Marama Labs founders (left to right): Professor Eric Le Ru, CEO Dr Brendan Darby and CTO Dr Matthias Meyer

Wellington-based deep-tech start-up, Marama Labs, is on a mission to help winemakers create next level vino – and it’s all thanks to the power of data.

The company has developed a chemical analysis tool called the Cloudspec that enables its customers to access in-depth information about their wine at the start of its process which, when combined with its cloud-based data-analytics platform, helps winemakers control and optimise production processes, cut costs, and create products that consumers really want.

Although Marama Labs has initially focussed on the wine industry, the spectroscopy technology has applications in a range of other industries as well, such as beverages like beer, water testing, and pharmaceuticals.

“When you think about wine, it’s really all about what the product turns out like because that’s ultimately what the customer is going to see, and what they are going to, hopefully, enjoy,” Marama Labs co-founder and CEO, Brendan Darby, says.

“The winemaking process is quite long, starting with the grapes coming from the vineyard, and it can be 6 – 12 months until the final product reaches the bottle.”

The process can also be challenging and includes many variables in terms of vintage and whether it’s been a good year, says Darby, which is why this equipment is making waves.

“There are lot of decisions in the winemaking process, and we help in controlling some of the key parameters around the colour and the mouthfeel of the product,” he says.

“For example, in the really early stages of winemaking, winemakers can analyse their samples which might not actually be wine yet – it might be raw grapes or juice. The sample is analysed using the Cloudspec, and chemical data is generated indicating the colour and the mouthfeel or potential mouthfeel of the sample. This allows the winery to understand how the wine might evolve and informs what kinds of decisions they might make to reach a targeted style at the end.”

Darby says up until now this level of analyses has been difficult because the technology available to analyse wine in its early stages is cumbersome and expensive, but it is in the early stages when winemaking decisions are crucial for determining end quality.

“Typically measuring colour and mouthfeel happens towards the very end of the process, right before the wine is being bottled, but often there’s very little that can be done at that stage. We place our hardware much earlier in the production scheme so it can measure the variables then and wineries can act on the numbers that come out.”

The Cloudspec also links these chemical parameters of colour and mouthfeel to consumer preferences which is also valuable data for the winemaker.

The company recently secured $1.25m in new funding in a round co-led by US-based venture capital firm Quidnet Ventures and New Zealand Growth Capital Partners (NZGCP), with support from several New Zealand investors.

Investment director of NZGCP, Marcus Henderson, says they immediately saw the potential for Marama Labs’ technology platform.

“Leading the investment round in Marama Labs is a natural step for Quidnet Ventures. Given my background in experimental physics and the wine industry, I see Marama Labs revolutionising the way winemakers characterise their wine and target the desires of their customers,” says founder and general partner of Quidnet Ventures, Mark Bregman.

“Brendan and the team’s vision to transform process control in liquid production systems is both brave and refreshing,” he says.

“Many wine companies rely on the inertia of consumer demand and very traditional prestige brand positioning. Marama Labs is right on the frontier of the changing models being driven by technology adoption in this market, both on the production and consumer sides, and is fast-tracking the winemaking experience into the digital era. I am excited to be supporting their growth.”

The funds will be used to expand the team, grow its customer base, and further develop the Marama Labs proprietary hardware and software platform. The investment will allow Marama Labs to continue to expand its reach to international customers and markets in the US and Europe.

Darby says he and his team are looking forward to seeing their technology utilised by wineries around the world to help their businesses grow.

“It’s becoming a challenging world with COVID-19 and selling online, but wine is something that is quite a pleasurable product, and we think our platform can help wineries continue to give people that enjoyment.

“We want to bring our Kiwi science to the world.”