The Future of Grapevines

Biotech What will the grapevine of the future look like?

This is where a conversation on future technologies recently wound up. Myself and a couple other folks were talking about what the future might hold. As it always does, wine found its way into the discussion. We got there by considering the implications of genetic manipulations.It appears that geneticists are able to more precisely manipulate the genetic structure of plants today to the point where it is becoming much easier to alter them for use as food  and  fuel and even for absorbing carbon and cleaning the environment.

So, we started wondering what changes to vine material might winemakers clamor for over the next 50 years or so. The range of suggests that spilled from our minds was interesting, and revealing.

On the one hand, there is this layer of tradition that is draped over the wine industry and envelopes its members that would likely lead to a backlash against the idea of manipulating varieties of grapes. But I bet those folks in the more northern climes who pine to produce bigger, richer reds might eventually come around to the idea.

Certainly I can see a number of vineyard managers and winemakers enjoying the idea of grape vines that are not susceptible to disease and pests. That's a no brainer.

The real interesting area to consider is yeasts. Again, I can imagine a number of winemakers who might want a more varied and robust toolbox of yeasts to choose from in order to better control and manipulate their fermentations. Imagine having the opportunity "inject" various flavors and textures into a wine based only on the yeast one has at their disposal.

But what about oak barrels? The species of oak clearly has an impact on the aging of wine from the flavors and tannins it imparts to the pace at which the wine ages due to the porousness of the grain. Surely new types of Oaks might be developed to give winemakers greater choice in their aging regimen.

One thing is for sure. Whatever changes come to the world of grapegrowing and winemaking due to genetic technology, it's bound to be driven by economics; the prospect of gaining an economic edge or advantage. The Biotech companies will give us that for which they think there is a market. So if winemakers clamor enough for this or that, if they complain loudly about this challenge or that, then these are the things we will see addressed by future advances in viticultural biotechnology.

Posted In: Wine Business


10 Responses

  1. pepi - May 4, 2009

    is that about the wine yards and the best year of the grapes?
    wgat is that about?

  2. Ron Washam, HMW - May 4, 2009

    Hey Tom,
    You and your friends’ dipsomaniacal ruminations about yeast have already come to pass, for the most part.
    One can only hope that scientists isolate the gene for blogging so that expectant parents can choose whether they want to raise such monsters…

  3. sam - May 4, 2009

    I thought they developed a GM ML strain that doesn’t produce biogenic amines.

  4. KenPayton - May 4, 2009

    sam, biogenic amines are a natural product of the fermentation process. However, unacceptable levels may be produced in sluggish or stuck fermentations. What the GM ML01 does is collapse two processes, primary fermentation and Malo, in red wine production into one yeast addition.
    The gm yeast was developed by Dr. Hennie Van Vuuren of the U. of British Columbia. Please see for background and primary links.
    It is important to note that the Wine Institute is opposed to its use, but that it is currently employed in a broad number of popular domestic brands. (A dirty little secret worth exploring, IMHO.) Further, this gm tech is banned for importation to many countries.

  5. Charlie Olken - May 4, 2009

    Great topic.
    How about:
    –Zinfandel vines that reach physiological maturity at less than 28 Brix and don’t have green, unripe grapes in the bunches.
    –Screwcaps that breath like corks so wines age in the way we have come to expect.
    –Big wine bottles that weigh less than five pounds.
    –Wine labels that change color automatically to more accurately reflect the true alcohol in the bottle.
    –A dry wine that actually goes with chocolate.
    –A clone of Nebbiolo that will produce palatable wine in California.
    –A gene that can be bred into people or injected that enables them to tell dog food from pate’.

  6. Dylan - May 5, 2009

    I absolutely love KenPayton’s last suggestion. I’ll tell you one thing–were a concept like this to start gaining mainstream ability and approval, it would create a stronger divide between biodynamic farmers and the rest. In fact, I believe it would be the boost that biodynamic wine producers would be looking for as it would further illustrate their methods as a differentiator.

  7. Malcolm Morrison - May 5, 2009

    Maybe even getting past the term “Bio-Dynamic” as that somewhat separates the room at the start. Not even Steiner at his end understood the microbiology that was taking place with his composting. Why not step outside the confines of the term bio-dynamic and talk to the vineyard managers in a language that they can understand, science. Not to degrade the work Steiner accomplished but now we have the technology to understand healthy aerobic microbes and enzymes and how they can turn rather shitty soil into rich humus or replace negative bacteria (botritys, powder mildew, downy mildew etc..) with positve bacteria 100% organically scientifically. I have a lot of respect for what bio-dynamic farming offers but unfortunately until that information can be replicated and verified (which it has over and over) the mainstream viticulture industry won’t listen.

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  9. ravi123 - May 23, 2009

    Thank you.

  10. Joe - May 11, 2016

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