Friday, July 10, 2015

Why growing vinifera (the classic winegrapes) is wrong:

Check this out:

France uses noxious inorganic chemicals to kill fungal diseases in its famous vineyards. Most non-organic grapegrowers in the US do, also. These chemical sprays kill beneficial insects, worms, etc, and sterilize the soil. Such sprays should be illegal due to the harm they cause to the earth. And now, we see that they injure vineyard workers as well (and in France, many vineyard workers have to wear hazmat suits when they spray the vineyards).

We humans caused this problem: We prevented the classic winegrapes (Vitis vinifera) from evolving over the past five or six millennia. Here's what the grapes want to do: They want to make tasty grapes that are eaten by animals who then move somewhere else and poop out the seeds, which grow into slightly different "children" of the parent grape (just as human kids are different from their parents). The next generation might be better or might be worse. If it's better, then the grape is more likely to succeed. That, in short, is evolution.

But we like the taste of, say, Cab Sauv, so we take cuttings of the vine and root them and plant an identical copy of the parent somewhere else. We don't let the grape continue to evolve defenses against its predators such as fungal diseases. Meanwhile, the fungi continue to evolve, and by now the poor vinifera grapes cannot protect themselves from the fungal attack, and the grapes either die out or the fruit quality suffers.

There are at least a couple of solutions:
1. Make growers use ORGANIC sprays. These are more expensive. But the vineyard owner still has to pay for tractor fuel and labor to apply the spray.

2. Grow modern varieties of grapes (ta-da!). These are crosses of vinifera grapes with other grape species which have wonderful defenses against fungi, so good that in my vineyard in SW Washington, I never have to apply any spray and the grapes are super healthy. If the crossing is done right, you get a vinifera-like flavor that wine lovers want and expect, but you also get disease resistance, earlier ripening, and more cold tolerance. This is the "green" solution; this is the direction we should all head.

(The photo is of a Jupiter grape leafing out at Epona Vineyard in Woodland WA.)