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May. 20, 2022 | Friday
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Grape growers applaud research for virus-free vines
Kurt Neumann's family vineyard has been dealing with the red blotch and leafroll disease for some time now. The problem has been present in the industry but hasn't been identified for a long time, he said. (Dariya Baiguzhiyeva/Niagara Now))

Having nursery suppliers with virus-free grapevines is crucial to the success of Niagara’s grape and wine industry, say some of Niagara-on-the-Lake grape growers.

And last week’s announcement that the Canadian government is spending millions on vine research is good news, they say.

“It is most important that the nurseries make sure that the rootstock is virus-tested and the budwood is virus-tested,” said Albrecht Seeger, one of NOTL’s longtime grape growers. “That’s the only way to succeed, that’s the only way to move forward.”

Kevin Buis of Glenlake Vineyards agreed, noting clean nursery stock is key and having a strong local nursery industry “suits our whole (wine and grape) industry better.”

Another grower, Matthias Oppenlaender of Huebel Grapes Estates, echoed Seeger’s comments, saying the industry has to be proactive in dealing with infected vines as it competes with other wine and grape industries across the globe. 

“It’s very exciting, even the federal government and the provincial government see the opportunity and actually give us the funds to help, ” he told The Lake Report.

The government has announced it is spending more than $2.3 million on creating certified, virus-free vines. However, that money is not going directly to farmers. It’s for research.

The Canadian Grapevine Certification Network, a nationwide not-for-profit organization, will receive the federal funding through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, and will work on developing virus-free plant materials.

Red blotch disease and leafroll viruses are among the serious problems growers can face in the wine and grape industry. A 2018 Ontario performance study showed that accessing virus-free vines has been one of the top five challenges for the industry.

Infected vines are low in sugar and may produce lower-quality wines. As there is no cure for infected vines, if more than 25 per cent of a property’s vines are infected, it is recommended to remove the whole vineyard, according to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affair’s website.

Because it may take from three to five years for vines to come into full production, ripping out the vines and replanting them with new stock can also be expensive for the growers. Planting and establishing a vineyard can cost from $10,000 to $25,000 per acre.

Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute has partnered with the industry and will provide virus testing using molecular techniques, according to a statement from the school.

Growers often rely on purchasing virus-free vines from Ontario nurseries. Starting off with clean plants is crucial and can help growers save money, time and resources.  

Vines can be purchased from local nurseries, such as Mori Nurseries Ltd. and VineTech Canada Inc., while other vines are imported from Europe or the United States.

“We want to become self-reliant on our own nursery stock. We grow our own but we also import a lot,” Oppenlaender said. 

Kurt Neumann, another NOTL grape grower, said if the federally funded research helps determine the cause of the virus, it will enable the nurseries to grow clean vines.

“The biggest thing for the public to understand is that the tax revenue generated by the grape and wine industry is in the billions and billions of dollars,” he added. “So to spend a few million on testing vines and providing some insurance on the longevity of the industry, I think it should be acceptable.”