Every Canadian grape that becomes wine must first survive a range of diseases.
One of those enemies is leafroll disease. Considered one of the most destructive diseases for grapevine health around the world, it’s caused by several viruses that combine to delay fruit ripening and lower fruit quality.
José Ramón Úrbez-Torres, a plant pathologist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), explains, “once it attacks, it can cut grape yields by as much as 40 per cent. It can be devastating to farmers, local wine makers and winery-based tourism because no healthy grapes means no high quality wine.”
Another enemy is red blotch disease. Research conducted in collaboration with Pat Bowen, Carl Bogdanoff and Kevin Usher at AAFC’s Summerland Research and Development Centre in British Columbia showed infected grapes ripen later, have altered colour and are smaller, which lowers the quality and value of wine made from those grapes.
Úrbez-Torres notes that “the traditional method of using chemical pesticides to control grapevine diseases is being replaced with more environmental friendly methods. Both consumers and farmers are looking for alternative methods to win this battle. It’s a pressure cooker to find solutions.”
To control diseases for example, Úrbez-Torres and his colleagues, have been working with local farmers for the past five years. They’ve been teaching growers about the diseases, the germs involved and in some cases the insects that spread them. The goal is to use all available information to develop and implement regional strategies to control the spread of viruses.
“This knowledge didn’t come out of thin air”, says Úrbez-Torres. “It was years of mapping and monitoring the natural spread of the viruses. Also, with the collaboration of AAFC entomologist Tom Lowery, figuring out which insects were carrying the disease to plants, studying the biology of the disease, and testing ways to control it naturally.”
“My colleagues and I are passionate about what we do. Canada has an award-winning wine industry that bottles over 250 million bottles a year. We can’t let farmers, vintners, and Canadians down. This is a battle we will continue to fight so that people can lift a glass of Canadian wine and say this is the best wine they ever tasted.”