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Improving BC wine one yeast at a time - Unique tools being developed to identify novel yeast in spontaneous wine fermentation

Vancouver, BC - In increasingly competitive wine markets, British Columbian wineries must differentiate their products from their international competitors by making high-value wines that express the unique character -- the terroir -- of their region. Major wine regions worldwide have demonstrated that product differentiation by terroir enhances the marketability and perceived value of their wines. This unique expression is typically started through the growth of yeast on the grapes before they reach the winery- it happens in the vineyard.

A novel research project, funded in part by Genome British Columbia (Genome BC) will provide valuable information to BC wine producers about indigenous yeast populations in the vineyards of the Okanagan wine region. This information, not before studied in this manner in BC, will aid fermentation management and exploit a potentially valuable resource of novel yeast species and strains that may enhance a wine’s quality and regional character.

“Characterization of regional yeast populations could increase the market value of both our user partners’ and other BC wines, while providing more insight into this underexplored area of research,” says Dr. Vivien Measday, Associate Professor, Wine Research Centre/Michael Smith Labs at the University of British Columbia. “Genomic tools are commonly used in yeast research and this project builds on existing knowledge to bring BC winemakers to the forefront and enable them to compete on a global scale.”

The partners involved in this project include Okanagan wineries Okanagan Crush Pad (OCP) and Stoneboat Vineyards (SBV) but the information gleaned from this research could have a broader impact on the BC wine industry.

Last year, BC’s over 300 wineries produced 20.8 million litres of wine with a commercial value of over $254 million. The direct output of the Okanagan VQA wine tourism industry in 2010 was estimated to be over $87 million and provided 1,145 full-time jobs.

This collaborative project, valued at $132,000 will meet three objectives:

  • To characterize the yeast microbiomes of OCP’s Pinot Gris and SBV’s Pinot Noir vineyards, including identification of novel S. cerevisiae strains.
  • To examine how the winery environment, through introduction of resident indigenous or commercial yeasts, influences yeast diversity in fermentations.
  • To determine if an indigenous yeast starter culture can reduce commercial yeast strain dominance in OCP Pinot Gris fermentations.

“Genome BC’s investment into this research with Okanagan Crush Pad and Stoneboat Vineyards will use this research to optimize their fermentation and sanitation protocols in future vintages, thereby improving product quality,” says Dr. Alan Winter, President and CEO of Genome BC. “Our hope is that success of this project will lead to further development of the technology to identify novel yeast isolates in future fermentations.”

This project, funded through Genome BC’s User Partnership Project (UPP), will provide OCP and SBV with new knowledge and tools to achieve the best outcomes for their spontaneously fermented wines: enhanced quality, regional typicity, and ultimately greater value in the marketplace.




About Genome British Columbia:
Genome British Columbia is a catalyst for the life sciences cluster on Canada’s West Coast, and manages a cumulative portfolio of over $710M in 254 research projects and science and technology platforms. Working with governments, academia and industry across sectors such as forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, agri-food, energy and mining, environment, and human health, the goal of the organization is to generate social and economic benefits for British Columbia and Canada. Genome BC is supported by the Province of British Columbia, the Government of Canada through Genome Canada and Western Economic Diversification Canada and more than 300 international public and private co-funding partners.


Jennifer Boon
Communications Manager, Sectors
Genome BC
Mobile: 778-327-8374