Italian Vine Germplasm Heritage

GIANFRANCO TEMPESTA
MONICA FIORILO

Vineyards have a beauty that only nature can give -the charm of changing colours with the passing of the seasons. Together with human architecture, they shape and cover areas that, in the case of “districts,” are uniform and well-structured. Other vineyards, instead, cohabit with other crops, creating typical landscapes.

foto1Also, the vine grower sets himself a horizon of choices, of roads to follow with joy and suffering: which legacy to choose and pass on? Which grafted rootling to plant to give future generations the best results? Which variety, which populations and which clones?

Sometimes the choice can be autonomous or guided by opinion leaders or fads.

The transformation of viticulture from mixed cropping to specialized is recent; this evolution originated from the social and economic change.

Starting from mass selections, in the first negative after positive, practical ampelographers with vast experience - among these breeders worth remembering are Italo Cosmo, Giovanni Dalmasso, Giulio Ferrari, Luigi Manzoni, Alberto Pirovano - whose achievements were the basis of subsequent clonal selection. Thanks to their long experience, these researchers knew how to discriminate which phenotypical expressions were a result from the environment and which belonged to the population or the single plant.

Their approach focussed on maintaining genetic variability (today defined as “polyclonality”), essential for protecting all the expressions of the variety.foto2

Each variety has its variability according to the vastness of the population, the extension of the cultivation area and the selective pressure exercised by human intervention. In the case of the leading Italian grape varieties, this variability was, and is, very wide:  Sangiovese (bl.), Trebbiano Toscano (wh.), Nebbiolo (bl.) and Barbera (bl.), like many other varieties, have an enormous variability of characteristics represented with a Gaussian curve with a huge base, from which can be drawn different clonal lines.

The specialization of viticulture inevitably leads to a concentration of vine enemies. Vineyard upon vineyard, vine on the vine, is the necessary practice to maintain the capital gains deriving from the territory (cru). By this practice, the concentration of nematodes, microscopic worms carrying viruses and responsible for transmitting the viral disease called “infectious degeneration" develop; first appeared in France, the nation that has always used specialized viticulture, and then in Piedmont, the home of this kind of viticulture in the Italian Vineyard.

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The etiologic and viral nature of this vine disease were first discussed scientifically on occasion of the OIV Congress in Lisbon, in May 1962, in the session “virus diseases of the grapevine.” Hence the importance that the selection of vine is propagating material aimed, on the one hand, to an agronomic and oenological quality and, on the other, the absence of noxious viral diseases.

Currently, the vine grower has the chance to choose grafted rootlings for planting from a vast range of material on the nursery market; both for new vineyards and to renew ones that have uprooted.

 

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