Extra taste and fraud prevention on the menu for the European beer and wine industry
Europe’s valuable wine and beer industries are working to maintain their competitive advantage with a comprehensive range of flavors and blockchain-based fraud prevention.
The debate over whether fermentation was a more important human discovery than fire will go on forever. In the meantime, Horizon-backed scientists, with Europe as the world’s largest wine producer and a major beer producer, are exploring ways to strengthen Europe’s competitiveness in the beverage industry.
2019, Wine sales in the European Union were 16 billion liters with an export value of almost €20 billion, while beer production in the EU amounted to 33.1 billion liters in 2020. Europe accounts for 63% of global wine production, while the number of breweries in Europe now exceeds 11,000.
The wine sector has built its reputation and dominant market share on the basis of quality, but with all the turmoil of recent years and the risks of climate change, the beverage industry cannot afford to stand still, especially as imported drinks become more and more popular.
Improving beer and wine flavors through research on new yeast strains is one way the beverage industry is trying to stay ahead. On the other hand, safer supply chains are needed to ensure the delivery of a quality product. This will help the European beverage industry maintain its market position.
Alcoholic flavors are the result of complex metabolic reactions carried out by yeasts. A type of fungus that converts sugars into alcohol during fermentation, yeasts also help give each wine its own aroma and taste.
The Aromagenesis Projectled by the University of Dublin in Ireland, focused on understanding the genetics and biochemistry in yeast strains responsible for aromas and flavors in lagers and wine.
“The traditional wine and beer industry uses specific and limited numbers of yeast strains,” said Ursula Bond, professor of microbiology at the University of Dublin. “We felt it was important to make a large overview of the different yeasts of wines and lagers and to characterize them to see if some that already exist in nature have a more favorable aroma and taste.”
Aromagenesis, which completed the study in May this year, assessed whether science could help by varying the flavor profile of certain strains. By collaborating with the beverage industry, through experimentation, co-fermentation and hybridization, the researchers were able to select new yeast strains.
Then they created a bank of natural yeast that can produce different flavors and in different amounts. This led to a plethora of new yeast varieties and flavor profiles.
The new yeast palette is currently available to companies involved in the project. Among them are German brewer Erdinger Weissbräu and Canada-based Lallemand, which develop yeasts for the global market.
“We are now completing the first pilot fermentations in our experimental wineries,” said Jose Heras, technical manager at Lallemand Oenology in Spain. Spain is Europe’s second largest wine exporter with 27% of the market in 2019. The project will target the winery to “validate four of the hybrid yeast strains created for aromatic white wines,” he said.
According to Heras, the beverage industry plans to give immediate effect to yeast research with the commercialization of tastier Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo wines possibly beginning in 2023.
Some consumers have concerns about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) products, so the study was conducted exclusively with non-genetically modified (GMO) yeasts. This could increase the appeal of the results within the beverage industry as a whole, according to Bond.
Aromagenesis research is published as a publicly available resource that could benefit many others in the beverage industry as well.
“Some of our research is open source and our data will be published shortly,” Bond said. If a beer or wine producer wants to use the new varieties, it can negotiate licensing deals, she said.
Alcohol is one of the most counterfeit products in Europe. Unfortunately, the consumer appeal of household names such as the Spanish Rioja, the Portuguese Porto and the Italian Prosecco attract the attention of criminal gangs seeking illegal profit. Wine fraud, where a cheaper product is dismissed as good wine, is… estimated at €1.3 billion per yearor about 3% of total sales.
Currently, a wine label provides consumers with information about the origin and flavors of the product. However, it cannot inform them of the number of intermediaries between the vineyard and the store or restaurant where it is purchased.
The TRACEWINDU Projectwhich started last year aims to change this.
The Horizon-backed project focuses on a decentralized blockchain technology that, with a printed QR code, can record information about the entire life cycle of a wine bottle in a transparent manner.
Blockchain technology is known to users of so-called digital currencies such as bitcoin as it promises security and traceability.
“Wine producers are concerned about illegal trade, so we need to unambiguously identify the origin of the wine,” said Gustavo Pérez González, senior project manager at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain.
Tracewindu is also investigating the possibility of including information from analytical chemical techniques in the QR code. These can be used to specify the unique characteristics of a bottle of wine, such as its geographical location, providing further assurance of its contents.
Winemakers who participated in the project also suggested monitoring the temperature during transport. This would help ensure that the wine has not been tarnished when it reaches its destination, improving consumer satisfaction.
In line with the European Green Deal plans to reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers, the project also has environmental goals.
“We are now looking for ways to strengthen the immune system of grapevines and thereby reduce the need for additional chemicals,” says Pérez González.
This resilience is also reflected in the label. If it can be demonstrated that the biological characteristics of the wine are not changed, this characteristic can add value by demonstrating which winegrowers meet the European sustainability goals.
Pérez González also provides a possible bottle return system. This would require winemakers to make a long-term commitment to QR-coded and laser-printed bottles, but it would align with the circular economy goal of reusing food packaging rather than producing more of it. This would lead to job creation in the traceability, distribution and logistics sectors.
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