The Remote Mountains Producing Some of the World's Healthiest Wines
Sir Isaac Newton can keep his apple. A sunburn provided all the inspiration one Bolivian scientist needed to revolutionize how we think about health and high-altitude winemaking.
Marco Taquichiri, head of the physics department at the Universidad Autónoma Juan Misael Saracho in Tarija, Bolivia, recently launched a study analyzing the correlation between elevation and resveratrol, a naturally occurring polyphenol compound. He found that grapes grown in Bolivia contain up to 10 times more resveratrol than those grown at lower elevations.
Found in grape skins, resveratrol reputedly possesses anti-aging and disease-fighting properties. Studies suggest it could inhibit the growth of tumors and curb pre-carcinogenic activity. Resveratrol is also frequently cited as a possible explanation for France’s low levels of cardiovascular disease, despite a national diet high in saturated fats.
As a physicist, Taquichiri was less interested in the health impacts of antioxidants and more curious about how plants in the region were able to defend themselves against a daily bombardment of solar radiation, particularly ultraviolet light. The urban municipality of Tarija and its surrounding valley are fairly close to the equator and reach headache-inducing altitudes. This combination makes the solar radiation particularly powerful.
Taquichiri recalled a conversation he had with some friends at the university about the response plants have to high levels of solar radiation. “Humans, to protect ourselves from the sun, we’ll go to the shade. We put on hats. We put on sunblock,” he said. “And what do plants do?”
They produce chemical compounds to protect themselves, he explained, one of which is resveratrol. With that in mind, Taquichiri decided to measure resveratrol levels in local grapes by processing them into wine and testing the samples.
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