorters," Steve Leveque, head winemaker at Napa Valley's Hall Winery, where the machine resides, told Modern Farmer.

The system works by building a composite "ideal grape"—generated from the images of 200 hand picked "perfect" grapes fed into the machine each morning—against all the grapes that follow. Loose grapes are then fed en mass into the sorter where a high-speed camera captures 10,000 images per second, which are then analyzed and compared against the ideal. If the grape is within acceptable appearance limits, it continues down the line. If not, it's blasted into the reject pile by a puff of air. [Bucher Vaslin via Modern Farmer]

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This may function for grapes that will come off the stem as whole berries. They have been doing this with blueberries for years now. However, many wine grapes will not come off the stem as whole berries. Not, at least, in commercial quantities. The riper and more full of sugar they are, the more fragile they are.

I also question the machine's ability to separate ripe from unripe, given that the blueberry sorters do a really crappy job of it. All the berries do come out pretty though. And that is what the supermarkets want. Wine makers? Perhaps not so much. I also wonder if the vintner, testing the juice from the grapes sorted from this machine, will notice a decrease or increase in juice quality?

Then you come to the marketing question. How do you spin this when it comes to up-charging for the wines you make with it? You ARE going to have to up-charge. These machines are typically VERY expensive.