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Scholarship leads to wine science career
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Robyn Willmott started her association with the Australian Wine Research Institute two years ago as the recipient of a Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation (GWRDC) honours scholarship. Now, she is employed there as a technical assistant reported the Australian & New Zealand Grapegrower & Winemaker in its February issue.
It is an illustration of the success of one of GWRDC’s strategies to attract clever people by providing opportunities to work alongside leading scientists. Each year 10 honours scholarships are awarded to students wishing to pursue interests in grape and wine research. Scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic excellence and the likelihood of the applicant to pursue a career in the wine industry.
Microbiology was Willmott’s major interest at the University of South Australia, so working with yeasts was an appropriate progression.
“Much study has been undertaken to correlate sensory characteristics with compounds in the wine and events that take place during winemaking,” she said. “The role of yeasts in fermentation is just one aspect, yet significant differences in sensory characteristics can be exhibited by simply manipulating the combination of yeast strains or the environments in which they operate. This starts by looking inside yeasts to see why they are different and examining what happens when levels of certain enzymes are increased or decreased.”
Identification of such things as the important enzymes produced during fermentation and the critical times and temperatures for them to have an effect has been part of the AWRI’s range of research. Associating enzyme production with particular aroma compounds may indicate pathways for improvement.
Willmott says she has gained a lot of knowledge in a short time due to the team approach taken to wine science and the close project links with commercial wine producers. At a personal level her appreciation of wine has taken some big steps forward through the sensory activities associated with projects.