Wild bugs drive wine partnership

Tuesday, 03 December, 2013

Sniffing out how microorganisms define the regional characteristics of wine will form the basis of a new partnership between the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) and the University of New South Wales’s Ramaciotti Centre for Genomics.

Grapes are transformed into wine by an ecosystem of yeasts and bacteria, whose composition has a huge impact on the quality of the final product. In many cases these microbes are ‘wild’, coming from the local environment and appearing naturally in the fermentation once the grapes are crushed.

The appearance and behaviour of these microorgranisms can be erratic - they are present at different times and amounts depending on the location and conditions of the vineyards. And their overall role in defining regional character of wine largely remains a mystery.

To uncover some of this mystery, metagenomics will be applied to analyse wild wine ferments from around Australia, allowing the identity of all the yeast and bacteria present in the fermentations to be mapped using their unique genomic signatures.

Dr Dan Johnson, managing director of the AWRI, said, “The important positive impacts of yeast and bacteria on wine flavour are well known, but until now, the tools to characterise entire regional populations have simply not existed.”

Knowledge gained from this work will allow winemakers to take full advantage of local wild yeast and bacteria. It will also enable new yeast and bacteria strains to be developed, drawing on existing regional diversity and the AWRI microbial germplasm collection assembled over the past 50 years.

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