Vinneo project aims to liberate the flavours of French wines
Wineries turn science to bring out flavours favoured by Chinese market
A group of wine cooperatives in southwest France has joined forces with leading scientists to "liberate" the flavours most prized by consumers in growing wine markets, from China to the US.
In a bid to bring out the fruitiness enjoyed by many recently converted drinkers, the Vinneo project has been developing the blackcurrant aroma of the Fer Servadou grape variety and the violet aroma of the Negrette variety.
Since 2009 it has been working with scientists on technologies to develop a range of varietal wines, which are made from a single-named type of grape, to appeal to consumers worldwide.
"We didn't want to make the wine our grandfather would have made. We wanted to make the wine our grandfather would have made if he could," Vinovalie director Jacques Tranier said.
Vinovalie, which is leading the projects, is a group of four cooperative wineries in southwest France. They represent the appellations of Gaillac, Fronton and Cahors.
For too long, Tranier said, French winemaking had "overplayed the return to tradition" while at the same time ignoring innovation, to the detriment of the industry.
In particular, he believes French winemakers have neglected the fruity flavours enjoyed by newer wine drinkers in fast-growing markets such as Asia, and which are often found in new world wines.
The project, run in conjunction with researchers at the National Polytechnic Institute of Toulouse (INP) and the French Vine and Wine Institute (IFV), now appears to be paying dividends.
Vinovalie exports have tripled over the past five years from €2 million (HK$20.7 million) to €6 million.
The growth comes as global consumption of wine is on the rise, driven by the Asian market, particularly China, which is now the world's biggest consumer of red wine.
Between 2008 and 2012, global wine consumption increased by 3.23 per cent, and that was expected to climb by another 4.97 per cent by 2017, according to a study by Vinexpo and the British International Wine and Spirit Research think-tank.
Christophe Haunold, of the INP, said it was important to preserve the real character of the Vinovalie grapes, Malbec, Fer Servadou, Loin de l'oeil and Negrette, while ensuring both quality and quantity.
"That required a lot of science and technology," he said.
INP used sophisticated chromatography, a laboratory technique that involves separating mixtures, to map the chemical identity of the different grapes and understand how the molecules that develop taste and aroma evolve during vinification.
Researchers also looked at the effect of heating grapes for different lengths of time and to different temperatures using a technique called "flash detente".
The process involves heating the grapes to about 80 degrees Celsius before placing them in a huge vacuum chamber, where they are cooled.
The cells of the grape skins burst from the inside, making it easier to extract the tannins, a key element in developing the character of a wine.
So far, Vinovalie has concentrated on two international brands, Astrolabe and Terreo, but another research project is also planned for next year.