When we drink wine, it’s usually for a celebration. It’s someone’s birthday. Maybe it’s to celebrate surviving another day at work.
May 25 is National Wine Day. Missouri State University makes wine at the Fruit Experimentation Station in Mountain Grove, Missouri. How do we make wine in a climate less than ideal for grape growing?
The journey of a grape
There must be good grapes to make wine.
European grapes, like the Cabernet Sauvignon, are the preferred fruit to make wine. When transported to Missouri, they die within a few years because of Missouri’s climate.
“Growers in Missouri want to have European grapes in this area, but the grapevines can’t last long due to the cold weather and fungal diseases,” Hwang said. “Even if pesticides are applied, European grapes often die within five years because of complications from cold weather and disease pressure.”
Hwang and his team want to have hardy grapes that can withstand a Missouri winter, like the Norton, but also have the classic taste of grapes grown in Europe.
For the past seven years, the team has been mapping vines that cross with each other. Doing so in a controlled environment lets them look at DNA information.
Former team member Surya Sapkota, a graduate of the MSU/University of Missouri collaborative doctoral student, and now a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University, said they produced the first genetic map from a Norton-Cabernet Sauvignon cross. They also created mapping populations for the Chambourcin-Cabernet Sauvignon cross and the Jaeger 70-Vignoles cross.
Team members grind up a small piece of leaf tissue to find DNA markers. These markers are genes or DNA sequences with a known location on a chromosome allowing them to predict factors like berry quality or disease resistance.
Hwang and his team also study another trait related to downy mildew, a fungal disease. The team linked downy mildew resistance to chromosome 18.
This map is the first of its kind. It was made possible by a collaboration with Cornell University.
Hwang has received nearly $2 million in research grants in the past eight years.
“This finding is very important for growers because downy mildew is a major disease,” Hwang said. “We can now predict whether a progeny with Norton background will be resistant or susceptible to this disease, so growers will have resistant cultivars to grow and won’t have to spray as many chemicals.”
Hwang says that finding the best grape for Missouri could be close.
“We do have some potential candidates from Norton-based hybrids,” said Hwang. “The promising hybrids need to go through multiyear, multiple location evaluation first.”
For Missouri grape growers eager for a new hybrid, that day cannot come soon enough.
“They’re already asking, ‘how soon?’” said Hwang. “We’re working on it.”