Dna Unraveleld: Ancient Grapes, Climate Change And Rewriting The Code

Posted: Jun 20, 2019

In yesterday's DNA unraveled Dr. Vouillamoz revealed the secrets behind genetic photoshopping, GMO vs. Gene editing and more. In today's segment he discussed the convergence of genetics and climate change, ancient grape varieties and hybrids. If you would like to listen to the entire podcast, you may find it below.

(The DNA of Wine).

Wine Line Radio

Well that brings us really full circle to a discussion of climate change in genetics.

I was looking recently at an animated graphic that illustrated the rise in temperature over time as it relates to vineyards that will have to move north in order to maintain the type of concentrations and characteristics that are typical at a lower latitude. It poses the question that in a number of years who they may be growing cabernet sauvignon in an unlikely place such as Sweden.

Dr. Vouillamoz

It is true that with global warming, we see the latitude and also the elevation of the vineyards moving upwards.

In southern England we are starting to produce very serious white wines and very serious sparkling wines. The big names in champagne have already invested in Southern England in order to produce excellent sparkling wines. That was not possible 30 or 50 years ago.

Today we have examples in Sweden and in Norway of vineyards t that are becoming more important.

In the traditional regions, however, I cannot imagine, at least not in my lifetime, that for example in Burgundy they will abandon Pinot and plant grenache or anything as I cannot imagine that as a wine lover. What has been done and will be done in the future is to mitigate the effects by changing the viticulture, pruning, and irrigation techniques as well as by changing the clones.

We have many viticultural techniques and means to try before we plant something else. For me one of the most important research that still needs to be done is to find what is the best root stock for each clone of each variety. When people say we need to match the variety to the terroir. OK it's nice. It is like poetry but it's way too simple. You need to match the right root stock with the right clone, and you need to maintain the clonal diversity.

Dr. Vouillamoz

Another thing that I'm supporting is to go back to the ancient varieties that used to be cultivated in a given place and that had been abandoned, many times in favor of more famous varieties. If you take all the local varieties that have been discarded recently, they are the ones which have been through hundreds of years of different climates. With today’s new change of climate the ancient varieties would be the best ones to cope with it.

Wine Line Radio

That's really interesting.

It seems to me that I've kind of seen that with a resurgence in the last decade of Tannat for instance which is a grape that kind of went out of favor in Bordeaux and other parts of France and now has become a leading grape in Uruguay for instance.

Dr. Vouillamoz

Yes but this dates back to the years before phylloxerra, when Tannat or Carmenere was introduced to South America or Malbec which whose name is Côt. This is long before the global warming trends. It's not related to that. Those kind of grapes for example were hard to ripen especially tannat or other late ripening varieties for example. In Switzerland we have late ripening varieties and up to now global warming has helped them to mature much better than they did before. So, in some cases global warming can have positive effects. In some cases,.


There are really two questions to close with today and thank you for these excellent explanations. I know a lot of the answers to the questions for our listeners are going to be found in a very special place and I'll talk that about in a moment. Do you feel that there are some advances in genetics that will make a higher quality wine possible? And finally we really want to wrap up today with you introducing the listeners, if they haven't heard about it already, to the book that you co-authored with Master of Wine Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding entitled, Wine Grapes. I believe it's been translated into Japanese. Is that correct?

Dr. Vouillamoz

Yes it is correct. It's due out on July 12th in Japanese. It is the first translation of the book and it happens to be in Japanese. I'm very much looking forward to holding the book in my hands and I must remember to do to read it in the right order from bottom to top. (Smiles)


So, let's address those two things.

I mean the advances in genetics that you feel could make higher quality wine and your book.

Dr. Vouillamoz

Yes of course. Genetics has always focused on making better wines. Now we have the full genome of the grape vine which happens to be pinot noir. It was completed in 2007 and for the record in 2007 the cost of the research was 23 million euros for the full sequence of pinot noir.

If you conduct the sequencing now with the advances in technique it costs a mere five hundred dollars.

Well it's amazing. It's amazing in 15 years. The landscape has changed completely.

I find this fascinating. The evolution of the research is really going fast. The Crispr/Cas-9 gene editing technique is one of the future applications and now that we know most of the genes and where they are located in the genome and what they are coding for. Since we know most of it or the majority of them, we now can interfere with the with the genome in order to produce varieties that are more resistant to fungal disease.

We can also use classical genetics with hybridization, whereby you take the pollen from a vine and you put it on the female part (the pistol) of another vine and you create new hybrids that are resistant to the fungal disease.

The general public is asking for clean viticulture. They don't want these winemakers to spray a lot of nasty chemicals on the vineyards for the next 50 or 100 years. Those kind of advances in genetics will also help not only to have better wines, but also to have cleaner viticulture.


These are very encouraging news.

Please provide us a quick cliff note of Wine Grapes. I believe it's a 14-hundred-page tome you, Ms. Robinson and Ms. Harding coauthored?

For the answer to this question please listen to the podcast or return tomorrow to review an exciting discussion between Wine Line Radio and Dr. Vouillamoz.

Source: Go-Wine.com and Wine Line Radio.com
June 20, 2019

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