Poland – a wine-making country?

Yes, it is, and it has been since 2014, when the EU legislation on the organization of the European wine market took effect. For many years, the scientists from the Biochemistry Department at the UWM have been doing research on the adjustment of grapevine to our climate.

Scientists in the American National Academy of Sciences foresee significant global warming in the coming years. As a result, by 2050 Poland may have become a leading global wine producer, while vineyards in the south of Italy and Spain may disappear due to drought.

Currently, there are 197 commercial wine producers making wine from grapes grown in Poland. In the past, wine production was concentrated mainly in southern Poland (Lublin, Lower Silesian, Lesser Poland and Subcarpathian voivodeship); now wine is produced all across the country. In the last three years, the production and sale of Polish wine increased by several per cent annually. In the years 2009/10 the production of only 412 hectolitres of wine was reported; that figure rose to 6,993 hectolitres in 2016/2017, including 3.8 thousand hectolitres of white wine; the remaining are red and rose wines. Wine production is no longer a pastime, but a business in its own right.

The average Pole drinks over 6 litres wine per year. The consumption of wine compared to other alcoholic drinks is growing so rapidly that we will soon consume 40 litres of wine per head. This is good news for everyone, particularly for doctors, who emphasize the benefits of drinking wine in small amounts.

Grapevine is susceptible to various environmental issues, which hinder the production capacity. The identification of defence mechanisms as well as the physiological and molecular foundations of how these plants cope with stress has an enormous practical significance.

The scientists and doctoral students at the Biochemistry Department of the University of Warmia and Mazury have long been conducting research, under my leadership, into the abiotic stress present during the growth and development of a grapevine, as well as into the use of grape leaves as a commercial source of antioxidants. This year, I have become a member of the management committee of the European Cooperation in Science and Cooperation (COST): COST Action – CA17111 – “Data integration to maximise the power of omics for grapevine improvement” (INTERGRAPE). The project which concerns the integration of omics data to improve the grapevine will be implemented until 2022 and will rely on, among others, the data delivered by my team.  The ultimate goal is to make use of all available data to improve the genotypes and crop profitability.

The scientific research is carried out not only to help grapevines better cope with adverse environmental conditions and yield better and higher crops, but also to improve wine production and prove the health-promoting properties of this drink. The research has demonstrated, for instance, why wine has a much stronger antioxidant effect than red grape juice. It turns out that flavonoids are present in the juice in the form of hardly soluble polymers, which are poorly absorbed by the body. However, during the fermentation, they decompose into easily soluble monomers, which makes these healthy compounds remarkably easier to assimilate.

The habit of drinking white wine with white meat and fish and red wine with red meat is also supported by science. It appears that the iron present in the red wine spoils the taste of fish and seafood. Molluscs have been found to quickly release the smell of rotten fish when they come into contact with some kinds of red wine. It was discovered that the more iron in the wine, the stronger the smell and the quicker it appears. Scientists blame unsaturated fatty acids, which quickly decompose in the presence of iron. It must be added that the meat of fish and seafood is made up almost solely of protein, whose digestion is more efficient in an acidic environment. White wines have higher acidity and stimulate the release of gastric acids, while the tannins present in red wine hinder this process. Red wines are perfect for red meat, which contains at least 30-40% of fat. The anthocyanins, pigments and other compounds present in red wine prevent the oxidation of bad cholesterol and the buildup of plaque which clogs blood vessels.

Stanisław Weidner


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