Microbial diseases are of major concern in vitiviniculture as they cause grape losses and wine alterations, but the prevention with chemical substances represents a risk to human health and agricultural ecosystem. A promising alternative is the biocontrol and bioprotection activity of non-Saccharomyces yeasts, such as Metschnikowia pulcherrima, which also presents positive oenological traits when used in multistarter fermentations. The aim of this study was to assess the impact of a selected M. pulcherrima strain in the post-harvest withering and vinification of Garganega grapes to produce the sweet 'passito' wine Recioto di Gambellara DOCG (Italy). M. pulcherrima was firstly inoculated on grape at the beginning of the withering process, and afterwards in must for multistarter sequential microfermentation trials with Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Microbiological, chemical, and sensory analyses were carried out to monitor the vinification of treated and control grapes. Grape bunches during withering were a suitable environment for the colonization by M. pulcherrima, which effectively prevented growth of molds. Differences in grape must composition were observed, and the diverse inoculation strategies caused noticeable variations of fermentation kinetics, main oenological parameters, wine aroma profile, and sensory perception. M. pulcherrima proved effective to protect grapes against fungal infections during withering and contribute to alcoholic fermentation generating wine with distinguished aromatic characteristics.
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