A researcher at The University of Western Australia is leading a national project using next generation sequencing to examine how even small changes to grapevines affect the quality and taste of the wine produced.
Assistant Professor Michael Considine, a joint researcher with UWA's School of Plant Biology and the WA Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA), is using technology currently applied in leading medical sciences to investigate what distinguishes one Cabernet Sauvignon clone from another.
WA's cooler climate regions of the South West have a rich history in producing high quality Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the Australian wine industry's "regional heroes" and a popular red wine variety which accounts for about 20 per cent of all bottled wine exports.
Assistant Professor Considine said grapevines and many other fruit crops were propagated by cuttings.
"This carries on the variety's genes and desirable traits, however mutations do occur spontaneously, resulting in new clones with unique traits, including wine quality. Nowadays nurseries are providing specific clones under licence - it is a big industry," he said.
"The national project is using molecular profiling of 12 specific Cabernet Sauvignon clones chosen based on industry popularity, known vine identity, vine characteristics and distinct wine qualities.
"Each of these clones is currently in production in the Margaret River and Great Southern regions of WA and Yalumba Nursery Coonawarra in South Australia, representing different site, soil and climate features."
Department senior research officer Glynn Ward said DAFWA had been involved in vine selection research since the late 1960s.
"Many of the department's selections were enormously important for the growth of the WA fine wine industry at that time, and grapes produced from vines of those original clones still make our most distinctive award winning wines today," Mr Ward said.
"In winemaking and marketing, distinction is a large part of the value of a wine brand or variety. Regional distinction is something that the Australian wine industry has been promoting for a number of years."
Other UWA researchers involved in the project include ARC Future Fellow Professor Ryan Lister and Adjunct Professor Jim Whelan, from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at UWA.
The project is co-funded by industry, including more than 20 wineries (WA Vine Improvement Association), Yalumba Wines, DAFWA and the Australian Wine Research Institute.
Assistant Professor Michael Considine (UWA School of Plant Biology) (+61 8) 6488 1783 / (+61 4) 22 505 871
Jodie Thomson/ Katrina Bowers (DAFWA media liaison) (+61 8) 9368 3937
David Stacey (UWA Public Affairs) (+61 8) 6488 3229 / (+61 4) 32 637 716