27 Mar 2017
The extreme maritime climate of Scotland’s Northern Isles restricts the range of fruits which can be grown commercially outside. Strong winds can damage bushes and a cool growing season with frequent rain and reduced sunshine are far from ideal for ripening fruit.
Since 2002, the Agronomy Institute at Orkney College UHI has been working to diversify the range of locally-grown fruits available to northern food and drink companies by testing several novel species. Some of the best performing species have been the North American plants aronia (Aronia melanocarpa), salal (Gaultheria shallon) and cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon). Cultivars of elderberry (Sambucus nigra) have also been found which have performed well in more sheltered locations.
These results have been of particular interest to the Orkney Wine Company which specialises in the production of fruit wines and which has been looking for unique, locally-produced ingredients for wines and liqueurs. As a result, the Agronomy Institute has been collaborating with the company since 2012 to identify species and varieties which combine good fruit production with attractive winemaking properties. The partners have also developed strong links with researchers at the James Hutton Institute who have analysed the chemical composition of the fruits and wines, allowing the company to better understand the characteristics which the different species bring to their products.
Using fruit from the Agronomy Institute’s trials, the wine company has released two new wines: Orkney White which contains Orkney-sourced elderflower, rosehips and gooseberries and Orkney Rosé which contains local aronia, salal and cranberry. A liqueur, Kvasir, was released in 2015 which includes elderberry and other local fruits. The Agronomy Institute has also helped the company to design and establish a fruit plantation so it can scale up production of its new wines and have its own source of fruit.
Apart from the obvious commercial benefits of this research to the wine company, the academic partners have also benefitted from working on new uses for novel fruits. Two recent joint publications have been the first to identify the potential of salal as a crop for fruit production and to provide a detailed description of the chemical composition of its fruit.