Brock graduate student recognized for sparkling wine research

As several Canadian sparkling wines received international accolades last month, Brock University researchers were also recognized for their efforts to make the popular bubbly beverage even better.

Biological Sciences PhD candidate Hannah Charnock received the Cleveland Ohio Chapter American Wine Society Educational Foundation (AWSEF) 2021 Scholarship for her research, which examines the chemical reactions that drive flavour development in sparkling wine.

“Receiving this award is a huge honour and will support me as I push forward with my research and career,” says Charnock, who is studying under Belinda Kemp and Gary Pickering, grape and wine experts at Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI).

Every year, AWSEF awards academic scholarships (valued at US$3,500 each) to full-time oenology and viticulture graduate students in support of their research.

Charnock’s thesis work is focused on a specific subset of flavour reactions, known as the Maillard reaction, that have been found to contribute desirable caramel, nutty and roasted aromas to sparkling wines. Sometimes called the ‘browning reaction,’ the Maillard reaction also occurs in cooking (when grilling steak or baking a pie, for instance).

While scientists are beginning to better understand the Maillard reaction overall, it is currently unclear as to what causes it to occur in aged sparkling wine. As such, Charnock is working to better understand the winemaking processes that contribute to the development of these compounds.

“This scholarship will help support me during this year as I carry out a series of fundamental benchtop experiments aiming to characterize the effects of individual components, including sugar type and metal ions, on the rate and pathway of the Maillard reaction under conditions similar to sparkling wine,” she adds.

The research is part of a larger project supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grant.

Kemp, who is CCOVI’s Senior Oenologist and a sparkling wine expert, says she is happy to “see the work Hannah is conducting be recognized with a scholarship that supports the North American grape and wine industry.”

Kemp also runs CCOVI’s popular Fizz Club, a national event where sparkling winemakers come together to share the latest production and research developments.

Working in Kemp’s aptly named “Bubble Lab” at Brock, Charnock has been enjoying the cross-disciplinary nature of this research.

“Utilizing my chemistry background to understand the potential impacts of winery practices on sparkling wine flavour has been fascinating, and it’s very interesting that the chemical composition of wine is influenced by these factors,” she says.

The scholarship is one of several awards that Charnock has received this year, highlighting the important role this research will have in supporting the production of high-quality sparkling wines in Canada.

“I’m very excited about Hannah’s scholarship,” says Pickering, a CCOVI Researcher whose work includes flavour science and the psychophysics of taste. “It’s another significant ‘feather in her cap,’ and underscores the excellent work she has been doing, her calibre as a student researcher, and the importance of her doctoral project to the wine industry.”

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