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October 30, 2009


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As Richard Feynman once wrote:

" science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower"

same with wine - nice contribution

Great post Tom - I love the geeky science behind wine, it grabs at both my science background and my wine geekdom! If the the identification and isolation of this gene is possible as it seems you are saying, how hard/possible would the removal of it be? I don't know that much about plant genetics...

One thing I would disagree with slightly on is the aromatic difference between Welches grape juice and "Foxy" - both are very identifiable in most hybrids and almost all native american grapes but I feel the two are completely different aromas - IMHO.

Interesting abstract from a paper identifying aromas with GC on the Muscadine Grape
"The aroma components of muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia Michx) grape juice were analyzed by gas chromatography (GC)/mass spectrometry and GC/olfactometry (aroma extract dilution analysis). 2,5-Dimethyl-4-hydroxy-3(2H)-furanone (furaneol), with a burnt sugar-like aroma, was the most intense aroma in the juice. Other predominant compounds included 2,3-butanedione, ethyl butanoate, ethyl 2-methylbutanoate, 2-phenylethanol, and o-aminoacetophenone. These compounds were described as buttery/cream cheese, bubble gum/fruity, green apple/fruity, rosy, and foxy, respectively. Furaneol and o-aminoacetophenone were thought to be responsible for characteristic candy and foxy-like aroma notes of muscadine grape juice. Flavor dilution chromatograms were similar for juices prepared from grapes harvested on different dates and from different locations."

Cheers and again, great read!


It's very easy (relatively speaking) to genetically modify yeast, but in the current climate Europe would NEVER allow a wine made with GMO yeast to be sold. Start messing with grape DNA directly and you will have some very angry people in Europe and the US. (Never mind the fact that a lot of corn and soybeans are already GMOs, but once you start doing it to grapes, people are going to start to gripe.)

So, I imagine that it is possible, but i suspect that there are reasons beyond the technical aspect why it's not done. it's an interesting double standard (i.e., genetic manipulation by breeding, which has been going on for 1000s of years is perfectly fine, but directly manipulating DNA is practically verboten.)

As for the foxiness, methyl anthranilate is the main component but as in all aromas, it's likely not the only thing. o-Aminoacetophenone has also been identified (also the main compound in atypical aging (ATA)). Concord, i think, is the gold standard for foxiness, and its 3 main ones are MA, o-AAP, and methylfuraneol. So perhaps there is a difference between Concord foxiness and Muscadine foxiness...

another interesting double standard is the total acceptance of hybrid varieties in almost every other facet of modern agriculture (as evidenced by the resurgence of "heirloom" or "heritage" varieties) but not in wine.

great point, Rowland. If the reaction to Corot noir was anything like that to HoneyCrisp, it would be on the cover of Wine Spectator.

Perhaps we could develop a hybrid lemon, one that would grow and ripen right here in New York? It wouldn't be as good as lemons from Florida but it would be lemon nonetheless. You'd only make inferior lemonade from it...but you'd save SO much money in the long run, right? Then we could make a hybrid orange. The juice would be pale and acrid, but it would still be an orange right?

I guess I just don't see the point. We know vinifera grows here, why persist with the clearly inferior hybrids? Why make excuses and wrap them in science?

Economically speaking doesn't it make more sense to grow 4 tons of Riesling at $1800/t than 6 tons of Chardonell at $600/t on the same acre? (Even if that means somewhat greater risks?) And don't the rewards of vinifera go beyond the dollars?

I reject the argument that hybrids have gained total acceptance in every facet of agriculture but ours, as baseless. Honeycrisp might be a quality cross, but I can name fifty that aren't. Same with grapes.

We know that *some* vinifera grow here, and we know that *some* grow well. I have had some excellent hybrids and some crappy vinifera (and vice versa) from New York state.

I don't think that the next big Cornell grape is going to revolutionize the wine industry. I do think that wine consumers are becoming more and more open to trying new grapes and new wines (changing demographic?), and that anti-hybrid bias could play less of a role in the future.

Re: cost, price does not correlate with wine quality, so why should it scale with grape quality? Is it worth it to pay $1605/t (FLX avg) for Cabernet sauvignon this year?

Good points, Tom. And a brilliant and compelling post, by the way.

Some vinifera grows well in Bordeaux, some does not. Choices are made.

Moving consumers is a goal of ours, that's true. Whether or not we need to spend time convincing them to accept Corot Noir is my question. We should be moving them towards great New York wine - hybrids do not apply. Demographics have nothing whatsoever to do with it, I feel.

And "anti-hybrid bias" is fakery. There is no such thing - only a general understanding in the industry (everywhere on Earth) that hybrids make inferior wines. Name one other major wine region on the planet still debating the merits of hybrids, I personally cannot.

Also, in my opinion, "cost, price" of grapes correlates very precisely with wine quality. Very precisely indeed. If you take personal taste out of the equation, and let statistics do their job you will see that. Quality costs money, period. There's no secret to it.

This is a "business" after all. And while I agree, hybrids have had a major economic impact on the NY industry, I would strongly suggest its role has been a negative one. The impact hybrids have made is to stunt our potential growth for the last 50 years.

That sound you hear is the rest of the world ignoring our hybrids, and praising our Riesling. We can't have it both ways.

"And "anti-hybrid bias" is fakery. There is no such thing - only a general understanding in the industry (everywhere on Earth) that hybrids make inferior wines."

... It dosnt matter if it is an general understanding in the industry. It is wrong, and therefore a bias. period. Hybrid grapes can be made into quality wines. Being different is not the same as being inferior. New York is one of the only wine regions on earth to offer anything unique, anything other than a duplication of what goes on in europe, and especially france.

And another thing, "hybrids" can still be vinifera. Obvious examples being Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinotage. These grapes are "hybrids" of known parantage, and Im pretty sure that there is no global industry consensus that these hybrids make inferior wine. There is no reason to assume that, within a generation or two of determined breeding efforts, we can't find a crossing of pure vinifera with propper cold hardiness. Your analogy of lemons and oranges is disingenuous, and does not hold water (if you looked into their history youd be supprised at how far they had to go to get to florida). The apple would be a better example, as most of the early apples planted in the country were from seed, and therefore genetically randomized. And yet within a century we created almost all the leading apple varieties in the world. A massive hybridization program is necessary to find the right grape for NY, we dont need to be growing grapes from the Roman era.

'All hybrid wine is inferior'--what ideological nonesense! Unless you mean it tautologically: as with Regent, a hybrid from Geisenheim, which was so good that the Germans declared it vinifera by act of law. It is now one of the most growning new plantations in Baden. There's lots of Chambourcin snuck in among the cab and merlot in Bordeaux, or so I've been told by one of the leading negotiants in Bordeaux city. Chambourcin is now being planted in Oz. Novy Family winery in Sonoma—justly famed for their pinots—now puts out a lovely Oregon Leon Millot.

And then there's norton....

The story of the hybrids in Europe is strange and wonderful, not to mention extremely complex. Most of the 'history' above is simple-minded, and simply incorrect. Next Spring you can read all about it in my "Dying on the vine: how the phylloxera changed the world of wine", coming from the Univ. of California Press to a bookstore near you (or your computer).

BTW, thousands and thousands of acres of hybrids remain planted all over Europe. The EU is not going to get rid of them; in fact they're coming back, and officially approved. If you read French, take a look at http://www.vigneantan.com/fr/index.htm

If you read Deutsch, go to http://www.vigneantan.com/fr/index.htm

In addition to the ideology, I can't believe the factual sloppiness of many of the comments above. Just to take one example, many American species, for example rupestris and riparia-the basis of Millot and Foch--have absolutely no foxiness, either genetically or phenotypically.

In sum, be careful what you say!

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