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Stellenbosch University wine researcher receives French knighthood

Stellenbosch University’s Professor Benoit Divol has been bestowed a ceremonial knighthood by the French government. Photo: Stellenbosch University

Stellenbosch University’s Professor Benoit Divol has been bestowed a ceremonial knighthood by the French government. Photo: Stellenbosch University

Published Feb 10, 2021

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CAPE TOWN - A wine researcher from Stellenbosch University has been bestowed a ceremonial knighthood, the Chevalier dans l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole (Knight in the Order of Agricultural Merit) by the French government.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the university said wine microbiologist Professor Benoit Divol is a part of the Department of Viticulture and Oenology and the South African Grape and Wine Research Institute at Stellenbosch University.

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“The Order was first created in 1883. Divol is the only person with South African links to have received the Order in 2020. He is acknowledged for his scientific contributions as well as his endeavours to enhance research co-operation between France and South Africa, particularly in the fields of viticulture and oenology,” the university said.

Parisian by birth, Divol has a PhD in oenology from the National Polytechnic Institute of Toulouse and a doctorate in science from the University of Bordeaux.

He started working at Stellenbosch University in 2005, where he joined the then Institute for Wine Biotechnology as a post-doctoral researcher.

He has since, among others, led as the chairperson of the Department of Viticulture and Oenology and was promoted to associate professor in 2017.

Divol described receiving this recognition as an honour.

“Even though the knighthood is only ceremonial by nature, I feel honoured by this token of appreciation of my work, especially because it acknowledges my endeavours to form academic links between France and South Africa,” he said.

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This includes research alliances, postgraduate study programme interactions, staff and student mobility and joint PhD studies between Stellenbosch University and the University of Burgundy, the National Polytechnic Institute of Toulouse, the University of Bordeaux and the University of Montpellier.

Divol has also received funding for his research from industry partners in France.

He said he is happy to create bridges between France and South Africa and sincerely believes it provides great professional and personal opportunities for his students and contributes positively to the international standing of the Department of Viticulture and Oenology as well as the South African Grape and Wine Research Institute.

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Divol is a qualified winemaker who focuses on yeasts and enzymes that are used in the winemaking process.

Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeasts are typically used in the fermentation process. Saccharomyces yeasts are widely used in the food and beverage industries because of their ability to easily convert sugars into carbon dioxide and alcohol while producing a large variety of flavour compounds.

However, Divol focuses on non-Saccharomyces yeast species, how they take up and use nutrients and their influence on wine composition overall.

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He also studies how such yeasts respond on a cellular and molecular level when exposed to grape juice or wine. They are searching for hydrolytic enzymes and cell wall proteins that might be of interest in the winemaking process, and ways in which to improve non-Saccharomyces yeasts using techniques other than genetic modification.

“The study of non-Saccharomyces yeasts worldwide only started approximately two decades ago.

“These yeasts tend to be not as well adapted to survive the fermentation process that turns grape juice into wine as Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains are. Nevertheless, they display relevant properties,” Divol said.

Thanks to research done at the university, quite a few yeasts have been commercialised, and one such discovery made by Divol and his team is expected to be commercialised in the next two years.

African News Agency

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