Does the grape microbiome influence the flavour of your wine?

Researchers in California have found a link between the grape microbiome and the metabolites in the finished wine.

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Next time you're taking a sip of your favourite wine, just think that the flavours you enjoy may come from the grape microbiome.

Researchers found that there is a link between the microbial communities on the grapes and the "terroir" (wine characteristics), specifically, the presence of certain metabolites.

So does all the flavour of the wine come from the microbial metabolites? Do the grapes matter at all? How about soil and Climate?

David Mills, the senior author of the study is quick to caution that "We don't know the relative contribution that the microbes play in the eventual flavor and sensory characteristics of the wine."

There are clearly many factors that influence wine terroir but despite the caution, it seems like the microbiome plays a larger role that we first thought. Mills says that in the future "maybe we can modulate flavor simply by finding the right correlated microbes."


Associations among Wine Grape Microbiome, Metabolome, and Fermentation Behavior Suggest Microbial Contribution to Regional Wine Characteristics


Regionally distinct wine characteristics (terroir) are an important aspect of wine production and consumer appreciation. Microbial activity is an integral part of wine production, and grape and wine microbiota present regionally defined patterns associated with vineyard and climatic conditions, but the degree to which these microbial patterns associate with the chemical composition of wine is unclear. Through a longitudinal survey of over 200 commercial wine fermentations, we demonstrate that both grape microbiota and wine metabolite profiles distinguish viticultural area designations and individual vineyards within Napa and Sonoma Counties, California. Associations among wine microbiota and fermentation characteristics suggest new links between microbiota, fermentation performance, and wine properties. The bacterial and fungal consortia of wine fermentations, composed from vineyard and winery sources, correlate with the chemical composition of the finished wines and predict metabolite abundances in finished wines using machine learning models. The use of postharvest microbiota as an early predictor of wine chemical composition is unprecedented and potentially poses a new paradigm for quality control of agricultural products. These findings add further evidence that microbial activity is associated with wine terroir.


Wine production is a multi-billion-dollar global industry for which microbial control and wine chemical composition are crucial aspects of quality. Terroir is an important feature of consumer appreciation and wine culture, but the many factors that contribute to terroir are nebulous. We show that grape and wine microbiota exhibit regional patterns that correlate with wine chemical composition, suggesting that the grape microbiome may influence terroir. In addition to enriching our understanding of how growing region and wine properties interact, this may provide further economic incentive for agricultural and enological practices that maintain regional microbial biodiversity.


Bokulich NA, Collins TS, Masarweh C, Allen G, Heymann H, Ebeler SE, Mills DA. 2016. Associations among wine grape microbiome, metabolome, and fermentation behavior suggest microbial contribution to regional wine characteristics. mBio 7(3):e00631-16. doi:10.1128/mBio.00631-16.

Photo Credit. David Eickhoff - shared under Creative Commons.

Ben Libberton

Science Communicator, Freelance

I'm a freelance science communicator, formerly a Postdoc in the biofilm field. I'm interested in how bacteria cause disease and look to technology to produce novel tools to study and ultimately prevent infection.