Ready the horns.
Stellenbosch University professor Benoit Divol was knighted for his contributions in enhancing research cooperation in viticulture and oenology between the French and South Africa.
Divol was honoured with the Knight in the Order of Agricultural Merit. Or, as the French would say, he received the Chevalier dans l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole. He was knighted by the French government last year.
He may be Parisian by birth, but Divol became the only person with South African links to have received the order since it was created in 1883.
“Even though the knighthood is only ceremonial by nature, I feel honoured by this token of appreciation of my work. It acknowledges my endeavours to form academic links between France and South Africa,” says Divol.
His contributions toward research alliances include post-graduate programme interactions between staff and students, as well as his joint PhD between Maties 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.
“On a personal level, it obviously makes me happy to create bridges between France and South Africa. I also sincerely believe that it provides great professional and personal opportunities for my students.
“It contributes positively to the international standing of the department of viticulture and oenology and the South African Grape and Wine Research Institute,” he says.
He went on to receive his PhD in oenology from the National Polytechnic Institute of Toulouse in 2004. In 2010 he received a DSc from the University of Bordeaux. Divol has worked at Stellenbosch since 2005 after he joined the former Institute for Wine Biotechnology as a post-doctoral researcher.
Since then he has led the department of viticulture and oenology as chairperson. He was promoted to associate professor in 2017.
“On a personal level, it obviously makes me happy to create bridges between France and South Africa.”
As a microbiologist, Divol, is also a qualified winemaker. He focuses on yeasts and enzymes that are used in the winemaking process.
These days, Divol focuses his attention on non-Saccharomyces yeast species. He particularly looks at how they take up and use nutrients and how they influence wine composition overall.
Along with his students, he studies how such yeasts respond on a cellular and molecular level when exposed to grape juice or wine.
Currently, 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,” he says.
“These yeasts tend to be not as well adapted to survive the fermentation process that turns grape juice into wine as Saccharomy cescerevisiae strains are. Nevertheless, they display relevant properties.”
Divol believes the use of non-Saccharomyces yeast species could also make winemaking more environmentally friendly, and even reduce the use of chemicals in the process.