For all the unique wines coming from the land of eternal sunshine, interestingly, one of the common bonds that tie all of these wineries together is the University of Florida. As the state’s land-grant university, the research from the agriculture department has had a direct hand in creating many of the strains of grapes and fruit used to make Florida wine. Without their work, Florida’s wine industry (and much of the fresh market) would most likely wither on the vine, the result or poor-yielding cultivars, less flavorful varieties, or grapes and fruit that are more susceptible to pests and diseases, such as Pierce’s Disease.
UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Science (IFAS) Mid-Florida Research and Education Center located in Apopka has a number of interesting things afoot in the field of plant genetics happening in Central Florida. Projects include the utilization of recent breakthroughs in molecular genetics to create new cultivars through intragenic means, allowing for just genetic elements of the host plant to be used in development, resulting in no foreign genes or DNA. In other words, scientists have discovered a way to crossbreed plants without the time-consuming part of growing plants to maturity.
This process has led to quite a few breakthroughs already, including seedless and rot-resistant cultivars, as well as hybrid bunch varieties like Blanc du Bois, Stover, and Conquistador, and Florida’s blueberry of choice, Southern Highbush. These gains are more than just a boon for wineries, but grape growers in general by making some cultivars that previously had a short shelf life, exportable, with other breakthroughs are trickling into other crops.
Concurrently, research into wine as a health benefit has flourished throughout the years. Believe what you may, but much has been touted in the benefits of antioxidants in wine and polyphenols in grapes. If you are a believer in the French Paradox, muscadine wine just might be the vino for you. Preliminary studies have found that muscadine grapes have high concentrations of the phenolic compound, resveratrol, in the skins as well as the seeds, something unique to the muscadania grapes. Research at Florida A&M University’s Center for Viticulture and Small Fruit Research discovered that “when compared to Vitis vinifera, muscadine cultivars [Carlos] have higher amounts of phenolics and possesses higher antioxidant activity” [click here for the full report]. This led to the successful isolation of six isoforms of stilbene synthase gene, two of which were similar to V. vinifera while the other four genes are unique to the muscadine. Resveratrol is currently being studied around the globe for its activity as an antioxidant, and its anti-infective, anti-cancer, and anti-aging nature. Will the muscadine quickly become the resveratrol darling? Time will tell, but perhaps there was some credence behind Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth, found in the skins of Florida’s muscadine. Florida Paradox? Drink the wine and we’ll see.
The polyphenol resveratrol is a phytoalexin produced in grapes as a response to plant injury, or when the plant is under attack by bacteria or fungi. Resveratrol is currently being studied for anti-aging and disease-combating benefits, though the jury is still out on whether it offers any meaningful impact to human health.
When it comes to blueberries, these things are full-fledged superfoods; and the wines made from them are bastions of antioxidants, those free radical-reducing molecules that help preserve cell life and growth. In the study “Prospecting Antioxidant Capacities and Health-Enhancing Phytonutrient Contents of Southern Highbush Blueberry Wine Compared to Grape Wines and Fruit Liquors” by Wade Yang [PDF], a food science and human nutrition assistant professor with IFAS at UF, results found, when using the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) method, “non-sulfite, filtered blueberry wine—which could be claimed as organic—had an ORAC value of 23.48 mmol TE/L.” When compared with 20 red wines, six rose wines and 13 white wines, the study found: “16 of the 20 red wine (i.e., 80%) had lower ORAC values than Southern highbush blueberry wine,” while ORAC levels of all the Rose (range from 1.52 to 11.2 mmol TE/L) and white wines (ranged from .6 to 5.35 mmol TE/L) were “far below that [of] the Southern highbush blueberry wine tested in this study.”
In other words, “blueberry wines could be more potent than most red wines and all Rose and white wines in health enhancement and disease prevention” [Yang]. Bottom line, a well-balanced diet just is not complete without a glass of Kinda Dry or Sorta Sweet. Even better, try this recipe for Florida Sangria—a bright sip that brings a taste of summer, regardless the time of year.
For more on Florida wine, click the links below: