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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hermann Missouri Wine Grape Might be Answer to Fighting Mildew and Rot


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COLUMBIA — Five years ago, Les Bourgeois Winery in Rocheport lost 25 percent of its vignoles crop to downy mildew and late season rot.
The winery has since taken steps to prevent such losses, but record levels of precipitation in recent years have increased the threat from mildew for vineyards in the area.
"The three past years have been some of the most difficult growing seasons," said Cory Bomgaars, head winemaker at Les Bourgeois.
Losing crops isn't the only damage attributed to downy mildew and other types of fungi, he said.
"The wine quality can even be affected," Bomgaars said. "It might turn a $10 gallon into a $5 gallon."
To combat mildew, vineyards will often spray fungicides on their crops, but one local varietal has a natural resistance to downy mildew and other diseases that plague susceptible European varietals.
The Norton grape is a 150-year-old hybrid from a natural vine growing in America that has learned how to cope with downy mildew, powdery mildew and black rot fungus. It can ramp up its defenses to prevent the fungus from establishing itself.
Researchers are now trying to identify the specific genes responsible for Norton's resistance and hope to cross breed these genes with other grape varietals.


If the researchers are successful in creating resistant hybrids,  they hope to eliminate or reduce the use of fungicides. This would allow the grapes to grow where it is now climatically unfeasible without fungicides.
Using vines with Norton's resistance would also improve the yield of existing crops and eliminate the cost of fungicides.
But even Norton has its limitations, winemakers say.
Said Dave Johnson, the head winemaker at Stone Hill Winery in Hermann: "Norton in some years can be grown without fungicide, but in a wet year, even Norton needs a little help."
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