The Yeast is Red | Project reduces import domination, helps wines reflect Chinese terroir

The normally niche topic of Chinese wine yeast strains received just mainstream media attention due to a project said to end the dominance of imported yeasts and to allow more wines to reflect Chinese terroir.

“Chinese researchers have cultivated two local wine yeast strains and large-scale industrial application has been realized for them, according to the Northwest A&F University (NWAFU),” reported Xinhua. “China’s wine industry has long relied solely on imported wine yeast, and this research is changing that trend.”

Xinhua notes the breakthrough is the result of 22 years of work led by NWAFU researchers, including the creation of a “germplasm bank” with 20,000-plus local wine yeast strains. And that two strains, CECA and CEC01, have already replaced 30 percent of imported ones.

Chinese terroir

Professor Liu Yanlin of NWAFU’s College of Oenology, the head of this project, told me the local yeast strains help deal with the challenges of the country’s diverse terroirs.

“Chinese viticulture covers many ecological and geographical areas, so yeast from different regions will solve the unique problems of each place and help find solutions to improve wine quality,” stated Liu.

For example, she said some strains “can be utilized for dry and hot regions that experience more grape sugar content, and provide better aromas and flavors as well as more complexity and aging potential.”

Liu said local strains are being used in a rising number of wineries to make wine that has an international level of quality and can win top prizes in global contests. She added that local yeast strains have been exported to Italy, Spain and Germany, with the expectation of adding “Chinese elements in the world wine family.”

Evaluation meeting

The project was evaluated at a May 23 meeting organized by China’s China Light Industry Federation and saw participation by NWAFU, Anqi Yeast Company, wine producers like Changyu, COFCO GreatWall and Yuma (Ningxia) and the China Alcoholic Drinks Association, among many other parties.

In reporting on the meeting, NWAFU’s College of Enology noted that Liu’s team had not only collected more than 20,000 strains but had worked on identifying the best ones. The two strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, CECA and CEC01, were seen to be especially attractive in terms of resilience, fermentation and aromas produced. The broader hopes are that the project leads to wine styles that reflect Chinese terroir and are internationally competitive.

Lin, who received her PhD from NWAFU in 2005, has worked at the College of Oenology since 1994 and was a visiting scholar at UC Davis, doing lab work on yeast resources and molecular genetics, from 2006 to 2007.

She has several academic leadership roles, including in the China Agriculture Research System for Grape Industry and the Chinese Horticultural Society, and is the founder of Tasting Panel, or TP, a weekly wine tasting session with students and fellow academics.

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