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Scientists prove regional variations in yeast

Scientists in New Zealand have proved for the first time that wine yeasts vary from region to region.

New Zealand: ‘not the only country with yeast terroir’

The research, conducted by Velimir Gayevskiy and Dr Matthew Goddard of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland, detected distinct differences between indigenous yeast strains in different regions.

‘It’s widely accepted that the interaction of climatic, geographic and soil conditions with different grape varieties serves to make regionally distinctive wines,’ Goddard said

‘But for the first time, these findings suggest that yeasts could be part of that regional influence and of wine’s terroir.’

The study, which has been published in the Journal of the International Society for Microbial Ecology, investigated yeasts present on Chardonnay and Syrah grapes, and their spontaneous ferments, in vineyards in three distinct wine regions in New Zealand.

It follows Goddard’s earlier work, which established that New Zealand has a genetically distinct population of the main wine yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

At present the research into regionally specific yeast populations is confined to New Zealand, with no other winemaking nation as yet having conducted similarly robust tests into the make up of their own yeast communities.

But Goddard suggests similar results could be seen across other winemaking nations.

‘My gut feeling is that New Zealand isn’t the only country that can objectively claim this difference,’ he said. ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the same in other parts of the world.’

Goddard said that the next steps were to discover what was driving these differences; to attempt to identify yeasts responsible for specific aromas and flavours that could contribute to a regional signature, and discover when New Zealand’s genetically distinct yeast population arrived in the country.

Written by Jo Burzynska

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