CSIRO grape and wine research

CSIRO horticultural crop improvement program

CSIRO Plant Industry's laboratory at the Waite Precinct, Urrbrae, in Adelaide, South Australia is using innovative management techniques, conventional breeding and new genetic technologies to improve the performance of key Australian horticultural crops.

  • 22 January 2007 | Updated 14 October 2011

Our research

The major research goal of our program is to improve the performance of horticultural crops in the production, processing and marketing chain. We are using improved genetic material from molecular and conventional breeding and generating better plant management techniques.

We are using improved genetic material from molecular and conventional breeding and generating better plant management techniques.

An important focus is research for the Australian grape and wine industry, targeting areas involving:

  • quality characteristics such as berry colour and flavour
  • production characteristics such as disease control, flowering and fruit set
  • sustainability issues such as water and nutrient use.

Research projects

  • Regulation of colour and tannin production in grapes: Dr Simon Robinson

The red/purple colours in red wine are anthocyanins extracted from the skin of dark coloured berries during winemaking. Skin and seed tannins, which are colourless compounds very similar to anthocyanins, also add mouthfeel and texture to the wine.

We are studying the molecular and biochemical regulation of the synthesis of these important compounds and the related flavonols during grape berry development with a view to using this information for the improvement of wine grapes and the final product, wine.

  • Flavonoid biosynthesis pathways in plants: Dr Mandy Walker

We are studying the regulation of the flavonoid biosynthetic pathway which leads to the formation of red and purple anthocyanins, colourless tannins and flavonols, all of which are antioxidants.

Information that is gained by studying the model plant Arabidopsis is applied to the important horticultural crops winegrapes and cherries, with the aim of improving colour, flavour and health benefits.

  • Grape berry development and ripening: Dr Chris Davies

The timing and ‘quality’ of the ripening process are key factors in growing grapes for winemaking. Control over the synchronicity and timing of berry ripening and fruit composition would be of considerable industry benefit. The initiation and progress of ripening is controlled by a number of hormones which are thought to interact with each other to effect the important physical and metabolic changes that occur as fruit matures. These hormones exert this control by altering the expression of numerous genes involved in a wide range of processes.

This project is aimed at improving our understanding of the ripening process and its control through the use of molecular and biochemical techniques.

We are also investigating how changes in the environment affect the ripening process. Through this improved understanding we will learn how to usefully manipulate berry development.

  • Fruit flavour and aroma: Dr Paul Boss

A major sensory experience the consumer has when eating fruit or drinking wine is the appreciation of flavour and aroma. This project aims to use analytical chemistry, genetics and molecular biology to determine the major contributing compounds and genes to fruit flavour and aroma, with an initial focus on grape and wine.

An understanding of flavour and aroma development will lead to objective measures of fruit quality and altered management practices to meet certain flavour and aroma styles in finished wine.

  • Molecular breeding: Dr Mark Thomas

Yield and fruit quality are largely determined by genes that control flowering and berry development interacting with environmental factors (GxE interaction). Genomic approaches are being used to study the genes (G) that control flowering and berry development to identify genetic differences responsible for varietal differences and the influence of environmental (E) factors.

Advanced genetic systems for trait evaluation and functional gene analysis are being investigated as a means of rapidly acquiring genetic knowledge for the production of new varieties in shorter time frames that are better adapted to Australian conditions and have improved yield and superior quality fruit.

  • Molecular fungal pathology: Dr Ian Dry

This project focuses on the molecular basis of host-pathogen interactions in grapevines with the aim of developing effective resistance strategies to the major fungal diseases. A better understanding of how plants resist attack by fungal pathogens, and the successful introduction of durable and effective resistance genes into grapevines, will lead to increases in productivity and quality through a reduction in the dependence on chemical inputs for disease control.

A major aim of our research is to develop grapevines which are resistant to powdery mildew through the introduction of natural resistance genes from American grape species by genetic manipulation. This will provide protection against the major fungal pathogens without the negative impacts on wine quality associated with traditional breeding techniques.

  • Control of productivity and quality: Dr Brian Loveys and Dr Jim Speirs

We are carrying out strategic research aimed at gaining an understanding of the hormonal mechanisms controlling plant growth and development.

Our results have led to the development of novel methods of irrigation which significantly improve crop water use efficiency, and maintain crop quality, with no penalty from reduced yield.

Methods are being developed for the assessment of grapevine rootstocks based on their physiological responses to water stress. We are also applying these methods to other horticultural crops.

Project leaders

The project leaders are:

  • Dr Simon Robinson
  • Dr Mandy Walker
  • Dr Chris Davies
  • Dr Paul Boss
  • Dr Mark Thomas
  • Dr Ian Dry
  • Dr Brian Loveys
  • Dr Jim Speirs

Information sheets

Information sheets available include:

Scientific papers

Find out more about the work of CSIRO Plant Industry.