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New take on age old industry

Lifestyle Section - Wine


florian-m Understanding and embracing heterogeneity in the vineyard and the cellar can lead to improvements in wine quality and sustainability in the industry, according to Professor Florian Bauer, of the Institute for Wine Biotechnology at the University of Stellenbosch.

Professor Bauer was delivering the keynote address at the American Association of Wine Economics' 17th International Conference at the Spier Conference Centre.

Acknowledging that what constitutes quality in wine is the subject of debate, he said research currently underway will result in tools and methodologies in the vineyard and cellar that will allow winemakers to have a better understanding and control of the winemaking process.

He cited the example of determining how individual berries on a grape bunch respond genetically to viticultural treatment in the vineyard, and the resultant impact on a host of compounds which contribute to the characteristics of wine made from those grapes.

"We can directly measure the impact of treatment in the vineyard (using genetic analysis), and this is a potential game changer in the wine industry," he said.

He likened this approach to what is termed "personal medicine" whereby a treatment regime is constructed for an individual's specific genetic profile, noting that the same approach is possible in a vineyard.

"It's about seeking more scientific sustainability," he said. "We need more bio and less tech."

A further example is the multiplicity of yeast strains that occur in a vineyard and cellar. "Imagine if we could develop a treatment that imitates the spontaneous ferment which occurs in a biodynamic winery, but fully controlled? that would be another game changer," he said.

Speaking to Bolander after his formal presentation, Professor Bauer said: "As scientists, we are not promoting a particular direction. I'm perfectly happy with winemakers going by gut feel and being successful. We propose tools that people can adopt or not and with those tools the idea is indeed to enable people to be better prepared."

"Currently we see heterogeneity and we know it's different but we actually don't know what it means in terms of wine quality. We can focus holistically on many different metabolates which we know are important and we can evaluate where in the vineyard the grapes are at the right stage independently of the usual a lot of parameters that winemakers today use, which we know are not that accurate, and they don't give you a real idea of the quality of the graves. We're basically trying to improve on what winemakers are currently doing by giving them tools which will allow them to accurately see what type of grapes they have and when to harvest them more precisely, so they can better achieve what they want to in terms of wine style and quality."

"It's important to remember that in the process we really gain an understanding of the grapevine as a plant, which allows us to better use the natural features of grapevine to our advantage to get the type of result that we would like to get."

Professor Bauer stressed that although these new tools might be considered game changers, the improvements will occur iteratively, not all at once. "There are tools now that will probably become available pretty soon but also there will be incremental improvements, not big game changers that would completely revolutionise winemaking. Nobody needs to worry about suddenly being scenarios to worry about being in a completely novel setting.," he concluded.

Professor Florian Bauer was recently awarded a South African Research Chair Initiative boosting integrated wine science research endeavours at the Institute for Wine Biotechnology (IWBT) at Stellenbosch University.

The work of the chair is done in collaboration with the existing research team at the IWBT and the SU Department of Viticulture and Oenology (DVO).

Aside from his focus on developing novel approaches to wine science, another priority is the recruitment of postgraduate students from fields such as microbiology, biochemistry and genetics who do not necessarily hail from wine producing regions of South Africa.

"This needs to be done to help diversify human resources and skills development within the wine industry," emphasises Professor Bauer, who has had more than 30 honours students, 19 PhD students and 17 MSc students graduate under his supervision.

The yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, one of the most important fermenting agents, is being studied with the help of the latest molecular, cellular and data analytical tools. Not only is it an important ingredient in wine making, brewing and baking, but this yeast is also a well-established scientific model organism often used by evolutionary, cellular and molecular biologists.

"Investment in fundamental research is absolute essential if you want to keep innovation flowing, and want to make novel applications possible," he believes. "Hopefully our work will provide South Africa's fermentation-based industries with new technologies and help them to be globally competitive," he adds.

Some of his MSc and PhD students will also be part of an on-going programme to analyse and identify microbial biodiversity in the vineyard and the cellar.

Professor Bauer, who hails from Germany, joined Stellenbosch University's Department of Microbiology in 1993 after completing his PhD degree at the University of Bordeaux. He holds two patents, one of which is for a technique to help prevent protein haze in wine.He has developed several wine yeast strains that are being sold globally.

Written by Beatrice Wiltshire You are reading New take on age old industry articles

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