Grapes, Vineyards and Soils

Understanding the biological processes that regulate grape quality, identifying the best sites and soils, and developing the best strategies to improve grape quality in vineyards are key strategies to sustain the production of premium wines.

The aim of the WRC is to identify optimal soils and climates for growing grapes in British Columbia and in Canada and to develop new strategies for protecting vines from pathogens and enhancing grape quality in vineyards. This research uses multidisciplinary approaches that integrate soil and vineyard studies and cutting-edge platforms for the analyses of soil microbes and grape quality. A focus of the program is to assess the effect of climate change as well as of wildfires on grape and wine quality.

Current Projects

Viticulture and Grape Physiology

In wine grapes, the ripening processes and the berry metabolism determine fruit composition and wine quality.

We use multidisciplinary approaches that integrate vineyard studies and cutting-edge platforms for metabolite and molecular analyses. Our major goal is to assess the effect of climate and specific environmental factors (e.g., temperature, light, and water availability) on grape ripening and composition, with a focus on phenolics and aromas.

We develop and evaluate viticultural practices such as water-saving irrigation, canopy management, and organic farming strategies for soil management, targeted for British Columbia vineyards.   

Associated Researcher

Simone D. Castellarin, Faculty of Land and Food Systems, Castellarin Lab

Vines & Climate Change

Understanding the impacts of climate change on winegrape development can help mitigate negative consequences on wine through active and adaptive viticultural practices.

We are especially interested in shifts in phenology (earlier budburst and earlier harvests, for example) and how growers can adapt through variety diversity. This research involves both an improved understanding of variety diversity and where it is currently located — across the globe, we have over 1,500 planted winegrape varieties but little of this diversity is used today, especially in new world winegrowing regions including Canada – and projections of shifts in phenology and how growers can adapt through changing varieties.

Associated Researcher

Elizabeth Wolkovich, Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences, Wolkovich Lab

Biosynthesis and Metabolism of Wine and Grape Compounds

Investigation of smoke odor compounds in grapes and wines.

Vineyard smoke exposure poses a serious threat to the wine industry since ripening wine grapes are able to absorb the compounds in smoke responsible for its odor, leading to a wine flaw known as smoke taint. Our research is aimed at understanding how smoke odor compounds are biochemically trapped within grapes and subsequent released into wines by yeast(s), and how to distinguish analytically between the compounds exogenously introduced into grapes from smoke and chemically-equivalent analogues naturally produced by the grapes themselves.

More recently, the analytical tools developed for smoke-taint research are being used to examine the influence of other environmentally-derived compounds (like pine-derived essential oils) on wine aroma and how wine components, especially the antioxidants and cardioprotective compounds, are digested by human gut microbes.   

Associated Researcher

Wesley Zandberg, Department of Chemistry, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science

Grapevine Pathology

Plants get sick too! Diseases caused by bacteria, fungi and viruses can result in a substantial loss of production and quality.

Our lab currently focuses on grapevine crown gall, a disease caused by Allorhizobium vitis. The bacterium is present in many vineyards worldwide, including the Okanagan valley, and causes economic losses to the grapevine industry. We are using different approaches such as biocontrols, organic amendments and agro-thermal heat therapy to increase the beneficial soil microbial population and to induce resistance of grapevines towards pathogens. The goal is to combat grapevine crown gall, increase general grapevine performance and to provide sustainable management strategies and viticultural practices to the grapevine industry in British Columbia.

Associated Researchers

Tanja Voegel and Louise Nelson, Department of Biology, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science

Soil Microbiology

Soil is the source of all microbes that influence wine quality from the vine to the bottle. 

Vineyard practices affect soil microbes, both good and bad.   Irrigation, fertilization, and cover crop management significantly alter soil microbes – which can affect vigour, yield and berry composition.

Soil microbes are difficult to manage effectively because they are hard to measure. However, growers can do a lot to improve the microbiology of their soils through careful selection of cover crops and soil amendments, including biofertilizers.  Our work looks at how vineyard management practices affect soil microbes and how this affects vine performance, including disease resistance and transplant shock.

Associated Researcher

Miranda Hart, Department of Biology, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science

Precision Agriculture

Precision agriculture is a management strategy that gathers, processes and analyzes data to support management for improved resource use in agricultural production.

The wine industry faces diverse challenges related to competition for and diminishing availability of natural resources (i.e. land, water, energy) and environmental carrying capacity for agricultural production, as well as ever-growing and changing consumer demands (e.g., organic, pesticide-free, environmental friendly).

Our vision is to leverage and connect research strengths and networks across academic, government, and industry stakeholders locally and globally in order to collaboratively design, test and implement an integrated technology and management ecosystem for precision agriculture in the wine industry.

Associated Researchers

Nathan Pelletier and Eric Li, Faculty of Management