Friday, February 10, 2017

Is Organic Wine Terroir Really Different from Chemically Farmed Wine Terroir? WineSeq's' Research Holds Promise in Answering the Question

From chemical analyses to wine scores, there have been so many ways to measure wine. But now a new method promises to give us the closest look yet at what's inside that bottle of wine: WINESEQ. It reveals what's in the microbiome of both the soil and of the wine.

WINESEQ is a product from Biomemakers, a newco specializing in genetic sequencing analysis for winery clients. Founded by The Wine Guys, Adrian Ferreo and Alberto Acedo, from Castile and Leon, Spain, and funded by Illumina Accelerator and other partners (including Viking Global Investors), the company has offices in Spain and San Francisco.

I interviewed Biomemakers general manager John Dimos last week to find out more about the product - and its possible future implications for organic growers and the wines that come their vines.

To date, Dimos says, the company has collected and sequenced more than 3,000 samples from 200 wineries around the world. Of those, there are currently about 15 U.S. wineries who are participating as clients and contributing to the company's database of samples. About half of the U.S. participants have organic vineyards.

The broadest market for commercial use of the sequencing analysis for all growers is as a disease predictor. The test can detect the presence of microbes associated with diseases, such as powdery mildew, long before a full blown outbreak occurs.

This enables growers to take preventive action - altering cover crops, pruning, irrigation or other cultural practices - before they see symptoms emerging.

In the case of powdery mildew, WINESEQ can see the predictors years before they emerge.

Winemakers can also use the microbiome analysis to decide whether it's safe to proceed with a native yeast fermentation, Dimos said, presenting his findings to a gathering of top tier Napa wineries at Fruition Sciences' 2016 Vintage Report Napa held in January. The analysis can determine what yeast strains are on the grapes as well as suggest how these yeasts can influence the flavor profile of the wine.

"So far, we have detected 13,230 species of microbes," Dimos said. "There are more at the subspecies level."

The company is analyzing the differences between organically farmed soils and wines and chemicals farmed ones. Though Dimos says it's too early to make its research into those differences public, there is already one intriguing early substantive finding: the company's identified 39 microbes found only in chemical vineyards and 12 found only in organic ones.

"We only have a snapshot of the data," Dimos said, "but we do see a difference between the microbes in organic vineyards versus conventional ones."

One Napa winery used the analysis to compare two types of compost. The winery was considering switching from commercially produced organic compost to home-made organic and Biodynamic compost. Using WINESEQ, they were able to determine there was no risk in changing over to the home-made compost, Dimos said.

Unsurprisingly, the microbial analysis finds that soils with a rich microbial mix yield wines with a rich microbial mix. "The wines reflect the soil that the grapes came from," Dimos said.

More broadly, Dimos says the soil and wine microbiome act as integrators, telling us more about the overall life of the vineyard and wine. "It might be a nice biomarker to read out," he said. "The microbiome is alive and dynamic."

The take away for consumers? Stay tuned for further developments for now, but if you want the taste of true terroir, then choosing organically grown wines vinified on native yeast (and made without additives other than small amounts of sulfite) is the best bet. 

And maybe someday we'll be lucky enough to have wine scores of that include the microbiome analysis of a wine, showing us just how alive and dynamic the life force in our wine is - or isn't.

For more information about WINESEQ, visit, follow them on Twitter, check out their YouTube channel, or start with this video:

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