Hundreds of different yeast strains are used in wine fermentation but we’ve really only scratched the surface in terms of understanding the possible options.
Nearly all commonly used strains are of the species Saccharomyces cerevisiae and the others only represent another three or four species. So, with around 50 wine-related species out there in the world, there is a lot more to be explored.
And interest is growing because of the potential for new yeasts both to differentiate product on the wine market and to result in different wine attributes, such as lower alcohol.
With this in mind, Wine Australia awarded a travel bursary to University of Adelaide researcher and PhD student Ana Hranilović to help her learn more about the species Lachancea thermotolerans.
Ana flew to France in late June to spend four months working with researchers at the Institut de la Science de la Vigne et du Vin (ISVV) at the University of Bordeaux, which has a comprehensive study looking at a range of non-conventional yeasts.
The collaboration was initiated by her PhD supervisor, Professor Vladimir Jiranek, who recently undertook a sabbatical at the ISVV. Ana’s work is largely supported through the Australian Research Council Training Centre for Innovative Wine Production and Wine Australia.
She has great hopes for Lachancea thermotolerans, which has shown the potential to improve wine complexity by producing all sorts of different desirable aromas and also can lower the pH in wines as it has an acidifying character.
‘This is of particular interest in the context of viticultural and oenological practices, underlined by observed and/or projected climate warming, which have led to higher pH levels and lower total acidity at the time of harvest’, she said.
Research at the ISVV has found interesting patterns emerging among a number of non-conventional yeasts.
‘One of the most interesting is the fact that some yeasts that originate from completely different geographical areas and are used in wine-related environments are genetically pretty similar’, Ana said.
‘So now our idea is to extend this research to Lachancea thermotolerans to see if there is some sort of clustering.’
Ana’s study will apply a population genetics approach to analyse the species’ variability. For this purpose, she has acquired more than 100 different yeasts from all over the world, including exotic locations such as Hawaii and the Bahamas as well as wine growing regions.
And in a nice twist to the story, Ana last year met eminent Canadian yeast ecologist Marc-André Lachance, the man after whom the genus Lachancea was named.
Wine Australia’s travel and visiting scholar bursaries are available to the Australian grape and wine community. Applications for travel between 1 January and 30 June 2017 close on Friday 7 October 2016.