Ben Harris of Treasury Wine Estates - ASVO Viticulturist of the Year 2021

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As an avid surfer, weather was always top of mind for Ben Harris.

So it seemed only natural to combine his interest in weather with a career in viticulture, where weather is an integral part of decision making.

“When you surf, you become a bit of a weather geek,” the newly named ASVO Viticulturist of the Year said. “As a teenager I was constantly checking the weather forecast and exploring ways to improve my weather knowledge – because it meant the difference between an average surf and a great surf.”

Ben says weather conversions between surfers and viticulturists are strangely similar: “Both groups have a strong base knowledge of the subject, are constantly checking weather apps and enjoy discussing the weather and climate in detail!”

Born and raised in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia, Ben was a sporty kid who loved hanging around his friend’s farms and all things agricultural. During the school holidays he worked as a farm hand and when the weather permitted, he headed to the coast.

He chose viticulture because it was a good fit with his passions of agriculture, weather and climate. The fact that many of Australia’s greatest wine regions are located within close proximity to good surf sealed the deal for him.

“I was accepted into a Bachelor of Agricultural Science (Viticultural Science) at the University of Adelaide but decided to defer for a year. I worked as a farm hand and at the Petaluma winery, where I worked general cellar operations involving early stages of sparkling wine production, as well as bottling.”

The wine sector was booming in the mid 90s and Ben was becoming more entrenched and interested in  wine, so he returned to university to complete his degree.

Over the next few years, Ben worked across New Zealand, Bordeaux and Australia in technical and management roles. Today, he is the viticulture manager at Wynns Coonawarra Estate.

The ASVO judge’s noted Ben’s passion and work in bridging the gap between R&D and the practical application of the latest knowledge and technology.

“There is an amazing amount of great research and technology that could benefit the wine sector, but the majority is never taken up by the industry,” he said.

“There is risk involved, it takes time, trial and error and can take longer than planned – and cost more than planned – but the rewards are there for the brave and determined.”

Ben has been at the forefront of leveraging R&D at Wynns, including applying new learnings from rootstock and clonal trials in new vineyard developments, using data analytics to improve yield forecasting, using new technology and data to monitor vine stress; and applying extended weather forecasts and modelling to improve irrigation scheduling and canopy/crop manipulation.

One of Ben’s key innovations occurred in 2018, in partnership with The Yield and other organisations in which historical data, along with climatic data was leveraged to improve yield estimation and vineyard management decisions across company vineyards.

“My aim always is to take key learnings and knowledge from the past and continue to improve and adapt to a changing climate through the practical application of R&D and new technology,” he said.

Original article published in Wine Australia.

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