The SW Summary: On “hybrid sparklers,” alcohol reducing yeast, sulfur tracking, and the end of wine capsules

By Hanna Halmari
The rise of “hybrid sparklers”

In Wine-Searcher Kathleen Willcox discusses the rise of hybrid wine. As climate change continues to impact wine harvests around the world, vintners are increasingly experimenting with more resilient hybrid grapes “as potential back-ups for an increasingly uncertain future.” Willcox delves into the world of hybrid sparkling wine and shares the experiences of a number of winemakers across the US who have invested in “hybrid sparklers.”

For example, Diedre Heekin of La Garagista in Massachusetts has found success by “ignoring the advice given by the ‘largely conservative and conventional’ [grape producing] institutions.” Instead, Heekin notes how “with hybrids, you’ve got to let go of the numbers you’re seeing when you test the grapes. They’re so different than Vitis vinifera, it’s easy to get freaked out if you look at their sugar, pH and TA [tartaric acid] levels. You’ve got to follow your palate, or the wine won’t work.” 

Whilst many vintners are optimistic about the potential of hybrids, a certain degree of skepticism remains “about their admission into mainstream wine culture.” Read more here.

Sofralab to launch new alcohol reducing yeast

Meininger’s reports on how French company Sofralab will go ahead with large-scale tests of its new commercial yeast, Starmerella, that has the potential to lower the final strength of wine by 1-2%. Developed in response to the rising alcohol levels seen year on year, Sofralab plans to launch Starmerella in 2023 to “help wineries produce wines with 13.5% from grapes that might otherwise have produced 15%.”

Antoine Gobert, the researcher behind the development of Starmerella, notes that until the large-scale tests go ahead, the effectiveness of the yeast cannot be precisely stated. Whilst he “acknowledges that it will be impossible to replicate the 2.5% reduction he achieved in the laboratory,” he believes that the yeast will “still be of interest to winemakers.” Read more here.

From grapes to streams: Where does the sulfur go? 

New research from the University of Colorado Boulder shows that agricultural sulfur, used widely in the wine industry to protect grapes from mildew infection, “has a unique fingerprint that can be traced from application to endpoint.” Samples from throughout the Napa Valley were collected to analyze the sulfur concentrations “from its path through soil to surface water.” The study, published in Environmental Research Letters, discovered that agricultural sulfur has a unique chemical signature, identifiable at the atomic level.

Eve-Lyn Hinckley, senior author of the publication and assistant professor of environmental studies, explains how agricultural sulfur is “very different from the signature that we see in atmospheric deposition or geologic weathering, which are the other background sources of sulfur.” Sulfur is suspected of creating downstream problems “by mobilizing heavy metals” in wetlands that release toxins harmful to human health and wildlife. Hinckley points out that the new research could support the development of precision technology to “help farmers to choose when and how much they apply, rather than just applying the same amount preventatively all the time.” Read more here.

Is this the end of the wine capsule?

This is the question explored by Dave McIntyre in his article in The Washington Post. The wine capsule, also known as the foil, serves no practical purpose and is simply “one of those anachronisms of wine.” An increasing number of wineries are abandoning the wine capsule and McIntyre spoke with three wineries who have opted to do so. When asked why, “their answers ranged from cost to image, always with the environment in mind.” McIntyre concludes by noting that if you do come across a bottle without a capsule, then you’ve likely “found a winemaker who’s not bound by outdated traditions, who cares for the planet and prefers to put time, money and effort into the wine instead of superfluous packaging.”

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About the author

Hanna Halmari

Hanna Halmari is the editor at Sustainable Wine and the head of conferences at Innovation Forum. Hanna specialises in sustainability research and events across various industries. She holds an MSc in international development from Kings’s College London, where she developed a strong interest in political economy and post-communist transformation. Hanna speaks Finnish, Bulgarian and English. In her spare time she is a dedicated Radio Lollipop volunteer at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, enjoys travelling, and tasting new wines.