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23-10-2018 01:16

Het Franse hybride-dilemma

Franse wijnboeren reageren nog voorzichtig op de komst van de hybride druiven-variëteiten Floral, Vidoc, Voltis en Arbatan. Enkelen zien wel in dat de klimaatveranderingen noodzaken tot het aanplanten van resistentere rassen, maar niemand komt er openlijk voor uit ze nu te gaan aanplanten. En in de ‘appellation’-regio’s valt het woord hybride al helemaal verkeerd. James Lawrence kijkt voor Wine-Seacher in de wat vage Franse wijntoekomst.


“The history of plant breeding and genetic engineering took a surprising turn last month, when the French government authorized the introduction of new hybrid grape varieties into the country's viticultural landscape.


Four varieties – Floreal, Vidoc, Voltis and Artaban – were developed by the French National Institute for Agronomic Research (Inra), who decided to play god with the intention of increasing the circulation of disease-resistant grapes in French vineyards.


Designed to be resistant to downy and powdery mildew, the news came as vignerons were bemoaning the scourge of downy mildew, which has been an unwelcome guest at chateaux across France during the 2018 growing season.


Yet over the last few decades, the very mention of the word "hybrid" has led to swift banishment from your host's boudoir. Germany and California are forever playing with the genes of the vine, the endless quest for greater profit margins resulting from disease resistance and higher yields.



France, though, largely wanted nothing to do with the "rape" of Vitis vinifera in the late 20th Century, and their opposition to hybrids and crosses arguably played some role in slowing the development of the genetic manipulation of the vine.


Many would argue they had simply learned from their past mistakes – fungus-resistant hybrids were developed in the 19th Century and by the 1960s they were being used in over 30 percent of French vineyards.


Indeed, hybrids such as Villard Noir and Seyval Blanc – the latter once an important part of the UK's industry – were prolific in southern France, much loved because of their generous yields and resistance to downy mildew. Whether Baco Noir, Plantet and Chambourcin produced decent-quality wine is of course another question entirely, and by the 21st Century they had been virtually eradicated from French vineyards.


But in a zeitgeist where climate change and the (perceived) excessive usage of chemicals in French vineyards are a constant sources of controversy, the hybrid debate has been reopened. Several leading winemakers have come out in support of the initiative, somewhat to my surprise. Others simply refused to comment.


"My reaction is simple: finally, not a moment too soon," says winemaker Laurent Delaunay.


"Vine degeneration and vine diseases such as esca are causing, in certain regions, up to 20 percent of loss of harvest. Since the only cure we currently have against esca, sodium arsenite, was banned for obvious reasons, the industry has lacked a viable solution. New grape varieties including hybrids are one of the answers to these challenges and it's a shame that, contrary to what happens in other countries like Switzerland, which is well ahead of schedule, everything in France takes so long."


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