French grape genebank on the move?

After Pavlovsk and Brogdale, it is now the turn of a French fruit genebank to feel the heat. According to Declan Butler’s somewhat breathless piece in Nature:

Uncertainty hangs over one of the world’s largest and most important grapevine collections. The Domaine de Vassal vineyard, on France’s Mediterranean coast, houses a vast sweep of grape biodiversity that is essential to research and winegrowers in France and around the world.

That would be the Station de Recherches Viticoles of the Institut national de la recherche agronomique (INRA). For those that know genebank-speak, that is institute FRA139. Plug that into the “institute code” slot on ECPGR’s Vitis database page to get the details of its holdings. Or you can get summary data from WIEWS. It’s actually not the only grape genebank in France, but there’s no word on overlap with other French collections, or indeed with collections in other parts of the world. Numbers vary among the sources, but this collection represents maybe half of France’s holdings of cultivated grape accessions, and a tenth of the world’s. ((Is it the ultimate source of Tahiti’s wine? No idea, but I’d like to think so.))

So it’s an important collection, large and well documented, both phenotypically and genotypically. What’s the problem? Well, the lease is running out on the land it’s been on for the past 138 years, and it needs to shift. The move will cost €4 million, and the money isn’t in the budget. INRA says it’s committed to maintaining the collection, and will find the cash. The boffins fret and worry about the disruption to research and possible losses in the process. I asked our friends at the Myles Lab in Canada for their opinion and they do see an upside:

But it is worrying. We’ll keep an eye on it for you.

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