High above the hills of South Summerland lies the Pacific Argi-Food Research Centre. This important centre researches the links between food, nutrition, and health. Its goal is to balance the activities of agriculture with a sustainable environment. Our media tour included a visit to this important centre last week.
A team of researchers and specialists in the field led us inside through several labs, as we learned about some of the grapevine diseases, diagnostic procedures, and life cycles of various plants and pests.
The BC Wine Grape Council supports the research, and is heavily involved in its operations.
We learned from Dr. Jose Torres that fungi affects 75% of grapevine-infecting disease. His team helps to identify problems that wine growers experience. In California alone, $250 million is spent yearly in fighting various plant fungi. It’s become worldwide problem with no cure yet in place. What’s key is being able to quickly identify the material causing the disease. Cultures are made, and under closer inspection, signs of disease in the field can be identified. Understanding the life cycle of pathogens helps these researchers in developing strategies to protect the vines. The Centre feels fortunate that they are supported in their work.
In the aroma and flavour lab, field trials determine aroma and flavour in a wine’s tannins. There are five compounds, each with their own distinct aroma, and are very potent. Sensory studies are conducted to analyze and identify aromas and qualities of wine. There are literally thousands of different aromas and flavours to be found in grapes. This department helps to fine tune both the taste and aroma.
Tannin is the main component in wine that’s responsible for dryness in the mouth.
Using a Cash Still, wine is poured into the centre. Boiling water is contained on the outside, heating the wine on the inside. Anything that boils out of the cash still will leave a residue. The residue drips into a container, containing volatile acids. These acids can help to determine threshold levels, going back to the microbiology of the wine.
We were led through the grape entomology lab, where experts collect cutworm specimens throughout their life cycle. The worms come out at night causing damage to the buds. This department looks at ways to control disease. Since 2001, these pests have been collected off of BC vines.
Downstairs in the greenhouses, certain plant species are grown to help with pest control. This ecosystem principle is helpful in preventing outbreaks.
We later tested a couple of early wines going through their paces at the lab. Also on site are filtration and bottling facilities, as well as climate-controlled rooms for barrel aging and for storage of 10,000 bottles of wine. 350 to 1,000 litre production tanks can also be found here, as well as a 32-tank micro-oxygenation system and portable glycol systems.
Luckily for the commercial wine industry, this valuable centre works together with wine growers in defining best practices for pests, disease control techniques, and terroir descriptions using geographic information system (GIS) tools. Touring this facility was a valuable learning experience for me. It’s rare to be invited to see what goes on behind the scenes of wine production, away from the winery shops and tasting rooms.
The Summerland Pacific Argi-Food Research Centre is located at 4200 Highway #97 in South Summerland. Phone 250.494.7711 for more information on scheduling an appointment.