Yeast is the unsung hero of the winemaking process, diligently transforming the sugars in grapes into the alcohol that graces our social functions.
But how yeast creates a wine’s flavour, colour and aroma depends heavily on biochemical conditions during fermentation.
Too hot, and the wine takes on a “cooked” flavour. Too cold, and the fermentation process can stall. Yeasts have their ‘just right’ fermentation conditions — what one wine columnist calls the “Goldilocks sweet spot” — that bring out the best in a wine’s flavour, colour and aroma.
Scientists at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) will be able to determine ideal fermentation conditions for a range of wine styles and varieties thanks to a new $482,000 state-of-the-art facility.
With support from the Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science, CCOVI is purchasing 30 individually controlled stainless steel tanks along with a computerized glycol heating and cooling system that controls the temperature of the fermentation process occurring within each individual tank.
This is done through a ‘jacket’ that wraps around every custom built 50-litre tank. A glycol solution pumped into the jacket can cool the tank to a low of -10°C or up to a high of 40°C.
“The ability to manipulate fermentations on an individual basis allows us to simultaneously research the impact that different conditions have on the quality of a certain wine style or variety for effective, immediate industry uptake,” says CCOVI Director Debbie Inglis.
The tanks and the heating and cooling system are among an impressive list of CCOVI equipment being funded by a $960,000 research infrastructure grant from Ontario’s Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science, announced Monday, Jan. 8 by Minister of Research, Innovation and Science, Reza Moridi.
This money adds onto a $960,000 Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) grant awarded towards the end of last year.
The two grants, plus contributions from industry, amount to a $2.4-million project that expands and enhances CCOVI’s fermentation, wine flavour and consumer behaviour facilities.
A major feature of CCOVI’s $2.4-million project is the $1-million augmented reality, virtual reality and sensory reality consumer laboratory, to be known as R3CL.
Cutting-edge technology in the world’s first mediated-reality wine laboratory will create a variety of environments in which people purchase and consume wines.
These environments could include wineries, liquor stores or even dining rooms. Interwoven with the scenes will be music, smells and other sensory information.
Researchers will study how a range of factors impact the research participants’ choice and impression of wine by varying the environment using virtual or augmented reality.
Other cutting-edge technologies include liquid chromatography and gas chromatography mass spectrometry systems, which will help researchers evaluate tannins, pigments and other flavour compounds in wine production.
This equipment will also help researchers monitor changes to wine quality because of the impacts of climate change. For example, researchers can study bio-chemicals within the vine that contribute to the cold hardiness of vines and can choose the right clone and rootstock combination for vine performance and wine quality tailored to our future climate.
The enhanced chemical analysis from the new equipment will support CCOVI’s TanninAlert program. It tracks tannin levels — which impact bitterness and astringency in wine — and provides Ontario grape growers and winemakers with information on the ripeness of these flavours to help consistently create rich and robust Ontario red wines.
Ontario is Canada’s largest wine grape producing province. In 2015, Ontario’s $4.4-billion grape and wine industry created more than 18,000 jobs and contributed business revenue of $2.97 billion to the province’s economy.
Canada’s $9-billion wine industry is also a significant driver to the country’s economy.
CCOVI, an internationally recognized research institute on cool climate viticulture, oenology, wine business and wine culture, offers an array of research and outreach services to support the Canadian grape and wine industry.
An economic impact study last year found CCOVI contributed more than $91 million and the equivalent of 307 jobs to Ontario’s economy in 2014-15.