Unlocking the future of Pinotage

by | Jun 25, 2024 | Articles

In a pioneering effort to diversify and enhance the iconic South African wine grape Pinotage, an ambitious research project is making significant strides in generating new clones through induced mutations. The ongoing project, led by researchers Prof. Melané Vivier of the South African Grape and Wine Research Institute (SAGWRI) and Phyllis Burger of the Agricultural Research Council Infruitec Nietvoorbij, is poised to enhance the viticultural landscape with a broader spectrum of Pinotage variants.

Background and necessity

Pinotage, a grape variety developed in South Africa during the mid-1920s, has been a cornerstone of the nation’s wine industry since its commercial introduction in the 1950s. Despite its popularity, the limited number of commercial clones available has restricted the varietal’s genetic diversity and potential for innovation. Given Pinotage’s significance, expanding the clonal repertoire is crucial for its success and adaptation to evolving market and environmental conditions.

Clonal development through induced mutation

The South African Wine industry-funded research projects, P04000060 and P04000060-2019, initiated between 2017 and 2023, focused on evaluating induced mutation methods to enhance genetic variability in Pinotage. Gamma irradiation stimulated somatic mutations, creating a diverse collection of approximately 1500 plants exhibiting potential beneficial traits.

Promising outcomes and future directions

The project’s encouraging results reveal significant phenotypic diversity among the irradiated population. Notable findings include:

  • Altered phenological development rates, with some vines displaying earlier or later ripening compared to existing clones.
  • Variations in bunch architecture, berry size, and colour, with some mutations resulting in highly pigmented flesh akin to teinturier grapes.
  • A broad range of canopy sizes and growth habits, from very bushy to upright.
  • These findings, corroborated by existing literature on gamma irradiation’s efficacy in inducing plant mutations, underscore the technique’s potential to enrich Pinotage’s genetic pool.

Next steps

The ongoing third phase, funded by South Africa Wine (P04000060-2024), aims to conduct detailed viticultural and oenological analyses of selected irradiated vines. This phase will focus on identifying promising candidates for new clonal selections, with potential outcomes including novel Pinotage clones, new cultivars, or breeding lines with desirable traits for further development.

Significance for the wine industry

The project’s success could introduce new Pinotage clones with enhanced attributes, such as improved ripening periods, favourable wine pH, and better phenolic maturity. These advancements will provide winemakers with more options, supporting the production of diverse wine styles and potentially increasing Pinotage’s market appeal.

The South African Pinotage Association supports the project in principle and financially. In addition, they provide all the wines needed to compare the chemical and sensory descriptions of the current Pinotage clones against the new material.

The project also plays a crucial role in educating the next generation of wine researchers, with several postgraduate students actively involved.

Contact Information

For more information on this groundbreaking research, please contact:

Prof. Melané Vivier, South African Grape and Wine Research Institute (SAGWRI)

Email: mav@sun.ac.za

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