Oenologists suggest wild yeast could improve the quality of wine from warmer climates

Making wine involves a lot of science. So much so that a lot of universities are involved in researching wine production in efforts to make wine better. However, scientists sometimes have to push against an established tradition. For example, for a long time wine makers were discouraged to use wild yeasts during the production process, but now scientists from the University of Adelaide that they may actually help making a better wine.

The goal is to choose yeast that would consume all the sugar and not make wine too rich in alcohol. Image credit: Cjp24 via Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 4.0)

This wild yeast naturally occur on wine grapes. It is called Lachancea thermotolerans and is quite similar to the ones actually used in wine production. However, up until today wine makers were advised against using it. Scientists say that they may actually improve the quality of wine made in warm climates. In fact, wild yeast could help wines themselves that are growing in plantations in warmer climate countries. But what is the problem with warmer climate? Isn’t wine making a business of the South?

Well, it is, but intentional over-ripening of grapes, as well as rising global temperatures results in higher sugar concentration in grapes used to make wine. During fermentation process this sugar results in a higher concentration of alcohol. Highly alcoholic wines are not really desired as the flavour profile might be off or more difficult to gauge. Furthermore, higher alcohol contents mean higher taxes – wine costs more for the customer despite not being very good. There are ways to combat this issue, such as boosting acidity to provide some freshness to the wine, but that further increases the production costs. The best solution would be different yeast, which is already available – it is wild yeast, which up until now has been supressed because it can cause different off-flavours.

This new study showed that Lachancea thermotolerans yeast has beneficial effects in wine production. Dr Ana Hranilovic, author of the study, said: “The yeast Lachancea thermotolerans produces high levels of acidity in the form of lactic or ‘good’ acid. This type of acid improves the wine by giving it a soft, mellow taste. But Lachancea thermotolerans, and other similar yeasts, cannot be used on their own as they are not capable of consuming all the grape sugars. They must be used in conjunction with the typical wine yeasts”. And so scientists now are going to find the optimal blend of yeast that would yield the best quality wine.

Wine making is art, but it is also a science. Oenologists are trying to tune the process in order to prepare for what the climate change is going to bring. It seems like wild yeast may be an overlooked opportunity, which should be taken advantage of in the near future.


Source: University of Adelaide


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