Smart grapes

Smart grapes

By Linda Baker

0112_NextPinot noir enthusiasts have another reason to rave about their beloved red wine: The grapes of the famous cultivar may be a little bit smarter than some other varieties.  According to Laurent Deluc, an Oregon State University horticulturist, individual grapes on a pinot cluster ripen at different rates, yet somehow they all end up mature at harvest. That “catch up” mechanism contrasts with Zinfandel, “a famous uneven ripener,” says Deluc, who conducted the pinot research at OSU’s Woodhall Vineyard.  At the onset of ripening, his team identified four different berry classes on the same cluster: green hard berry, green soft berry, pink soft berry and red soft berry. Then they looped color-coded strings around individual grapes to track their development and found they all eventually ended up in the same class. Positing a genetic trigger, Deluc says the mature berries may be sending a “hurry up” message to their under-ripe siblings. The next step is to develop a model to help industry identify the best time for harvest, says the French Deluc, adding that the gap in knowledge in the field of grape ripening has frustrated him for 10 years. “When I was in the Ph.D. program, I said, ‘One day when you become a researcher, you will study this aspect.’”