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Phylloxera Resistant Vines In Washington

April 23, 2012

Washington's wine grapes are grown like few others in the world. The Yakima Herald detailed advancements in rootstock research performed by Markus Keller, viticulture professor and James Harbertson, food science professor at WSU:

Sometimes, science needs to ask, "What if?"

Washington State University researchers spent 11 years coming up with an answer.

Across most of the globe, growers graft their plants onto roots resistant to Phylloxera, a tiny, ravenous insect responsible for decimating Europe's wine industry in the 19th century. Even wine areas in California, Oregon's Willamette Valley, Australia and British Columbia all have switched to rootstocks after run-ins with Phylloxera.

One of the biggest exceptions is Washington, where the pest has yet to take hold. No one knows exactly why, but researchers speculate a combination of climate, soil and relatively isolated growing regions may be factors.

But the good fortune has, either intentionally through marketing or unintentionally through rumor, given Washington a cache of purity because the grapes are "own-rooted," as they are sometimes called, and therefore somehow better.

"Don't be afraid to use rootstocks if you have to because it's not going to change your wine," said Markus Keller, a viticulture professor at WSU's Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser.

Keller and his partner, James Harbertson, a professor of food science, published their findings in March in the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture.

They spent years growing vines from rootstocks and own roots, making dozens of batches of wine each year to compare them. Yes, they tasted right out of the vat. No introducing oak barrels, which might affect the flavor. But they also measured chemical components associated with qualities like tannins and acidity.

They found no statistically significant differences, Harbertson said. As a curious scientist, he was almost disappointed, though he was relieved because it meant good news for the industry.

"It's one of those awesome 'no' answers," he said.

Read more, Yakima Herald

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