BREAKING NEWS: UBC Researchers Discover 23 New Stilbenes in Red Wine

UPDATE: The paper that had been accepted based on this research is now published and available online here:

BREAKING NEWS: I’m pleased to be the first to announce the discovery of 23 new stilbene compounds in red wine that could have major implications for winemaking and health. Researchers from the University of British Columbia (Okanagan; Department of Chemistry) recently collaborated with researchers from the University of Adelaide (Waite Campus; School of Agriculture, Food and Wine) to identify these previously undiscovered compounds in red wine.

The Fipke Center at UBC: Home of the Saucier Enology Laboratory (image copyright RYEAMANS 2013)

The Fipke Center at UBC: Home of the Saucier Enology Laboratory (image copyright RYEAMANS 2013)

Not a lot is known about the exact number and types of compounds found in red wine, and up until now research has only focused on a small number of them including resveratrol, a stilbenoid compound many of us are familiar with in terms of its possession of many health benefits for humans and also its role in the plant as a defensive mechanism against infection or other microbial attacks.

In order to get a better understanding of the specific chemical composition of the wine, and to look for other compounds in it that might also be beneficial for human health, Dr. Cédric Saucier and his laboratory from the University of British Columbia in Okanagan, in collaboration with Dr. Dennis Taylor from the University of Adelaide in Australia went on a “fishing expedition” for the structural variants of resveratrol and other stilbenoid compounds in Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir red wines from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.

Their results identified 41 stilbene compounds in red wine using mass spectrometry techniques (UHPLC-ESI-Q-TOF); 23 of which were previously undiscovered and undocumented in red wine. Some of these “new” compounds in red wine include several resveratrol homo-dimers, resveratrol hetero-dimers,

The GC-MS machine in the Saucier Enology Laboratory at UBC:  Where the magic happens.  (image copyright LWHITTALL 2013)

The GC-MS machine in the Saucier Enology Laboratory at UBC: Where the magic happens. (image copyright LWHITTALL 2013)

resveratrol-piceatannol hetero-dimers, piceatannol-piceatannol homo-dimers, O-glycosylated, methoxylated, and oxidized resveratrol dimers, several resveratrol trimers, and several stilbenoid tetramers. Though only found in very small amounts (estimated to be 10-100x less than resveratrol levels in red wine), it is possible that concentrating these “new” compounds could provide potential health benefits when consumed in supplement form.

Interestingly, not a single new glycosylated resveratrol monomer was found in the wine, indicating that there may be complex reactions occurring in the wine that produce these polymers without leaving any free monomeric forms available in the solution and which we do not yet fully understand.

Previous Breakthroughs in Enology at UBC

The Saucier lab has been very busy the past couple of years, with another important discovery in 2012 regarding tannin structure and composition in wine. Saucier, along with his postdoctoral fellow Adéline Delcambre, discovered 14 previously unknown tannin compounds in red wine, the results of which were published in the Journal of Mass Spectrometry. Prior to this discovery, all we really knew about tannins in wine was their primary structure or units (including catechin, epicatechin, epicatechin-gallate, and epigallocatechin). Until the Saucier lab discovery, the secondary and tertiary structures (i.e. more detailed structure) were mostly unknown and poorly understood.

Several questions they asked during this research were 1) how are the tannins extracted?; 2) what is their structure?; and 3) how are these tannin compounds assembled? While not all of these questions were answered in this research, discovering the more complicated structures of 14 of these compounds was an

Dr. Cedric Saucier showing us the Frozen Wine Library in the Saucier Enology Laboratory at UBC (image copyright RYEAMANS 2013)

Dr. Cedric Saucier showing us the Frozen Wine Library in the Saucier Enology Laboratory at UBC (image copyright RYEAMANS 2013)

important breakthrough in tannin research and paves the way for future research on tannin chemistry and grape ripening, as well as various implications for winemaking and viticulture.

From this previous research, two important applications for winemaking emerged. First, while they determined these 14 compounds may not have much or any influence on flavor, they may be very important precursors to flavor compounds and/or aid in the biosynthesis of particular flavor compounds. Second (and finally), since these 14 new compounds were only found in the seeds of the grapes and not the skins, it may be possible to develop some technology that allows winemakers to test the seed chemistry directly in the field in order to determine with more accuracy when the grapes are ready to be harvested, as well as determining the extent of seed tannin extraction during the winemaking process.

Future Research

With any discovery comes the need to dig deeper. Following this recent discovery of 23 stilbenes in red wine, the Saucier Laboratory is currently undertaking the difficult task of developing a set of standards for each of the 23 “new” stilbenes in order to assist them and other laboratories in developing assays for future identification and structural tests of these compounds, and to add to the growing set of standards commercially available for scientific research.

With the discovery of 23 previously unknown stilbenes in red wine by UBC researchers led by Dr. Cédric Saucier and his collaborators at the University of Adelaide led by Dr. Dennis Taylor, there are many possible opportunities for more research and discovery. Like resveratrol, one or more of these 23 newly discovered stilbenes in red wine could have positive health benefits, though the amount present in red wine may be too little to be beneficial at moderate consumption levels. It is possible that isolating and concentrating these compounds could provide the benefits necessary to improve human health in many areas, including Alzheimers, cardiovascular health, and other illnesses or disease.

Dr. Cedric Saucier posing with Becca Yeamans, MS. (aka, The Academic Wino) (image copyright RYEAMANS 2013)

Dr. Cedric Saucier posing with Becca Yeamans, MS. (aka, The Academic Wino) (image copyright RYEAMANS 2013)

Enology at UBC

The University of British Columbia (UBC) Okanagan campus in Kelowna, British Columbia is home to roughly 7000 students, most of whom are undergraduates. The school has seen tremendous growth in the past few years; increasing in size and stature from a smaller University College to a larger University with several new additions including a new medical center which will be under construction shortly.

To visit the Saucier Enology Laboratory on the web, check out their website here:

There is currently no official program for viticulture and/or enology, however, Dr. Cédric Saucier, who received his Ph.D. in Enology from the University of Bordeaux and completed his postdoctoral work at the University of California at Davis, currently teaches two enology courses per year and runs the Saucier Enology Laboratory that includes one Ph.D. student, three Masters students, as well as two postdoctoral fellows and a handful of interns. Dr. Saucier currently works through the Chemistry Department (Biochemistry Program) though one day hopes to establish a separate Enology program at UBC Okanagan.

Even though students current receive a degree in Chemistry instead of a specific degree in Enology, Saucier said that from a recent class, 4 out of 25 students went on to work at a winery. Saucier noted that the current program isn’t enough to become a full blown winemaker right after graduation, however it does provide them with a solid backbone that helps them get off to a good start in the cellar.

With Cédric Saucier’s infectious enthusiasm for wine research, along with the discoveries his lab has made in the past couple of years with the assistance of collaborators from the University of Adelaide, I think there is a great future for a potential Enology program at the University of British Columbia, and hope to see the program continue to expand, especially in the budding wine region of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.

This research was presented at a poster session yesterday by UBC Masters student Ryan Moss at the American Society for Mass Spectrometry Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota and has been accepted into Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry and is available on-line here:

This research was supported by a UBC Okanagan Campus Office of the Provost International Grant, an NSERC Discovery Grant, a CFI Leader Opportunity Fund Grant, and partially supported by the School of Agriculture, Food, & Wine at the University of Adelaide, the Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation in Australia, as well as matching funds from the Australian Government.