Friday, December 5, 2014

Grapes of Thrones: A look at wine grape biodiversity

Grapes of Thrones: A look at Grape Biodiversity

The wine industry prides itself on the multitudes and varieties of wines that is produced all around the world. Cabernet sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Syrah, and many others are all part the vast world so beloved by wine drinkers everywhere. There are people who hold grapes in such high regard compared to others it almost feels like a sports rivalry. While many see the wine grape varieties as vast and thus very bio diverse there has been some recent genetic testing looking at the history of grapes and where they actually came from.

            Cabernet Sauvignon, a very popular wine grape resulted from the complete chance cross pollination of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc in the wilds of western France hundreds of years ago. Many others join the troupe of hybrids including, Chardonnay, and Syrah that in essence are all actually GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) albeit due to natural circumstances. Genetic Testing has found that at the center of this large web of grape vines is a grape called Traminer. Traminer has 20 first degree relatives including Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc, as well as many others. These first degree relatives spread outward and touch a huge percentage of the common grape variety harvested for wine today.
The main problem with this is that what seemed like a large bio diverse industry actually has a very common ancestor, and with singularity comes weaknesses. These include hurtful pathogens, funguses, insect defenses, rot, and mold issues. With most of our wine grapes susceptible to similar things there exists the possibilities for catastrophe of an industry. The industry needs to identify the strains that are similar and branch out, find other grapes, or even cross breed grapes to give them better defenses. Although this may not be needed at all, wine grapes survived just fine on their own for thousands of years, so the future might not be so bleak.


Skyler Finney

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