University of Tasmania researchers are helping farmers across Australia: understanding the differences in Pinots; finding bioactive compounds in cherries; and bringing genomics to tree breeding for forestry.
As any connoisseur will testify, good wine doesn't come cheap - a reality recognised by Wine Australia, which has invested several million dollars into research at the University to boost the size and quality of the local wine industry.
The research is conducted under the aegis of the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA), a joint venture between the University and the State Government, established in 1996.
Since 2012, scientists from the TIA have been working with the state's peak viticultural body, Wine Tasmania. TIA sits on their technical committee and many staff participate in annual wine industry field days and workshops, engaging with growers, wholesalers and sommeliers.
One key project conducted over several years and funded by national body Wine Australia to the tune of $845,000, has focussed on generating robust and replicable evidence to understand define the unique character of Australian Pinot noir.
The research, led by researcher Dr Fiona Kerslake, uses an approach known as chemometrics to combine qualitative and quantitative data in order to understand the nature and integrity of pinot noir along the supply chain from vine to glass. Once complete, the same methods can be used for all varieties of wine.
Other areas of wine-related study have focussed on the effects of climate change on Australian wine regions and designing methods to ensure the quality of sparkling wine varieties. Each project received over $1 million in funding from Wine Australia.
The results of the engagement with Tasmania's enthusiastic wine-growers have played a role in the expansion of the industry, which increased turnover from $40 million in 2011 to $96 million in 2016.
Another major focus of the TIA is Australia's cherry-growers. Its National Cherry Development Program finds researchers travelling to cherry-farming regions across the country, assisting in the identification of research and development priorities.
In December 2017, researcher Melanie Blackhall from the Faculty of Health provided more impetus—if any were needed—for the expansion of the sector. She and colleagues showed that anthocyanin, a bioactive compound found in sweet cherries, can help slow weight gain.
- The University contributed to the first publication of the eucalyptus tree genome and operates a subsidiary company, PlantPlan Genetics, which provides tree-breeding strategies and analytical services for tree and plant improvement.
- University researchers are heavily involved in advising seafood producers, particularly salmon and rock lobster fisheries.
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About Dr Fiona Kerslake
Dr Fiona Kerslake is a Research Fellow at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture. A UTAS undergraduate in Agricultural Science, after a break working overseas, Fiona returned to UTAS to study for her PhD. She is an expert in Pinot noir and sparkling wine viticulture and a lack of analytical methods for sparkling wine has led to Fiona developing capacity in wine analytical chemistry. She has transferred this knowledge to help support and develop the burgeoning local craft cider industry.View Dr Fiona Kerslake's full researcher profile