To remain competitive in increasingly overcrowded markets, yeast strain development programmes are crucial for fermentation-based food and beverage industries. In a winemaking context, there are many yeast phenotypes that stand to be improved. For example, winemakers endeavouring to produce sweet dessert wines wrestle with fermentation challenges particular to fermenting high-sugar juices, which can lead to elevated volatile acidity levels and extended fermentation times. In the current study, we used natural yeast breeding techniques to generate Saccharomyces spp. interspecific hybrids as a non-genetically modified (GM) strategy to introduce targeted improvements in important, wine-relevant traits. The hybrids were generated by mating a robust wine strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae with a wine isolate of Saccharomyces bayanus, a species previously reported to produce wines with low concentrations of acetic acid. Two hybrids generated from the cross showed robust fermentation properties in high-sugar grape juice and produced botrytised Riesling wines with much lower concentrations of acetic acid relative to the industrial wine yeast parent. The hybrids also displayed suitability for icewine production when bench-marked against an industry standard icewine yeast, by delivering icewines with lower levels of acetic acid. Additionally, the hybrid yeast produced wines with novel aroma and flavour profiles and established that choice of yeast strain impacts on wine colour. These new hybrid yeasts display the desired targeted fermentation phenotypes from both parents, robust fermentation in high-sugar juice and the production of wines with low volatile acidity, thus establishing their suitability for wine styles that are traditionally troubled by excessive volatile acidity levels.
Keywords: High-sugar fermentation; Non-genetically modified (non-GM); Saccharomyces interspecific hybrids; Targeted wine yeast strain development.