Simone Castellarin grew up in the vineyards of Northern Italy. Now he wants to share his wine-growing knowledge with B.C. growers
Simone Castellarin grew up with grapes in his blood.
At the age of 10, Castellarin started working in his uncle’s vineyard in northeastern Italy, a region famous for its white wines: prosecco and pinot gris. Come harvest season, he’d run through the vineyard with his cousins, haphazardly picking grapes.
“We played more than we worked,” he says, in a musical accent that reveals his Italian roots.
Now, Castellarin researches the fruit. He joined the Faculty of Land and Food Systems at the University of British Columbia as an assistant professor earlier this year.
In addition to teaching viticulture – the science of grapes – he will conduct research out of UBC’s $7 million Wine Research Centre and share his knowledge with B.C. winemakers.
From grapevine to glass
Amidst the alluring features of wine, there’s a hard science behind what’s being poured into your glass.
Measuring the quality of grapes on microscopic and molecular levels, Castellarin’s research seeks to understand how grapes ripen and how grapevine plants work, testing the plant’s reaction to environmental stresses including temperature change and water deficiency.
In recent years, droughts are increasingly becoming a problem for the wine industry.
“Winemakers unfamiliar with how to address this new climatic scenario face problems with their grape crop,” says Castellarin. “They rely on scientists to help come up with solutions.”
As for how winemakers get the right look, smell and taste of your favourite vino? Location, location, location.
“The same variety of grape can give you a different wine, depending on where it’s grown in the world,” explains Castellarin. “Cabernet Sauvignon grown in California is very fruity because it’s so warm there. But Cabernet Sauvignon grown in cooler regions is not so fruity, and have different aromas.”
A whole new world
Despite coming from a country that has produced famous wines for centuries, Castellarin is excited to do research here in Canada.
“The B.C. wine business is growing, especially in the last 20 to 30 years, with more and more wineries and vineyards opening,” he says. “In Europe, it’s a different picture. They’re reducing production.”
Grapes were first planted in B.C. back in 1859. Today, more than a million people a year visit the vineyards in the Okanagan Valley, the site of Castellarin’s field research. He is working with farmworkers to improve grape production and collecting fruit samples to take back to his laboratory for study.
When it comes to Castellarin’s favourite wine, it turns out his taste buds, much like his career path, don’t stray far from his origins.
“I prefer whites to reds but that’s because I grew up in area of white wine,” he says.