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Grapevine Viruses: A Look at Transatlantic Journeys, Quarantines and the Latest News

An article by Lucie Morton in Wine Business Monthly, February 2024

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is an understatement when it comes to establishing healthy vineyards. Navigating the legal way to bring a grapevine to the U.S. became personal for Lucie Morton when she found a family connection with Cunningham, a natural V. aestivalis x V. vinifera hybrid, propagated 200 years ago in Farmville, Virginia that vanished before the 20th century.

Like all good parasites, viruses are not out to kill someone, but to utilize a person’s resources so the virus can exist and replicate. If you are a host to a virus, you might never know it. Or, depending on your body’s reaction to its presence, it might make you ill. This is also the case with grapevines. 

Technically speaking, viruses are unattached protein-coated single or double strands of RNA or DNA that must find a living organism to call home. They are very good at this and are the most numerous “biological entities” in the world. Not being composed of cells, like plants, animals and bacteria, they have a zombiesque quality of being neither fully alive nor fully dead. 

It was not until the early twentieth century—aided by more powerful microscopes—that the mystery of grapevine “degeneration” would be pinned on viruses. Over time, grapevine viral agents were named to reflect the symptoms they caused: leafroll, fanleaf, stem pitting, ringspot, red blotch, corky bark, vein clearing, etc. A grapevine infected with viruses was described as “diseased.”


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