It’s a wise grape that knows its own father

In the annals of plant breeding there are many stories that have achieved the status of Truth. Like the discovery of the original pink grapefruit, the parent tree marked forever with a P carved in its trunk, or the Red Delicious apple found in a ditch somewhere. Not quite so well known is the tale of Cardinal grapes. It is a delicious table grape that, so the story goes, was bred in 1939 at the Horticultural Field Station in Fresno, California, by E. Snyder and F. Harmon, by crossing Flame Tokay and Ribier.

Alas, it ain’t so.

Flame Tokay is normally considered a synonym — just another name — for Ahmer Bou Amer, an Algerian table grape. In the course of examining the DNA of a bunch of Mediterranean grape varieties, A. Akkak, P. Bocacci and R. Rotta1 discovered that Flame Tokay could not possibly have been a parent of Cardinal, though they cannot show who is either. I don’t imagine E. Snyder or F. Harmon is still around to tell us what really happened. The researchers also prove that Flame Tokay is not merely a synonym of Ahmer Bou Amer but a mutant in at least one gene.

And in other grape news, two scientists in Switzerland are warning that the American Vitis rootstocks that saved the European wine industry from Phylloxera are threatening the survival of native wild European grapevines.2 Nils Arrigo and Claire Arnold say that:

The regrouping of naturalised rootstocks in interconnected populations tends to create active hybrid swarms of rootstocks. The rootstocks show characters of invasive plants. The spread of naturalised rootstocks in the environment, the acceleration of the decline of the European wild grapevine, and the propagation of genes of viticultural interest in natural populations are potential consequences that should be kept in mind when undertaking appropriate management measures.

In other words, watch out.

The American rootstocks have already displaced wild grapes from the flood plains of the Rhone, and there may be worse in store.

  1. Cardinal grape parentage: a case of a breeding mistake. Genome 50(3): 325-328 (2007) doi:10.1139/G06-145 []
  2. Arrigo N, Arnold C (2007) Naturalised Vitis Rootstocks in Europe and Consequences to Native Wild Grapevine. PLoS ONE 2(6): e521. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000521 []

One Reply to “It’s a wise grape that knows its own father”

  1. Australia to the rescue!

    Western Australia has not ever been exposed to Phylloxera. There is a nice big desert between it and the other wine growing regions in Australia. There are also some individual areas in the Hunter Valley region (you are likely to be shot at if caught walking/driving on to one of these).

    Accordingly, Australia has European varities unaffected by US root stock. Although I suppose they are not the “wild varities” and may have changed by selective breeding since brought to Australia.

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