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Current nutraceutical research revealed grapes are a powerful source of phytochemicals and antioxidants and very beneficial to human health. This breakthrough information triggered an increased market demand for fresh fruit and processed grape products. According to a March 2011 report provided by the U.S. Wine Institute, record high 2010 wine shipments make the U.S. the world's largest wine-consuming nation.
Although Pierce’s Disease (PD) is a serious threat to the cultivation of grapes in the United States, especially in warmer southern regions, recently the U.C. Davis grape breeding program has developed new hybrids consisting of 87.5% V. vinifera progeny and are resistant to PD. These newly developed selections are expected to produce high quality yield even in regions with high PD pressure, such as the southeastern U.S., where the Vitis vinifera production was previously not a viable option. The objective of our study was to assess the feasibility of growing PD resistant V. vinifera selections in Alabama and the southeast.
An experimental vineyard was established at the Chilton Research and Extension Center (CREC), AL, in 2010 to study the feasibility of growing Pierce’s Disease resistant Vitis vinifera (French type, or European) grapes within the high disease pressure southeastern region. The experimental vineyard consisted of three recently developed PD resistant 87.5% V. vinifera selections namely ‘502-10’, ‘502-01’, and ‘501-12’. The grape selections grew well in 2011 season and set a good crop of fruiting clusters which were removed from the plants in an attempt to provide optimal conditions for the growth and development of the vine root system and enhance the vine vigor and longevity. In 2012 the three V. vinifera selections produced their first commercial crop. A number of measurements were collected to evaluate the vegetative growth, productivity, and fruit quality of the newly introduced selections.
Our observations suggest selection ‘502-10’ (Fig. 1 A) matured early in the season and had the least vigorously growing grapevine. Selection ‘502-01’ had a mid-season ripening and produced the largest clusters and the largest berries in 2012 (Fig. 1 B). Selection ‘501-12’ matured late, had the highest number of clusters per vine, produced the highest yield per vine and the sweetest berries (Fig. 1 C). This was the most vigorously growing grapevine selection based on our results of pruning weights.
The preliminary results on the performance of the newly developed PD resistant V. vinifera selections in Alabama are very encouraging. Knowledge gained through this project will aid in development of best management practices and production system recommendations, vital for the establishment of a sustainable grape industry, and enhance the competitiveness of Alabama-grown specialty crops. Our research will aid in introducing locally grown fresh and processed V. vinifera products, rich in antioxidants and resveratrol, and proven to help in preventing cardiovascular diseases, inflammation and aging processes that can contribute to healthier diets for Alabamians. The newly introduced selections are expected to improve the agricultural sustainability of Alabama agriculture and food systems by advancing the environmental and economic sustainability in the state through implementation of advanced technologies that ensure the viability of specialty crop production systems, enhance the quality of life for farmers by providing better profits to the farmer and a valuable healthy food to the customer.
We are thankful to the ADAI for the funding provided to the grape research program at Auburn University through the NIFA-USDA Specialty Crops Block Grants.
Extension Fruit Crops Specialist
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