Genetically Modified Yeast is Causing Controversy in Wine Country
The development of genetically modified winemaking yeast called ML01 has major implications for the industry and is already inciting passions on both sides of the issue. Because it is a much simpler organism, yeast can be genetically modified with more ease than the grape vines themselves. ML01 is only available in North America where there are few restrictions on genetically modified foods.
A major appeal to winemakers is the fact that genetically modified yeast ferments wine much more quickly than traditional strains. Genetically modified yeast can also promote certain tastes and aromas in wine.
As stated in New Scientist, “GM yeast has dazzling potential because many of the ‘organoleptic’ qualities of a wine – its colour, aroma and flavour – are created by chemicals spat out by yeast as it munches its way through the mush of crushed grapes. And the metabolic pathways that produce these chemicals have proved obligingly easy to manipulate.”
Despite the upsides of genetically modified yeast, widespread use likely faces an uphill battle. Most wineries will be wary to adopt ML01, as much of wine’s appeal is due to its image of a traditional product. Others argue that the use of genetically modified yeast will homogenize wines styles and point out that the long-term effects to consumers and the environment are unclear.