Studying Muscadine Grapes for Sparkling Wine

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By Karla Arboleda

Florida sparkling wine is getting help from the scientists working with the muscadine grapes that are native to the deep Southeast.

Andrew MacIntosh, assistant professor in the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences (UF/IFAS), studies carbonation methods for sparkling wine for growers to learn more on how they can get involved with muscadine grapes.

The muscadine grape is “native to Florida, it grows very well here and it’s native to the diseases that target a lot of the other traditional types of grapes,” MacIntosh says. “The difficulty with muscadine is that consumers don’t understand (it).”

Despite its potential, the muscadine does not yet compete among traditional wine choices like chardonnay and pinot grigio.

“Right now, we produce less than a bottle of wine per person in Florida,” MacIntosh says. “While there’s a lot of good work being done in trying to characterize muscadine, we also have the opportunity to explore sparkling wine, which is the largest growing segment of the wine industry.”

Working with Muscadines

There are three major methods to carbonate sparkling wine: forced-carbonated, Charmat and traditional. In Champagne, France, the traditional method requires sugar and yeast to carbonate wine that results in a higher alcohol content. MacIntosh previously compared some of these methods and has interest in getting help from wineries.

“We want to work with the winery; all we need is samples of the wine,” MacIntosh says, adding that any carbonation method can make a sparkling wine great. “The goal is to give back the wineries (feedback on) some of the methods that we found to carbonate and … the general costs so they can get a much better idea.”

In addition to researchers at UF/IFAS, local breweries in Florida could be a contact point for muscadine grape growers to learn more about carbonation. MacIntosh believes Florida could see positive impacts in agritourism from more involvement in growing muscadine grapes.

“We’re a perfect state (for agritourism) and we have such a small wine industry; it boggles my mind,” MacIntosh says. “We have so much potential.”

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