Want to be natural? Harvest from wild vines, says grape geneticist3rd July, 2014 by Patrick Schmitt
Grape geneticist José Vouillamoz has rubbished an idea that growing vines from seed would bring any benefits, and said that if producers really want to be natural they should harvest grapes from wild vines.
Responding to an idea from Etna-based Frank Cornelissen that vines grown from seed would prove more disease resistant, Vouillamoz told the producer that seed-grown vines would actually be less resistant to disease.
He also said that if Cornelissen really wanted to be natural, he “should go into the forests and harvest sylvestris”.
Cornelissen, speaking during May’s MW symposium in Florence, said he had planted an “experimental vineyard” on the slopes of Etna containing vines grown only from seeds.
Explaining his decision to start this trial, Cornelissen said he was hoping “to breed varieties that will resist attacks from new diseases”.
But Vouillamoz, who was also a speaker at the MW symposium, was quick to point out that such an approach would in fact yield the opposite effect – vines that were more vulnerable.
“I have a concern with this,” he began. “Seeds are the result of fertilization, so if they were from a Nerello Mascalese vine, then it would change identity, it wouldn’t be Nerello Mascalese anymore.”
Continuing he said, “But it [reproduction] is mainly the result of self-fertilisation, so the result is even less resistant, and very prone to diseases.”
Vouillamoz added that he had already shared his views with well-known Californian winemaker Randall Grahm, who is also growing vines from seed for his Bonny Doon estate.
However, Vouillamoz said that the aim of Grahm’s trial was different: he wants to use the seed-grown vines as rootstocks, because they root more vertically than those from cuttings – and deep-rooting young vines are less reliant on irrigation.
Summing up, Vouillamoz stated, “Growing vines from seed does not make sense.”
“Grape varieties are not natural, they are man made, all of them.”
Turning to Cornelissen, he said, “If you want to be natural then go into a forest and harvest sylvestris,” referring to the wild vine: Vitis vinifera subsp sylvestris.
Earlier that same day, Vouillamoz had explained the origin of today’s grapes varieties, pointing out that they had all been selected from vines for particular traits, and then propagated by cutting, which produced clones.
“That’s why there are only 5-6000 grape varieties in the world, we could have many more,” he said.
He also told attendees of the MW symposium that the older the grape cultivar, the larger the number of clones.
Considering an example of the process, he said that propagating Pinot Noir by cuttings or layering “immortalizes the variety in its genetic state because you are just making copies: it doesn’t go through pollination or sexual reproduction.”
To emphasise his point, he joked, “Pinot has not had sex for 2,000 years.”