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Biotechnology Journal

short-lived as, towards the middle of the Nine- teenth Century, the protective tariffs granted by Britain were withdrawn, which coupled with polit- ical and economic turbulence, as well as the world- wide phylloxera epidemic, resulted in collapse of the Cape wine industry. The recovery of the wine industry, however, was equally rapid, to the extent that the lack of a suitable export market, previous- ly Britain, resulted in an overproduction that was of dire concern to farmers and consumers alike. To remedy this situation, co-operatives were formed to control price fluctuations and wine surpluses, the KWV (‘Ko-operatiewe Wijnbouwers Verening- ing van Zuid-Afrika’ or ‘Co-operative Winemakers Association of South Africa’) was formed in 1918 with the task of regulating grape and wine sales through price control measures. During this period (early Twentieth Century) of market uncertainty, the first and still only university departments ded- icated to viticultural and oenological research in South Africa were established at the recently formed Stellenbosch University, previouslyVictoria College, in the heart of the Cape winelands. It was at the university experimental farm at Welgevallen in 1925 that the viticulturist, Professor Izak Perold, crossed Pinot noir and Hermitage (Cinsault) to cre- ate South Africa’s unique home-grown cultivar, Pinotage.The cultivar was painstakingly saved and propagated from seedlings and was debuted a number of years later on the South African wine market. Currently, Pinotage remains South Africa’s flagship red wine cultivar with Cabernet Sauvi- gnon and Shiraz also being widely planted. To bol- ster basic research in South Africa, the Oenological and Viticultural research institute was established in 1955 at Nietvoorbij outside Stellenbosch.This in- stitute, currently part of the Agricultural Research Council of South Africa, concerns itself with basic viticultural and oenological research from a practi- cal ‘industry-based’ perspective. Similarly, the De- partments of Viticulture and Oenology at Stellen- bosch University for much of their history have fo- cused exclusively on improving basic viticultural and oenological practices with a view to solving in- dustry relevant problems. With the re-entry of South Africa into the international wine market in 1994, the protective measures of the KWV were no longer desirable. The dismantling of the price and surplus control measures of the KWV, resulted in South African winemakers being subject to direct competition with other major wine producing countries for lucrative foreign markets.

The tremendous growth in wine sales and pro- duction post 1994 coupled with the pressures of competing internationally has necessitated that the South African wine industry adapt to the changing


© 2008 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

Biotechnol. J. 2008, 3, 1355–1367

international environment. This required not only updating viticultural and oenological practices and complying with international regulations, but also the development of high-level skills to further in- novation in grapevine and wine science. Biotech- nology, because of its cross-cutting nature as a re- search tool, its tremendous innovation potential and its ability to attract students from different fields to wine-related research was seen as one of the most important drivers to provide momentum to the transformation of the South African wine in- dustry. For this reason, the wine industry, support- ed by funding from the national government and the University of Stellenbosch established the In- stitute for Wine Biotechnology (IWBT) in 1995 with Professor Isak S. Pretorius of the Department of Microbiology as founding director. The Institute is affiliated with the Department of Viticulture and Oenology (DVO) with a vision and mission to be- come a nationally and internationally competitive centre of excellence in wine and grapevine biotechnology that, by means of visionary training and innovative research, provides the South African grapevine and wine industry with well- trained human resources, cutting-edge technology, expert knowledge; and environmentally friendly products and practices (see Fig. 1). The IWBT is a centre of postgraduate research in biotechnology in South Africa providing training to honours, mas- ter and doctoral degree students with basic science backgrounds (such as biochemistry, microbiology, chemistry, botany, etc.), as well as those coming from the applied agricultural sciences (such as viti- culture and oenology). The research portfolio cov- ers fundamental investigations into the cellular and molecular biology of wine-related organisms (grapevine, yeast and wine bacteria) and the appli- cation of biotechnological tools to improve these organisms. These tools range from traditional methodologies such as breeding and selection to the use of genetic modification. The industry cur-

Integration of research disciplines

Long-term, strategic “blue sky” research


Viticulture Oenology

Short-term, grassroots-level research

Figure 1. A schematic representing how the biotechnology programme of the IWBT integrates into the DVO to position the South African wine in- dustry at the cutting edge of scientific innovation.

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