Wine is made through the fermentation of grape sugars into ethanol by yeast, mainly the species Saccharomyces cerevisiae (S. cerevisiae). While many wines are made by direct inoculation with a single S. cerevisiae yeast strain, others are made by spontaneous fermentation, where a variety of yeast from the vineyard or on winery surfaces carry out the fermentative process. These wines may have more sensory complexity and also more regional character, or terroir, as yeast populations vary by region. My research focuses on characterizing the Saccharomyces and non-Saccharomyces yeast populations found in in the Okanagan wine region of British Columbia, Canada. Using various genomic and metagenomic techniques, I am conducting a multi-year survey of several vineyard sites to evaluate differences in yeast population composition and to search for regionally-unique yeast species and S. cerevisiae strains with winemaking potential. No research has yet been conducted on vineyard yeast populations in Canada. My aims are to shed some light on this little-explored subject, contributing to the small but growing pool of North American research in this area, and to exploit a potentially valuable resource of novel yeasts that may enhance wine quality and regional character.
Why did you decide to study at UBC?
I've worked in the BC wine industry over several years, and UBC offered me the opportunity to work on a related project with exciting research potential.