The Winemaker's bug: From ancient wisdom to opening new vistas with frontier yeast science

Isak S. Pretorius, Christopher D. Curtin, Paul J. Chambers

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


The past three decades have seen a global wine glut. So far, well-intended but wasteful and expensive market-intervention has failed to drag the wine industry out of a chronic annual oversupply of roughly 15%. Can yeast research succeed where these approaches have failed by providing a means of improving wine quality, thereby making wine more appealing to consumers? To molecular biologists Saccharomyces cerevisiae is as intriguing as it is tractable. A simple unicellular eukaryote, it is an ideal model organism, enabling scientists to shed new light on some of the biggest scientific challenges such as the biology of cancer and aging. It is amenable to almost any modification that modern biology can throw at acell, making it an ideal host for genetic manipulation, whether by the application of traditional or modern genetic techniques. To the winemaker, this yeast is integral to crafting wonderful, complex wines from simple, sugar-rich grape juice. Thus any improvements that we can make to wine, yeast fermentation performance or the sensory properties it imparts to wine will benefit winemakers and consumers. With this in mind, the application of frontier technologies, particularly the burgeoning fields of systems and synthetic biology, have much to offer in their pursuit of "novel" yeast strains to produce high quality wine. This paper discusses the nexus between yeast research and winemaking. It also addresses how winemakers and scientists face up to the challenges of consumer perceptions and opinions regarding the intervention of science and technology; the greater this intervention, the stronger the criticism that wine is no longer "natural." How can wine researchers respond to the growing number of wine commentators and consumers who feel that scientific endeavors favor wine quantity over quality and "technical sophistication, fermentation reliability and product consistency" over "artisanal variation"? This paper seeks to present yeast research in a new light and a new context, and it raises important questions about the direction of yeast research, its contribution to science and the future of winemaking.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-156
Number of pages10
JournalBioengineered Bugs
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2012
Externally publishedYes


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