While sipping the perfect wine for this New Year’s midnight toast, thank the community of microorganisms that grew on the grapes. Research suggests that even within the same vineyard, on fruits there are variations in fungal species, such as "noble rot," that result in flavor differences.
"Vineyards harbor a wide variety of microorganisms that play a pivotal role in pre- and post-harvest grape quality and will contribute significantly to the final aromatic properties of wine," wrote the authors in the study published in PLOS ONE.
"Our findings could help viticulturalists and winemakers plan microharvest better, and implement better wine blending strategies to ensure consistency," said lead author Mathabatha Setati of Stellenbosch University, South Africa, in a press release.
Grapes from three farming methods were tested: organic, conventional and biodynamic. Grapes from organic and biodynamic vineyards had higher species diversity. Biodynamic agriculture is a technique involving a holistic approach to the farm emphasizing the relationship between soil, plants and animals to foster an agro-ecosystem.
Within individual farms there was also variation in fungal biodiversity. For example, grapes growing in full sun harbored different species than grapes shaded by leaves.
Friends drinking in a kitchen at New Year's Eve party. (Corbis)
Botrytis cinerea, or "noble rot," attacks Riesling grapes left on the vine past normal harvest time. This particular fungus is favored by winemakers as a natural means of increasing sugar content in grapes used for sweet wines. Near Riquewihr, Alsace, France. (Charles O'Rear, Corbis)