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Project ‘BRIGIT’ is undertaking research to reduce the bacterial disease caused by Xylella fastidiosa becoming established in the UK.
Authors: Dr Gerard Clover, Royal Horticultural Society is the engagement manager for the BRIGIT project; Professor Saskia Hogenhout, group leader plant health, John Innes Centre; and Dr Caroline Roper, associate professor of plant pathology, University of California
Xylella fastidiosa, a bacterial disease which has caused extensive damage in American vineyards, has now established in Europe and threatens the UK industry.
Much has been written about the destruction wreaked by Xylella since it was found in southern Italy in 2013. More than 770,000 hectares of land in Puglia are now affected, millions of olive trees have been killed and the damage has been estimated to have cost Ä1.2 billion. The disease has also been identified in France, Portugal and Spain.
Xylella infects a huge range of host plants (more than 500 species) from herbaceous perennials to trees, including ornamental and crop plants, and native flora. Although olive has been hardest hit in Europe, globally the disease is most damaging in almond and peach, citrus, coffee and grapevine.
Grapevine was the first host of Xylella to be identified – the symptoms being described as Pierce’s disease in the late 19th century in California. The disease remains economically important, limiting the growth of vineyards in southeastern USA, and costing the Californian industry more than $100 million each year, from direct losses of vines and efforts to control the disease.
Xylella blocks the xylem of infected plants, impairing water transport and causing symptoms similar to drought in mid-late summer. In grapes these symptoms include: marginal leaf scorch, leaf chlorosis and premature leaf loss, “matchstick” petioles, irregular cane maturation, stem dieback and shrivelling of grape clusters. The infected vine may die within a few years. The disease is transmitted by insects such as leafhoppers and froghoppers (spittlebugs) that feed on the xylem contents.
Outside the Americas, Xylella has been identified in grapevine in Taiwan (2002), Iran (2014) and most recently on the island of Majorca in Spain (2017). This latter report is the first confirmed outbreak in grapevine in Europe and the disease has been found in almost all varieties and areas on the island. Disease incidence is estimated to be 7% but varies greatly, being much more common in organic vineyards. The economic impact on wine production seems modest, possibly because the insect vector is controlled through cultural practices. However, this shouldn’t lead to complacency; the introduction of new vectors can dramatically increase the impact of the disease, as seen in California when a new vector, the glassy-winged sharpshooter, was introduced in the 1990’s
Xylella is not in the UK but could be introduced through the importation of infected plants. The insect vectors are common in the UK and if Xylella-infected plants were imported, the disease could establish and spread, with serious economic, environmental and social consequences. The BRIGIT project (www.jic.ac.uk/brigit) has been funded by UK Research and Innovation (with support from Defra and the Scottish Government) to develop the knowledge required to reduce the risk of Xylella being introduced, to respond to interceptions and outbreaks, and to mitigate the impact of the disease were it to become established. The project is being undertaken by scientists in twelve UK research organisations led by the John Innes Centre.
Little is known about how the bacterium might spread in northern Europe as most research has been done in warmer climates. BRIGIT will develop new methods to detect and characterise the bacterium in plants and insect vectors and improve our knowledge of how symptoms develop. Research will be undertaken to better understand the biology of insect species that may vector Xylella. The project will generate models for local and national dispersal of Xylella via insect vectors and plant trade. The models will determine where Xylella is most likely to enter the UK and subsequently spread. The research will improve our understanding of the effectiveness of biosecurity measures and inform surveillance and control strategies. The project will interact with the public, industry and policymakers to ensure that the UK is ready to respond to the threat posed by Xylella.
In 2015, vines were grown on 3.36 million hectares in the EU and wine production was valued at Ä19.8bn. UK production is more modest but increasingly rapidly; the area under vines in the UK has increased by 160% in the past 10 years to 7,000 acres. To ensure the continued growth and profitability of the industry it is imperative that diseases such as Xylella are not allowed to establish. There is no cure for Xylella – the most effective strategy is prevention.
Speeding up reactions in grape must and wine.
Enzymes are proteins that are naturally occurring compounds that speed up reactions in grape must and wine. The source of these enzymes are from moulds and the natural biofilm covering the grapes and vines, secreted onto the plant cell walls with the purpose of breaking down this layer to extract nutrients and carbohydrate.
The most well-known enzymes are pectinases and treating must and grapes during the grape processing phase with purified and concentrated naturally occurring enzymes can assist the winemaker in improving yield, improving juice quality, enhancing aromatic expression as well as dealing with problematic compounds such as Glucans from Botrytis that may adversely affect the wine at a later stage.
Pectinases are derived from Aspergillus niger. There are at least six different enzymes responsible for the breakdown of the pectin molecule. The main pectinases are: pectin lyase (PL), pectin methyl esterase (PME), polygalacturonase (PG), arabinanase, rhamnogalacturonase and galactanase.
Many of these enzymes also exist as iso-enzymes (a different version of the same enzyme) that have different pH and temperature optima and affect different parts of the pectin chain.
In the same way that yeast producers culture different strains of Saccharomyces, various strains of Aspergillus are used to produce different enzyme preparations. This is the first point of differentiation between commercial pectinase preparations, since different fungal strains will produce different combinations of enzymes.
Glucanases for winemaking applications are produced by a different fungus than for pectinases – Trichoderma harzianum. When Botrytis infects grape berries, it secretes a significant amount of long chain glucan molecules (ß 1.3-1.6 glucan) into the grape juice. This glucan has a very high molecular weight and is responsible for very high viscosity. Wines produced from this grape juice will contain these long chain glucans, resulting in poor filtration and clarification. Treatment of the wine with glucanase containing enzymes can reduce the glucan chain length and thus improve the wine’s filterability. The enzyme preparation Extralyse® has been specifically developed for this application. The same type of glucan secreted by Botrytis is found in yeast cell walls (yeasts are considered the simplest form of fungi).
This glucan can be liberated from yeast during fermentation and while on the lees. The release of glucans into the wine is accompanied by the release of various other wanted yeast compounds such as mannoproteins, amino acids, low molecular weight peptides and nucleotides, that can have a significant effect on wine mouthfeel. Pectinase/glucanase enzyme preparations such as Extralyse® significantly enhance this yeast autolysis process and thus the release of these positive compounds.
Glycosidases, are by-products of pectinase production. Glycosidases are a group of enzymes responsible for releasing aroma compounds linked to sugar molecules. When these aroma molecules are linked to sugar molecules (called glycosylated aroma precursors) they are nonaromatic.
Once the sugar molecules are removed they become aromatic. Monoterpenes (linalool, citronellol, nerol, geraniol,…) and C13-norisoprenoid derivatives (ß-Ionone, ß-Damascenone) responsible for floral and fruity notes (rose, violet, citrus and others) are examples of grape varietal aroma compounds that occur in grapes in glycosylated precursor form. The main glycosidase enzyme is a ß-Glucosidase – an enzyme that removes glucose from the aroma compound. These enzymes are inhibited by high glucose concentrations and can therefore only be used towards the end of the alcoholic fermentation.
Sweet dessert wines can benefit from the addition of glycosidases to lift their aroma: in this case a higher enzyme dose should be applied to balance the glucose inhibition. They can significantly enhance the aromatic profile of grape varieties containing mainly terpene aroma compounds such as Bacchus, Gewürztraminer and Muscat. These aroma compounds are also present in smaller quantities in many other varieties. The use of such enzymes on red wine is not advisable as it can destabilize red wine colour, since anthocyanins are also glycosylated.
During enzyme production, the fungi produce a whole cocktail of enzymes, including various wanted and unwanted side activities. A “side activity” is defined as an enzyme produced in much smaller amounts than the main enzymes it can be wanted or unwanted depending on the application.
The importance of cinnamyl esterase free enzymes
Cinnamyl esterase (CE) catalyzes the first reaction in the production of vinyl-phenols. This activity is always present in pectinase preparations (10), if not removed by a specific purification step. The second reaction, resulting in the actual production of vinyl-phenols, is catalyzed by wine yeast (decarboxylaze activity). Yeasts that have the ability to catalyze this reaction are categorised as POF (Phenolic Off Flavor) positive yeasts. Vinyl-phenols are responsible for the loss of fruity character and, in worst case scenarios, medicinal smells in white wines.
The importance of glucosidase free enzymes
ß-Glucosidase belongs to a group known as glycosidase enzymes that can free monoterpenes from their non-aromatic precursors, and targeted use of these enzymes after fermentation on specific grape varieties can, therefore, have a very positive outcome. However, ß-Glucosidase can also remove the glucose molecule that stabilizes anthocyanin, forming an unstable aglycon that spontaneously morphs/changes into a colorless form. This is why ß-Glucosidase activity is often referred to as “anthocyanase” activity.
It is important that any enzyme used for the production of red or rosé wines should therefore not have any anthocyanase activity. Laffort’s Lafase® HE Grand Cru and Lafase® Fruit (red wine enzymes) are purified from this activity. Lafazym® CL, Lafazym® Extract and Lafazym® Press (white wine enzymes) are also free of anthocyanase activity and therefore safe for use in the production of rosé wines.
The trials and tribulations of entering competitions,
writes Sergio Verrillo Winemaker at Blackbook
Starting out as a new wine producer is an incredibly daunting task – once you’ve got past the point that you have a decent product in the bottle, you have to start to wade through the jungle that is sales and marketing to ultimately find a way to connect with potential buyers.
Often external services are leveraged to build buzz, boost brand awareness and increase sales. The most tangible channels may be considered to be those which offer a stamp of approval or credibility – the sparkling gold, silver or bronze stickers of competition wins are one of the most tangible demonstrations such an investment can offer.
The goal is to help us as producers sell more wine and reach our wider audiences, and the marketing messaging attached to the competition invitations outlines a raft of benefits, which can be of mixed value at the end of the day. In this month’s column, I have put together a few thoughts on the trials and tribulations of entering into competitions.
First, give yourself a fighting chance. Enter wines that you feel will have a high chance of success and understand what you are getting measured against – for example, do they have a category for your varietal or will you be in a broader set?
Do not enter the wine that is made from filtering the left-over lees from the past four harvests, giving you a bump in margin, or the one that is a funky style and has a marmite reaction from those who taste. That is a no bueno move.
Instead, taste through your range and find the ones that represent your style and quality and stand well against your peers. A great way to do this is to listen to feedback from your customers in the trade, or if you have access to a wine critic, that would be even better.
Trade folk are a good and consistent indicator of how your wines would fare in a panel of judges. Consumer feedback is always welcomed but it is not always representative versus a panel of well trained, no holds barred individuals.
Then there is the cost. Competitions are expensive and even if you win a medal you may not get the exposure you were hoping for. I should say this again: competitions are expensive! Each wine submitted costs money and not an insignificant amount either.
A single submission can cost anywhere from £60 to £150. Let’s say a winery wants to enter three wines. That’s between £180 to £450 for the submission, plus three to four sample bottles of each wine, further increasing that cost.
The cost vs reward may be a calculated risk for some, however for smaller producers, this financial undertaking is not hitting the venn diagram overlap.
Well-funded wineries have built in competition and marketing budgets that allow for multiple entrants giving them a wider reach and exposure thus increasing the risk vs reward scenario. There are no guarantees that your wines would place; that is down to the tasting panel who actually taste the wines.
So pick wisely. Focus on competitions that allow you to maximize medal wins and gain exposure. Research the panelists/judges and seek out ones you think will favour the style of wine you are producing. You might also consider the additional value that a competition offers. Some offer great digital marketing opportunities like the Independent English Wine Awards’ takeover.
This brings me to the tasting panels. These are the people actually tasting wine, judging whether your wine makes the grade. Panelists are formed of industry peers and professionals. Some awards have more comprehensive selection criteria than others but it is safe to assume that all participants have a level of experience that validates their position at the table.
The sensitivity of the palate cannot be undervalued. Whether a judge will like your wine before lunch and maybe less after, is certainly a factor worth noting. I should mention that there is a hierarchy of judging. Any wines under debate get put to the table or regional chair that will then have the final say, this includes double-checking potential medal winners. This is good.
Finally, entry criteria – do study the fine print and ensure that you meet the standards and rules to avoid the risk of disqualification before your wine is even tasted.
From our experience at Blackbook, we have had highs and lows within the world of wine competitions. There have been medals, disqualifications, and questionable responses. We haven’t seen a tremendous amount of direct sales, but we believe the indirect impact has been felt in the ability to raise our profile to wine writers, growth to our mailing list and social media followers.
This has been a good thing in raising our brand profile and it would have never happened if our wines sat on the sidelines collecting dust but is it all worth it?! Well that is a really good question and one that I have yet to crack.
The public listed company seeking to bottle and age a sense of place and time every year.
Charlie Holland has obviously had his picture taken before. The CEO and head winemaker of Gusbourne Estate, one of only two English wine producers to be listed on the London Stock Exchange (LON:GUS), carefully adopted a powerful stance, leaning on one of his wine tanks, hands in pockets with a steely stare; his smart-casual attire, a shirt and jeans combo, the ideal nod to his approachable and down to earth nature.
“We are slowly starting with the harvest preparations, it’s all getting there now,” he said, as we walked round the winery based in Appledore, Kent. “Once picking starts we will operate 24/7 for about two weeks.”
Aside from a dozen or so tanks outside, the winery has an unassuming, agricultural warehouse look about it. Rather like the Tardis, it opens up to reveal a winemaker’s paradise: one eight and two four tonne whole bunch capacity Willmes presses sit on the left hand side, in front on an endless wall of Burgundian oak barrels, with row after row of stainless steel tanks behind, a collection of Foudres hidden away behind a wall of stillages, and there is even space for a neat winery office.
A small door off to the right takes us through to the Nest, the producer’s stylish cellar door facilities. Downstairs has a museumesque feel; wines are displayed in glass cabinets, the walls lined with quirky exhibits with the history of the estate, including images of the original medieval goose crest on which the producer’s current livery is based, interspersed with information about English wine and UK viticulture. Upstairs, there is an impressive tasting room, mainly used for exclusive tastings, with a balcony overlooking the vines.
Taking advantage of the late-August sunshine, Charlie and I head for a table outside next to the tipi-marquee, which has been erected over an outdoor bar and seating area where, visiting on a Friday afternoon, there are plenty of people enjoying a glass or two of the estate’s sparkling.
Sat looking out across the Romney Marsh, and over the first few rows of Chardonnay vines, which I am told, in good years only, go into the still Guinevere, we discuss the estate, its expansion into Sussex, the expression of each vintage and the importance of patience, time and tourism.
“The wind farm you can see in the distance is Rye,” said Charlie, who ended up in English wine “by accident”, joining Gusbourne in 2013 after studying at Plumpton College and gaining many harvests’ experience around the globe before returning to the South East of England to take up the role of assistant winemaker at Ridgeview.
“We are only six miles from the sea, located on the first bit of ancient escarpment which comes off the Marsh. While everyone is heading for the chalky Downs, we are pretty low, the highest point in the Boot Hill vineyard is 45 metres above sea level and our lowest vines sit at 5m. But I think that is really important in a climate like ours to have that shelter, that heat, which helps us to achieve a greater ripeness. There is often a fullness to our wines which I think is from the vineyard, not the winemaking.”
120 hectares in total
Affectionately known by the founder of Gusbourne, Andrew Weeber, as the ‘turnip patch’, the Kent-based estate dating back to 1410 (when it was first recorded under the ownership of John de Goosebourne) was planted with arable and sheep farming crops when it was purchased by the South African orthopaedic surgeon in 2004.
“Kent is the Garden of England and has a rich history of growing fruit, vegetables, crops and hops,” said Charlie. “Andrew was the first person to see the potential in these lovely south facing slopes and there are now 150-acres of vines across the 350-acre estate, with the north facing, unsuitable land being rented out to local sheep and arable farmers.”
Planted on Wealden Clay over Tunbridge Wells sand, Charlie explains that Gusbourne is normally “first out of the gate for picking the sparkling varieties” as the heavier, clay soils get so hot and warm, the fruit really “races through the season”.
While there is no chalk in sight at the estate’s Kent site, Charlie often hears consumers commenting that “they can really taste the chalk”. Perhaps the saline mineral character comes from the salty sea breeze which wafts through the vineyard; or perhaps people are picking up on the fruit which has come from the producer’s Sussex vines.
“One third of our vineyards are located around Halnaker Park, north of Chichester and we have just taken on another 27-hecatres there too so we will soon be 120-hecares in total,” said Charlie. “The fact that the land in Sussex was on chalk is serendipitous really. We were essentially already making arrangements with the estate, but it worked out hugely in our favour. It is very similar to our Kent site, about eight miles from the sea, similar altitude, maritime climate, with a lovely warm breeze which helps with disease.”
Fruit is not bought in from anywhere else and the team, which includes esteemed vineyard manager Jon Pollard, is very passionate about working exclusively with grapes which they have had complete control over.
“There are no complicated grower contracts; here it is just about quality,” said Charlie. “It allows us to make wines with a sense of place and if you are buying fruit in you lose that. The challenge from a viticultural point of view is that a single estate approach means you have all of your eggs in one basket, so we have to work very hard at mitigating problems with frost and flowering. Having two sites in completely separate locations is a way of reducing that risk.”
Expression of people, place and year
This expression on individuality is also evident in the winemaker’s focus on creating vintage only wines. Currently the estate is straddling 2013, 2014 and 2015 vintages, with the cooler 2013 and 2015 seasons showing backbone, restraint and amazing length, the warmer 2014 is a big, fruit forward, more muscular style of wine.
“Our wines are generally sold by sommeliers or someone in a bottle shop who is there to tell the story and, as well as the people and the place, the year is very important too,” said Charlie. “We want to express each vintage and if that means the wines are different, that is fine. I think non-vintage is a bit of a compromise because you are always just trying to make an average wine. Vintage is about creating the best we possibly can in any given year. They all have strengths and weaknesses, the 2013s and 2015s in their youth can be quite austere, but they have great aging potential, whereas the 2014s are so generous and giving, in perfect condition now, but they won’t last for the next 10 years. I think as long as you can explain that to customers, they actually appreciate it.”
To help maintain a certain level of consistency, all of the blocks will be picked, pressed and fermented separately so that at the end of the process Charlie has over 100 different tank compartments and 200 barrels to blend. A small amount of reserve wine is used to “add complexity” and all of the blending tastings are done blind to ensure that special parcels, such as Boot Hill, cannot live off “previous glory”.
While blending may help the winemaker to achieve a rounded house style, many have shifted over to non-vintage in a bid to create consistent volumes, even in years when the UK climate throws a bit of a curve ball. Working closely with Jon, however, Charlie believes that this can still be done in the vineyard and green harvesting ranks highly on Gusbourne’s viticultural agenda.
“Last year we did drop quite a lot of fruit and sometimes we will drop up to one third for the still wines,” said Charlie, who pointed out that the team had been busy fruit thinning in the Boot Hill vineyard on the morning of my visit. “It was something we started in 2014 and the impact was so dramatic. It is all about the balance and making sure that we are doing everything in our power to look after the vines in the long run. There were stories of people picking at 20t/ha last year but that is ridiculous. Each vine has a finite amount of energy and we prefer to avoid big vintage variations, not only because it avoids the need to head down the non-vintage route, but because we hope the vines will have more nutrition and resilience. It is about not being too greedy.”
Plenty of potential
With its small tight-knit team, Gusbourne might not have the look or feel of a corporate PLC, and being listed on the stock market has no impact on the way the wines are created, it does however mean that there are certain things Charlie and I can’t talk about, such as how many bottles the estate releases each year, yields or distribution numbers.
On the 2019 vintage, Charlie did comment that although the vines are “tracking about 10 days behind last year” there was plenty of potential with “a good crop level”, not as big as 2018 but “not far off”.
“I have heard a bit of doom and gloom, with people saying that it is going to be a late season and so far it looks like we might be picking at the beginning of October, but some of my favourite vintages came from years where we picked in October,” said Charlie. “It is those blood, sweat and tears years where at the time you are not sure, but they really start to develop with great longevity. Picking into November is difficult because the weather turns, the leaves are falling off, there is more disease and that is undoubtedly more stressful but because you have an extra week or two of ripening you get that extra complex layer of flavour in all the wines. There is acidity and profile but citrus, stone fruit, minerality and the tropical character too.”
On the topic of acidity, Charlie believes that winemakers in the UK “shouldn’t be scared” and while there is a fine line between “being vibrant” and “being brain rinsing”, acidity “shouldn’t be a dirty word”.
“From the winemaking point of view, time and patience are your two biggest friends and I think the problem with a lot of English wines is that they are released too young; they have amazing promise, but are one dimensional,” said Charlie. “Extended lees aging is really important. It can help to round out wines, giving texture, body and weight while developing and providing tertiary flavours. We also use a bit more oak than most people and there is about 8% of that will be old oak to build the mid-palate and 2% new oak to add a subtle toasty complexity.”
Patience can be extremely challenging for new vineyards trying to manage cash flow and get a return on investment as soon as possible, however, once a producer starts releasing wine early, it is a very slippery slope and catching up on aging becomes almost impossible.
“Before you know it, you have no stock, are looking at other stock which has no age and you are not doing justice to wines which have a lot of great potential,” said Charlie. “We took a hit in the early years by not selling as much as we needed, or wanted to, but we now have lots of wine sitting in the cellar with plenty of age on it.”
With this in mind, conversation turns to investors’ expectations of working with a very cash intensive business which needs a lot of money and time before it gets going.
“It is an incredibly long-term investment and we have always stressed that this is not the way to make a quick buck,” said Charlie, “but once the business has matured it will be extremely stable. We have all this land which we own, the vines are biological assets and importantly we have four years’ wine sat in the cellar, so the business model is stable. When it comes to figures, I think it is a very similar story across the industry, it’s just no one else has to publish their financials like we do.”
The success of any wine business ultimately comes down to sales and if this year’s crop is looking not too dissimilar to 2018’s humongous haul, coupled with the increasing number of plantings which will soon be coming online, I asked if Charlie was ever concerned about the market place becoming crowded.
“Personally, I think that it is the people who are late to market, who haven’t established their brand or roots to market, who will find it the most challenging. The domestic market will always be our main priority, but we are looking to spread our net further and are on sale in 14 different countries now,” said Charlie. “Then there is tourism. We are aiming to bring people to us which isn’t just about sales and margins but also engagement and consumer loyalty.”
Looking to the future, as well as planting the additional site in Sussex, the CEO winemaker is hotly anticipating the release of some top secret cuvées in 2020 and is focused on building a global brand.
“We always approach every new year with a blank piece of paper,” said Charlie. “I think we are quite structured and formulaic in how we approach harvest at Gusbourne, but each year we do look at how we can make the wines just that bit better. I am a firm believer that as a winemaker you are not as in control as you think you are; you have one shot, once a year and that is entirely dependent on what mother nature gives you.”
Perfect – Van Wamel B.V has introduced a new Variochop shredder model to its range.
These specialised orchard and vineyard shredders, which are available to growers via Perfect’s UK agent, viticultural equipment specialists N P Seymour, make it possible to adjust the driving speed of the machine to the tractor. By changing the position of the V-belt pulleys, operators can choose between 540, 750 or 1000 rpm.
The gearbox with overrunning clutch accepts both PTO rotation directions and as a result the machine can be used with all tractors, independently of PTO and rotation by just changing the position of the v-belt pulleys. The 750 rpm drive is interesting for users who use a heavier tractor and want to drive the machine with a reduced engine speed to limit fuel consumption.
In addition to models with working widths of 150, 180 and 210 cm, the delivery range now also includes a model with only 135 cm working width and as standard, the Variochop machines are equipped with a double headstock for mounting in the front, as well as the 3-point rear linkage and a hydraulic offset feature. The heavy construction, typical for Perfect products, and the standard 2.2 kg flails allow for shredding of prunings up to 8cm in diameter.
If desired, height-adjustable rake tines are available to better pickup flat-lying prunings. For growers who also want to use the machine for mowing grass, Perfect – Van Wamel has the unique Combi flails. This flail with interchangeable knife remains sharp and therefore not only provides a very good shredding in wood, but also gives a very nice and even cut in grass.
The Variochop models are a follow-up to the existing BGM and BKM series, which since their introduction in 2005 are used by a very large number of enthusiastic growers worldwide. In addition to the possibility to change the PTO speed, the drive system has also been upgraded, allowing it to transfer more power and also improve accessibility for service.
More information growers can contact the family-run team at N P Seymour, which is based in Goudhurst, Kent.
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