Wine industry experts from around the world have gathered in Penticton this week to chop away at the longstanding global issue of grapevine trunk diseases.
This is the 11th International Workshop on Grapevine Trunk Diseases. The conference runs every two years and will be held every three years after this year’s gathering, which marks the first time Canada has played host.
More than 150 wine industry delegates, including research scientists, vineyard managers, vintners, winery owners and other experts from more than 20 countries have gathered at the Lakeside Resort and Conference Centre for the five-day conference, which wraps up today.
Grapevine trunk diseases are negatively affecting wine-producing regions around the world, including the Okanagan, said conference co-organizer Dr. Jose Ramon Urbez Torres, a research scientist for the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada at the Summerland Research and Development Centre.
“Right now worldwide, grapevine trunk diseases are one of the top diseases the industry has to fight and control,” said Torres.
“It’s a complex disease caused by fungal pathogens and one of the main issues is the infection of these pathogens through the pruning process.”
There are dozens of known pathogens responsible for a broad diversity of vascular and foliar symptoms, which result in the overall decline and eventual death of the grapevine, said Torres.
Though these diseases are thought to have been around thousands of years – as long as wine cultivation has taken place – it has only been in the past 20 years that their significance and impact in vine health have been fully recognized, he said.
Today, the diseases are considered one of the main factors in reducing both yield and lifespan of vineyards, which has translated into substantial economic losses.
“We need to prune the vineyards every single year to get production, so we are actually creating a venue for these spores continually infect our vineyards,” said Torres. “The biggest issue is these pathogens will eventually kill the vines.”
The problem is especially pronounced in the Okanagan, because of longer winter seasons that put additional stresses on grapes and vineyards, explained Torres.
And almost all trunk diseases occur within the first 20 years of production in all wine regions, which is noteworthy because the industry in most of the Okanagan has only existed for two decades or less.
So a big part of Torres’ job and other research scientists at the Summerland Research and Development Centre is taking the best scientific information available and conducting scientific experiments to find products and solutions to controlling various trunk diseases.
“We actually have a program funded by the industry and we have been working hard on grapevine trunk diseases since 2010 because this is a priority of the industry,” he said.
Industry partners “have been amazing” in providing the funding and supporting research to control this problem, he added, while the federal government has provided matching funds.
Torres is hopeful a solution is just around the corner.
“We feel we now have the genetic data to provide chemical and biological products,” he said.
“I’m very happy to say that after all these years of research, we will very soon have the first products here in Canada available to the industry to control these diseases.”