Merino farmers need to be sure of their evidence if they are to embrace a regenerative agriculture label, says Lincoln University Professor Jon Hickford.
But it’s possible the subsequent impacts on vine physiology and wine characteristics will be positive, she adds. “We’ve shown that these yeasts directly impact the flavour and smell and texture of the wine…so it could be that a shift in this microbial community could bring out compounds which are favourable as opposed to negative ones.”
Jess did her post-graduate diploma and Research Master’s on Phytophthora agathidicida, which is the soil-borne pathogen behind kauri dieback disease. Three years ago, the Auckland-based ecologist took up a role assisting Dr Sarah Knight, whose research has highlighted the unique signatures of microbial communities on vineyards around the country. Jess says she “loved every minute of the work”, which married her passion for plants and microbes with the opportunity to better discover New Zealand’s wine industry, via its vines and people, as well as through the lab. So, when Sarah and Dr Amber Parker - from Lincoln University - started discussing a project looking at the impact of climate change on those microbial communities, she was eager to be involved.
Under climate change models for New Zealand’s wine growing regions, average temperatures are predicted to rise by 0.5-1.5C by 2040. By 2020, it’s predicted there will be 10 to 20 more “hot days” per month, with temperatures over 25C, from November to April. Jess’s PhD is looking at how different vineyard microbial populations will respond to those changes, and the potential impact on wine characteristics. “By understanding how microbial communities and plant phenotypes change in response to increased temperatures, adaptation strategies can be developed to offset any unwanted consequences to New Zealand’s regional wine styles,” she says.
Jess’s PhD scholarship is supported by the Bragato Research Institute (BRI) with additional costs supplemented by the University of Auckland and Lincoln University.