Will Optical Sorting Machines matter for the Bordeaux harvest?


The 2010 Bordeaux harvest is about to start. Some white wine grapes in the Graves, Pessac Leognan appellation are already being picked.  At this stage of the game, it’s still too early to call the game. But the comment most growers are making is, (especially in Pomerol), they need some rain at this point. Monday September 6 saw almost 2.3 inches of rain in Margaux overnight.

Is it too little, too late? Or is just enough at the right time? While precipitation is taking place, more rain is probably needed. The current prognostication shows a 30% chance of light rain this week.

2009 saw the debut of the Optical Sorting Machine. Will it become even more prevalent in with the 2010 harvest?

Gerard Perse, who owns a myriad of Bordeaux properties, most notably Chateau Pavie, helped develop the optical sorting machine over a 4 year period. The machine uses image analysis allowing unwanted elements to be removed. Thus operators can set the machine to remove foreign objects, vegetation, or unripe berries by size or color. The fruit moves along a conveyor belt with a blue background while a camera takes continuous pictures, analyzing the grapes. An ejection mechanism removes unwanted objects using high frequency, pneumatic nozzles.


The optical sorting machine is a welcome advance to many growers. But not every wine maker agrees. For example, Chateau Margaux prefers conducting most of their sorting in the vineyards. The argument against that practice is, with manual sorting, which takes longer than the optical sorting machine, growers run the risk of developing rot in the vineyards while waiting for full phenolic ripeness. That might not be the sole risk.

Manual destemming might have additional side effects which releases enzymes contained in the rot that could potentially lead to unclean fermentations and a potential loss of color. To combat this enzyme infection, mechanical destemmers, along with optical sorters, have been created to help with the process. The devices work in tandem. Because of the newness of the machines, their expense, and their limited availability, they are being used primarily in Pomerol and St. Emilion. But they are also being tested in the Medoc at Mouton and Leoville Las Cases.

Will Optical Sorting Machines see more use in 2010? Yes. With 2009, many properties did not require extensive sorting, due to the levels of ripeness achieved with their fruit. But with 2010, that is not the case.  Selection will play a bigger in the production of 2010 Bordeaux wine.

It’s said that the next technical innovation could be the use of ultrasound, which might have the ability to sort fruit by color, size, and sugar content. These advances in harvesting, along with continued better understanding of the vineyards and of individual terroirs, are part of the reason for the continuing progress in wine making today.


  1. Hi Corinne… Thank you for dropping in and sharing details on the optical sorter.

    Eric… You got your answer from one of the top chateau in Margaux on the cost for the Optical Sorter.

  2. Eric… The machines are an amazing technology to watch in action. They are very expensive. I think they are over $200,000 at the current exchange rate. For owners with multiple chateaux, this is cost effective as it reduces the labor force cost. Else, if enough machines are available, wineries can rent them, which seems like a good way to go.

    • Chateau Brane Cantenac (Second Growth in Margaux) just installed a Vistalys Bucher optical sorting machine which will go into action for its first dress rehearsal tomorrow. It cost about 150 000 euros. Nonetheless the total cost of the installation is roughly about 400 000 euros if you include the conveyors , the new smaller trucks to bring in the harvest on pneumatic suspension and all the new things which had to be built in the cellar to accomodate the new machine… so it is an expensive proposition but definitely well worth it cause no human hand nor eye is able to do the job at that speed and so thoroughly. We’ll have a film of it on our blog very shortly at http://www.brane-cantenac.com.
      See you there!

      • The film is now posted on our blog for you guys to see how it works and how quickly it goes. A brand new film is about to be made tomorrow by Bucher (the manufacturer) at Brane to upgrade and update their old one…So stay tuned for more action on our blog too…

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