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VANCOUVER — Buying a bad bottle of Chardonnay laced with bitter tannins may soon be a thing of the past if Hennie van Vuuren has his way. In what is believed to be the first project of its kind, van Vuuren and the Wine Research Centre...|
van Vuuren and the Wine Research Centre at the University of British Columbia will map the genes of 15 known clones of the Chardonnay grape vine in an effort to identify which ones are best for planting.
Working with The Australian Wine Research Institute and with funding from Genome BC, van Vuuren says the project should help growers around the world pick the right clone for their individual geography. And that should mean better production and more consistent results.
"There are so many varietals of the Chardonnay clone, each with its own distinct properties, such as early or late ripening, loose or small bunches, seedless or large berries," said van Vuuren, director of the Wine Research Centre. "Each of these properties might be important for certain areas."
That's no small matter in B.C., where the Chardonnay grape is the second most-planted white varietal grape behind Pinot Gris, and the most popular white wine in the world.
In a province where growing seasons are shorter than in Australia or California, knowing which Chardonnay clone would do better will give B.C. growers a big leg up.
"For instance, in B.C. if we can have an early-ripening clone that will ensure the grapes are ripe every year," he said.
Finding an early seedless variety that means seeds are no longer crushed, releasing bitter tannins into the juice, is even better, he said.
The two-year mapping project is costing $585,000, of which just under half is provided by Genome BC. The sequencing work is being done at UBC's Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre.
Three major B.C. wineries — Mission Hill, Burrowing Owl and Quail's Gate — are providing leaf samples from three identified clones.
Van Vuuren said he's not working with the actual grapes, just leaf samples. But that doesn't mean he doesn't sample the product of his work.
"We always drink the test results," he said with a laugh.