The $ 5 million UC Davis project aims to help the wine business fight red spot disease

The 14-year battle against a virus that causes vine leaves to stain long before the fall and has been blamed for depleting the sweetness of the grapes has affected a key source for nurseries that supply the North Coast and other regions of California.

But construction is now underway on the first of two planned greenhouses at the University of California, Davis, designed to protect vine material from red spots and other diseases that could threaten an industry whose economic impact in California is $ 57.6 billion a year. .

The $ 5.25 million start-up phase is a 14,400-square-foot greenhouse designed with a vestibule to protect against flying or riding insects inside, carrying the pathogens they carry. But the expected completion of the greenhouse by the end of next year will be able to provide only half of the number of vineyards offered annually by the open vineyard at the facility on the border of Iolo Solano County, so another greenhouse will be needed, according to facility officials. .

This is a Foundation Plant Services project developed in 1958 by scientists from the University of California and the California Department of Food and Agriculture to test grape and strawberry vines, fruit and nut trees, rose bushes and sweet potato plants for pests and diseases, so as not to spread cribs.

“It’s a great way for viruses to move around,” said Monica Cooper, Ph.D., a consultant in viticulture and pest control at UC Cooperative Extension in Napa County.

In California, the main vector is believed to be the triangular alfalfa hopper. To the east is the Virgin creeping cicada. The alfalfa hopper has been studied for decades and has been studied and then ruled out as a vector for Pierce’s disease, Cooper said. Pierce’s disease is a dangerous enemy in the wine business because of its rapid action to starve the vineyards of nutrients.

The 100-acre main vineyards at UC Davis are the main source of vineyard plant material distributed in nurseries under the CDFA Vine Registration and Certification Program, which provides most of the vineyards planted in the United States.

It is also the largest quarantine center in the country for vine materials coming from outside the country, as selected clones from France. Imported vine materials are tested for two years for one of the 86 known vine viruses before being considered disease-free.

“This is something that is changing the game for us,” said Maher Al Ruachnich, a plant pathologist and director of the Foundation Plant Services, about the greenhouse project.

This is because the vineyard of the Russell Ranch Foundation in Davis, one of the two outdoor breeding sites, has been suffering from the red spot virus on the vine since it was discovered there in 2017, and the spread was found in 52% of the crop, collected last. will fall. No plant material was sent from this property.

The other main vineyard, called Classic, is the source of 4,000 cleared vineyards provided by the program annually. But the virus is found in 1% of this vineyard, and program officials fear it could grow.

The second greenhouse, which is expected to be built in two or three years, will produce 4,000 vineyards for internal insulation.

The red spot virus was first detected in a Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in Napa Valley in 2008. It has since been detected in wine-growing regions in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, North Carolina, New York and Ohio.

A 2017 Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences study estimates that losses from red spot virus on vines can range from nearly $ 5,500 per acre in Washington state to $ 169,000 in the Napa Valley, varying according to the degree of infection, agricultural costs and the value of the harvest.

Cooper, who was part of the study, said they have since learned much more about the virus, its effects on vines and fruits, as well as putative vectors and their preferred host plants.

Funding for the first vineyard greenhouse at UC Davis comes in part from the CDFA-led Advisory Council for the Improvement of Fruit Trees, Walnut Trees and Vineyard in California, which contributed $ 4 million. The California Grape Seed Research Foundation provided $ 500,000, the Foundation Plant Services $ 450,000, and the California Grape Seed Commission provided $ 100,000.

Jeff Quakenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Before coming to the Business Journal in 1999, he wrote for the Bay City News Service in San Francisco. Contact him at [email protected] or 707-521-4256.

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