A technique for "on the spot" determination of red grape quality by measuring colour has been unveiled in Australia.The "world first" technique, using established Near InfraRed Spectroscopy (NIRS) technology, has been developed by the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) and BRL Hardy, at the company's Berri Estates winery in South Australia's Riverland.It is now being evaluated by industry research organisations and wine companies to test its commercial viability.BRL Hardy has successfully used the technique on crushed, frozen samples of red grapes but there are hopes that it will be developed so that it can be applied, via portable spectrophotometers, to whole fruit and white grapes in vineyards.BRL Hardy's technical services manager, Dr Bob Damsberg, said today that the breakthrough lay in the capacity of the technique, via its software, to measure grape colour quickly and to relate it to quality.Existing colour testing methods were labour intensive, less precise and could take up to six hours, severely limiting commercial application."The NIRS technique will provide a rapid assay of our crushed fruit which will allow various parcels of grapes to be more accurately graded and streamed for our different red wine products," he said.Growers should also benefit because the prices they received would reflect the quality of their fruit.The project is being conducted through the Co-operative Research Centre for Viticulture with the AWRI as manager.Current evaluation, the AWRI's Mark Gishen said today, was aimed at developing the software so that it was cheap enough for commercial application and so that it could be used on different hardware.NIRS works by measuring the amount of light reflected back to the spectrophotometer by the fruit: the amount of light absorbed by the fruit indicates its chemical composition, pointing to its quality.Chris Snow