Abstinence bad for grapes…need more sex.

According to a new study by Cornell University, wine grapes have abstained from sex for nearly 8,000 years.  As many of 75% of current grape varietals are as closely related as ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ or ‘parent’ and ‘child’ (for example, Cabernet Franc & Sauvignon Blanc are the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon).  Now especially many grape vines are identical to each other (clones), much up France (some estimate 90%!) is made up of specific clones of vines.

This lack of diversity has lead to increased risk of the vines being infected with pests or disease, which has lead to increased use of pesticides.  Many of domestic and European wineries know that it only a matter of time before judicial bodies step in to regulate the use of pesticides and with no disease resistant vine strains they may be out of luck.

So what is a winery to do?  There are a few options, one being developing disease resistant grapes, however that may require cross breeding specific varietals with each other (for example Chardonnay a ‘new’ resistant varietal) which would cause the type of grape (and wine made from that grape) to change.  Under current regulations in most of the winemaking world, a wine can only be called a ‘Chardonnay’ if it is made from at least a certain percentage of the Chardonnay grape.  While cross breeding may be the most logic and successful way of beating vine disease, it definitely will disrupt and confuse consumers and affect the pockets of everyone involved…so I don’t see this as happening anytime soon.

The second option is to move towards organic or biodynamic farming, fighting disease with sustatinable practices rather than pesticides and chemicals.  We’ve seen many wineries move to this method of farming for many different reasons, and I think this will be the continuing trend.

The third would require adding a resistance gene to the current varietals in use.  However, this would come with an increased risk of consumer resistance and allergy developed to to genetically modified crops.

For right this is unlikely to majorly affect grape growers, however definitely one that requires more research.

To read the full story from the New York Times including a varietal ‘family chart,’ CLICK HERE.

Posted on January 27, 2011, in News, Wine and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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