The grapes of research

Following ‘The invention of a wine’ post on this site in October 2012, I caught up with researchers at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute to see what’s new in the world of appassimento wines.

Debbie Inglis, director and researcher at CCOVI, provided me with a quick crash-course in oenology, the study of wines.

“In wine production, there are different techniques that one can use to bring out the best of the grape,” said Inglis. “The technique that we’re focusing on is the appassimento wine production [to create] wines with an Ontario signature.”

The appassimento-style is used to further ripen the grapes off-vine, useful in overcoming increasingly erratic weather that affects the sustainability and growth opportunity for local wineries. Drying the grapes in a protected and controlled environment serves the dual purpose of minimizing fruit waste and providing an opportunity to develop a distinct wine style for Ontario.

The five-year project is currently in its fourth year. To date, the group has compared five drying techniques – in a barn, refurbished tobacco kilns, local greenhouses, drying chambers, and prolonged time on the vine – to assess the biochemical and microbial changes occurring in the grapes, as well as sensory profiles of the wines. They’ve found that each technique varies in grape drying time and flavor attributes.

The next steps will be determined in collaboration with industry partners. Their plan is to manipulate variables within each drying technique to optimize the overall production process. Overall, the research done to understand these wines, along with cost-analyses of the techniques, will bring appassimento wines into higher quality brackets that can be sold at a higher dollar value.

All present studies are being conducted with Cabernet franc grapes, the main red grape variety grown in the Niagara region. “We’ve also got interest from our partners in looking at one or two more grape varieties, potentially looking at Merlot as another grape variety to dry, and maybe even branching off into a white,” added Inglis.

The project will provide baseline data for the industry, as well as build interest in the appassimento technique.

Inglis points out that while there are many basic and fundamental questions being asked, their results are directly applicable in industry. “It’s just been a great project to show how much we can achieve when industry, government and academia come together on a focused area to assist industry in their growth potential,” says Inglis.

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