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Grape Expectations Vice President Research, Office of the Nov 30, 2008

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16 fall / Winter 2008 fall / Winter 2008 17 with specific compositional traits that respond to nitrogen fertilization and affect berry ripening and berry flavour. “The challenge, as with any agricultural crop, is you learn that if you do X, you’ll get result Y. But if you do X again next year and you get a different result, then you’re at a loss to understand how that happened,” says Lund. “The beauty of what genomics can do is look inside the grape at the molecular level and see how the expression of genes in grapevine is being changed by what growers are doing under a given set of environmental conditions.” In order to more effectively study changes at the molecular level, Lund and his team are focusing on developing devices modeled after the biomedical field that monitor the biomarkers, or characteristics that are measured and evaluated as indicators of biological or pathogenic states, in grape vegetative and fruit tissues. Lund explains: “Technology that facilitates early detection should help us to predict what outcome you can expect in grape composition and if there is any way you can better fine tune the degree and timing to which you’re applying any treatment along the season.” Because most metabolites in grapes are altered by wine yeasts resulting in different compounds in finished wines, insight into yeast metabolism is a very important part of the equation when developing techniques to improve wine quality, which is where van Vuuren’s research on yeast fermentation comes in. van Vuuren and his team are employing sophisticated approaches to understand the response of yeast strains to stressful wine fermentations and the effects of manipulating fermentation conditions on the production of wine aroma and flavour. One particular aspect of van Vuuren’s research involves tackling a common problem in wineries called stuck fermentations. Stuck fermentations occur when fermentation has stopped before the fermentable sugars in grape must have been converted by yeast into alcohol, often resulting in spoiled wine. While wineries around the world add nitrogen at different stages of the fermentation process to prevent this, van Vuuren and his team have been working to uncover when is the best time to add diammonium phosphate based on the chemical composition of the grape must. “If you add a good nitrogen source at the beginning of fermentation, it will switch off a large number of genes in yeast cells, many of which currently have no function and lead to the production of less-complex wines. We believe the work that we’re doing will lead to annotation of many of these genes,” says van Vuuren. The research produced through the WineGen Project will be invaluable to the booming Canadian wine industry, which has grown exponentially in recent years particularly in the Okanagan. Currently, the Thompson-Okanagan region accounts for approximately 80 per cent of all B.C. wine production and the Okanagan wine industry generates over $220 million in revenue per year. Funded by Genome BC, WineGen is a $5-million multinational project led by Drs. Hennie van Vuuren and Steven Lund of UBC’s Wine Research Centre, Dr. Richard Gardner of the University of Auckland, Dr. Chris Winefield of Lincoln University and Dr. Michael Trought of the Marlborough Wine Research Centre in New Zealand. Deep within the heart of the Okanagan Valley lies one of Canada’s foremost winemaking regions – and for good reason. An arid climate coupled with a relentless summer heat that scorches grapes to ripened perfection serve as the ideal backdrop for an abundance of winemakers, like Jeff Del Nin and staff at Burrowing Owl, who are eager to reap the agricultural benefits generated within this desert-like environment. Here, Burrowing Owl’s meticulous winemaking efforts, from the careful selection of harvest-ready grapes to the vigilant monitoring of the fermentation process, yield wines that are world-renowned for their robust flavour profiles. Yet despite an exact process that is fastidiously emulated year after year to ensure the highest quality, Del Nin has quickly learned that not all wines can be created equal and, in fact, are heavily influenced by external conditions beyond a winery’s control. “The quality of red wine is directly proportional to the amount of heat that you get during the growing season. Two of our warmest years on record, 2003 and 2006, produced superbly high-quality wines. In 2004, we had a lot of rain during the harvest so we achieved very different flavour profiles that, while still award- winning, put a damper on quality,” says Del Nin. “The question for wineries is how to consistently achieve superior wine quality despite these variable external conditions.” As Del Nin can attest, the process of achieving superior wine quality is complex and depends on multiple intricate interactions that when modified, can have a dramatic impact from year to year. In an effort to help wineries achieve consistently high-quality wines, UBC Vancouver researchers Dr. Hennie van Vuuren, Dr. Steven Lund, Dr. Jörg Bohlmann and Dr. Vivien Measday have made improving the understanding of these interactions their mission through a Genome BC-sponsored project entitled WineGen. The idea for WineGen began to germinate as a result of the Genome Canada-sponsored GrapeGen, a project aimed at exploring the genetic and environmental determinants that underlie berry quality in the most economically important fruit species worldwide, grapevine. While the project made progress in identifying genomic components that may affect grape cultivation, GrapeGen project leader Lund quickly realized that a crucial component needed to be addressed if the research was going to influence wine production on a more comprehensive scale. Consequently, WineGen is specifically designed to not only build on the grape genomic research uncovered through GrapeGen but also address yeast fermentation, or the critical period that converts the grape’s sugars into alcohol and flavour compounds. The result is a multi-faceted, international project that takes a two-pronged approach to developing techniques that optimize wine quality: changes at the molecular and biochemical level that affect grapevine biology (viticulture) as well as how wine yeasts can improve winemaking processes and wine quality (enology). For Lund, understanding plant physiology at the molecular level and how it affects the development of the berry is critical to ensuring the finest grape quality. Using the Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer varieties in Canada and Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand, Lund and his team are using genomics to investigate grape genes associated deciphering grape genoMics and the yeast ferMentation process is giving hennie van vuuren and steven Lund cLues on hoW to heLp Wineries iMprove Wine quaLity GRAPE EXPECTATionS “ the question for wineries is how to consistently achieve superior wine quality despite variable external conditions.” Above > Hennie van Vuuren Right > Kaldor


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