Helping our wine industry modulate flavour and alcohol levels in the face of climate and market change
Ironically for a product synonymous with relaxation and refinement, wine has always required considerable sweat and tears to produce. Both in the vineyard and the winery, the hours are long and the work hard; and no matter how diligently producers apply themselves they remain at the mercy of two notoriously fickle masters – climate and consumer taste.
What’s long been needed is a scientific, evidence-based approach with which to nimbly navigate this shifting ground and provide greater likelihood of return on the many months of toil.
Today, through the University of Adelaide’s ARC Training Centre for Innovative Wine Production (TC-IWP), that goal is on the brink of being achieved, which promises to deliver a significant international advantage for our local wine industry.
“Australian wine producers are facing major challenges through climate change, water restrictions, changing consumer preferences and rising wine alcohol content,” said TC-IWP Director Professor Vladimir Jiranek.
“So our number one objective is to give them the ability to confidently adapt their methods as conditions change, and reliably produce specific flavour profiles and alcohol contents for specific markets.
“Having this year completed our first vintage, we’re well on our way.”
Funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) with additional financial support from the Australian Grape and Wine Authority, the centre’s researchers have made over 100 wines of various varieties, using grapes sourced from a number of South Australian and New South Wales vineyards. Each has been made using a different combination of flavour and alcohol modulation techniques, to provide detailed evidence of their effects relative to conditions.
“We’ve used different picking times, yeast strains, fermentation, filtration methods, winemaking supplements, and so on,” said Professor Jiranek.
“Final alcohol contents range from 8 to 18 per cent, and we’re now conducting comprehensive chemical analyses. That will be followed by detailed sensory evaluations and wine consumer trials.”
According to Professor Jiranek, the ability to create lower-alcohol wines without compromising flavour quality is becoming critical for Australian producers, as it is for producers elsewhere in the world.
“Alcohol content in local wines has been creeping up over the past few years. The average for reds is now around 14 per cent, with some extremes exceeding 17. Research has shown, however, that there’s strong consumer interest in low-alcohol wines for health reasons, both at home and abroad, but mainly as consumers try to manage alcohol consumption responsibly around work and driving. There are also greater tax and duty impositions on wine of higher alcohol content when imported in key markets overseas.”
“Ultimately our research will provide our industry with an integrated strategy to meet this challenge, and anything else that comes their way, with absolute confidence.”
Established in 2013, the TC-IWP is staffed by 14 postgraduate students and four postdoctoral fellows working across a total of 13 research projects. The centre is also supported by Charles Sturt University, the Australian Wine Research Institute, CSIRO, SA Research and Development Institute, BioInnovation SA, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Treasury Wine Estates, Laffort Oenologie Australia, Lowe Wines, Memstar, Tarac Technologies and Sainsbury’s Supermarkets.