Long live our vineyards

Column by Felipe Gainza, Molecular Biology Research Scientist CRI. In a scenario of climate change, the challenge of cleaning and strengthening our precious plant materials demands answers to key questions, which no effort must be spared in resolving. For example, do we have the tools that enable us to ensure the genetic homogeneity of our vineyards? Can we differentiate between different Cabernet Sauvignon clones in early pre-production stages? Can we detect the presence of pathogens in stages prior to plantation? With these queries in mind, and considering new techniques and procedures provided by molecular biology, at Concha y Toro’s Center for Research and Innovation (CRI) we developed a project titled “Improved grapevine production through new diagnostic, monitoring, cleaning and strengthening procedures”. This project is framed within the CRI’s Strategic Program for the Strengthening of Plant Material Production, which has a duration of 5 years and includes the launch of a Molecular Biology Laboratory with the implementation of phytopathology detection protocols and clone differentiation using latest-generation molecular markers. It should be emphasized that this biomolecular analysis equipment is the only equipment of its kind in the Chilean wine industry, and is a key factor that will enable us to take a significant step toward making top-of-the-line technology available in house. Additionally, we are working on the development of new genetic markers in collaboration with the University of California, which will be used in a molecular diagnostics system in the CRI’s laboratory. This challenge involves whole genome sequencing of the main grape varieties that are of interest for the Company. Furthermore, through massive sequencing, we aim to identify the main pathological agents that are responsible for grapevine trunk diseases, as well as the main viruses that cause impairments and reductions in the productive lifespan of the vineyard. With these new molecular analytics tools, we will prospect mother blocks to select high-quality grapevines and identify critical points during the production process in the nursery. They will also enable us to implement biological cleaning and strengthening systems for plant material through the use of fungal biocontrol agents and mycorrhizal fungi that provide comparative advantages to the plant material once it faces conditions in the vineyard. In this way, we have established the roadmap to achieve the development of improved grapevines through molecular analytics procedures and techniques that are appropriate for phytopathological diagnosis, the identification of grape variety and clone, and the study of new biological cleaning and strengthening technologies for plant material. Ultimately, there is no simple solution to complex problems that does not involve daring to innovate. Upon achieving the goals that we have set ourselves as a research team, we will have access to new analytics capabilities, and higher quality, productivity, homogeneity and longevity in the vineyards. These results will impact positively on the Company and the global wine industry.