July 30: Industrialisation of grapevine nurseries is the cause of “genetic erosion” internationally and therefore, there is a need to create the “genetic pool” of vino-diversity, claims Antonio Graca, Co-founder Director of PORVID- Portuguese Association for Grapevine Diversity, writes Sheetal Kadam who was spellbound by his Presentation at the MUST Fermenting Ideas conference in Cascais last month and talked to him at length afterwards
A Master in Oenology from Universidade De TRAS-OS-MONTES E ALTO DOURO, Antonio Graça is also the Director of Research and development at Sograpes Vinhos SA. He feels that Industrialisation of grapevine nurseries and trade of grapevine planting material is the cause of “genetic erosion” internationally. How dreadful this genetic erosion could be, if the countries keep losing the grapevine “genes” (a unit of heredity transferred from a parent to its offspring) of their natural, ancestral heritage grape varieties, he wonders.
There is a need to create the “genetic pool” of vino-diversity, he says, to facilitate wine producers and the grape growers to overcome the grape growing challenges by selecting commercial clones as per the need; and to possibly reverse the process of genetic erosion by collection and conservation of clones of the grape varieties.
PORVID proves to be an effective tool for the said cause. It was co-founded in 2009 by an association of private companies, cooperatives, technical associations, public universities and institutes of the Portuguese Ministry of Agriculture. Under the gamp of PORVID deep studies have been undertaken to sense the ancestral vino-diversity. Antonio clearly states, “The project PORVID is about conserving the natural genetic diversity of ancient native Portuguese grapevines and use that diversity to create polyclonal commercial vineyards that are more resilient to pressures such as climate change etc”
When asked how rational the decision of PROVID is, Antonio replies “More than rational it is a responsible decision. Our generation still received this ancient heritage that comes from millions of years ago. We have a responsibility to leave for the use and enjoyment of coming generations. The work developed in Portugal for the last 40 years has demonstrated that it is possible and practical to do so. However, the intangible value is much higher. It has enabled to save varieties, not with-standing the expectations, especially low yielding variety like Touriga Nacional.”
Extensive research is being done on the inter-linked varieties and the degree of variation within the clones of the same variety. This leads to the selection of optimum variety with quality yields, sugar levels, acids levels, colour and other desired characters. It also helps clear understanding of the lineage of any variety, right from its origin. It encourages the grape grower identify the highly stable clone with less sensitive genome across environments.
PORVID reports to have accumulated 30,000 clones from 210 varieties by 2016, out of the final goal of 50, 000 clones from 250 varieties at the Centre for Conservation of Grapevine Diversity, a 274 hA state property located 40 km east from Lisbon. This genotype collection must be the “Jurassic Park” of Vitis vinifera. It now skips to next level to try to recover genetic resilience by fostering artificial breeding programs in laboratories to generate diversity.
“By planting polyclonal vineyards, farmers and winemakers achieve greater resilience for their production. At the same-time they drive the conservation process; for polyclonal selections to be made, it is necessary to conserve a representative sample of diversity of each variety,” advises Antonio.
The endangered varieties have not been able to internationalize as they are greatly adapted to their regions which they are native of, making it more difficult for them to adapt and thrive well in shuffled terroirs. “Even international varieties are endangered as enough measures have not been taken to conserve the samples of inner variability for varieties such as Riesling, Syrah, Nebbiolo or Assyrtiko!”
More vineyards need to be dedicated to conserve the demonstrated representatives of each variety, it maybe international or indigenous of any country or region; this is the need of the hour.
“For the well-being of these varieties they should be considered as endangered, even if they are not, in the same way as an obscure variety from Portugal. Only then will we take these varieties seriously” says Antonio.
“This project uplifts the endangered species to create its foot prints in the international markets. Some wines are coming into the market from varieties that have never been used before to make single-variety wines, to name a few- Tinta Francisca, Jampal and Samarrinho. This in return raises awareness of the incredible vino-diversity and the interesting sensory profiles they offer.”
“We find through the scientific demonstration Portugal’s terrain with massive vino-diversity. And a secondary center of domestication for the plants, right after the Caucasian region. Portugal as a wine origin is being promoted as “A world of diversity” It would be difficult to do better than that, so we are just trying to conserve it,” says Antonio.
What message would you like to give to our reader? Bluntly replies Antonio, “Portugal is doing its job in conserving an ancient natural richness: the genetic diversity of its grapevine varieties. If you drink Portuguese wines you will not just discover the quality and identity of these excellent wines, you will also join in that biodiversity conservation process as some of the value you pay for a bottle will trickle down until it reaches our project through our associated wine companies. So, drink Portuguese wines and help sustain the loss of genetic diversity and biodiversity in vineyards.”
It enables PORVID to work within the OIV- International Organization for Vine and Wine technical expert groups as Antonio Graca is a Viticulture expert with OIV. It helps set a regulatory framework for the promotions of vino-diversity friendly approach.
These varieties being less adaptable to different environment are restricted to their native regions, narrowing their scope to spread over different terroirs. These endangered varieties of Vitis vinifera today if left unchecked and unattended without conservation of the uniqueness of each clone within the variety, will cause irrevocable, tragic extinction of many varieties, gifting huge loss for the future creators of wine industry.
In abundance varieties exist only in ampelographic collections; do we still want this?
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