Image: NASA/Apollo 17 crew, 7 December, 1972.

Image: NASA/Apollo 17 crew, 7 December, 1972.

As any self-respecting Frenchman (i.e. those who remain cit­izens of France and who pay their taxes) will tell you, the basis of a good wine is ‘terroir’, that mys­tical ‘je ne sais quoi’ that embraces the inter­ac­tion of geo­graphy, geo­logy and cli­mate of a cer­tain place with the grape vine’s genet­ics, and which is here inter­preted as ‘earth’. And most of us are aware that were it not for the bio­chem­ical endeav­ours of microbes, wine would just be dilute, non-alcoholic grape juice. But now it seems that it is not just the eth­an­olic fer­ment­at­ive activ­it­ies of Saccharomyces spe­cies (‘yeast’) that are import­ant in the qual­ity of the wine that res­ults, nor the vineyard’s terroir, but there are also much smaller-scale micro­bial factors at work. Mathabatha Setati et al. report dif­fer­ences in the fungal flora present on grapes within the same vine­yard. This myriad of micro­bi­o­lo­gical forms plays a pivotal role in pre– and post-harvest grape qual­ity and con­trib­utes sig­ni­fic­antly to the final aro­matic prop­er­ties of wine. They also found that small dif­fer­ences between vines, such as in tem­per­at­ure or sun expos­ure, could sig­ni­fic­antly alter the com­pos­i­tion of the fungal com­munity on grape sur­faces. All of which adds even more mys­tery and mys­tique to the vintner’s art. So terroir­ists be warned! And if the thought of this has you strok­ing your beard in faux rumin­a­tion: don’t! Or you might be unwit­tingly adding yet another fer­ment­at­ive fungus to the mix, as demon­strated by brew­mas­ter John Maier, of Rogue Ales (Newport, Oregon, USA), who has used a yeast found ‘cling­ing to the bristles of his 34-year-old beard’ to brew a beer with a ‘mild, fruity aroma’. If this has given you a thirst for more plant-based drinks know­ledge, may I put in a plug for Amy Stewart’s forth­com­ing book, The Drunken Botanist, ‘an explor­a­tion of the dizzy­ing array of plants that humans have, through ingenu­ity, inspir­a­tion, and sheer des­per­a­tion, con­trived to trans­form into alco­hol’. I’ll cer­tainly drink to that!

Nigel Chaffey. ORCID 0000-0002-4231-9082

Nigel is a botanist and full-time academic at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany he contributes the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ. His main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way...) about plants and plant-people interactions.

2 Responses

  1. Pat says:

    Don’t for­get the dis­tinct­ive local mix of spiders, wasps and pray­ing mantis that get juiced with the grapes.