Herbemont redux

When phylloxera broke out in Europe in the 1860s and 70s, many of the resistant hybrid vines in North America were uprooted and shipped across the Atlantic to save the European wine industry. The unfortunate consequence was that most plantings of Herbemont (and several other American varieties) were destroyed. In the 1920s, Prohibition disrupted winemaking in the US. When the industry took off again in the 1930s, tastes had changed and high-quality dry wines had fallen out of favor. When high-quality wine started to become popular again, in the latter half of the 20th century, European Vitis vinifera varieties were often emphasized at the expense of American varieties such as Herbemont. Just a handful of producers still make Herbemont wines. Thankfully, efforts are now underway to reintroduce and promote the Herbemont grape in several states across the South.

It now turns out, one place they might reintroduce it from is South Africa.

These two simple tests provide good preliminary evidence that the 95-year old Wynberg Village grapevine is probably an ancient clone of the true original Herbemont hybrid rootstock cultivar, which I believe is in real danger of becoming extinct for historical reasons.

Though of course there are also genebanks.

2 Replies to “Herbemont redux”

  1. Dear sir

    Unfortunately, we cannot be absolutely certain whether the genebanks in the USA actually have the original true Herbemont hybrid cultivar because they have not yet made the microsatellite DNA markers (a.k.a. simple sequence repeats or SSRs) for the true Herbemont cultivar available to the public.

    I’m not sure why they are reluctant to publish them, unless it’s because they are not certain whether they have the original Herbemont cultivar, since back in the day, the USA was only left with dozens of Herbemont seedlings. As you are all aware, even the cultivar known as ‘Favorite’ is a Herbemont seedling.

    According to South Africa (where the true Herbemont is known as ‘black’ Herbemont — a misnomer, by the way) and in Peru (where Herbemont is known as Borgoña) the available microsatellite DNA markers indicate that they are virtually identical to those of the Madeira Jacquez.

    I think the reason why their DNA is virtually identical is simply because the true Herbemont is an ancient Jacquez clone displaying a color mutation (plus some other minor mutations).

    The end result was that the Herbemont cultivar lost its teinturier (i.e. anthocyanins in both skin and pulp) trait, whereas Jacquez cultivars are all teinturier types.

    Let’s hope that sooner rather than later, researchers in the Department of Viticulture and Enology or at the National Clonal Germplasm Repository (University of California, Davis) or the Plant Genetic Resources Unit (PGRU) at Geneva, New York will not be afraid to make public the microsatellite DNA markers for the true Herbemont.

    I will certainly be very interested, I and look forward to to their results.

    Dr Jerry Rodrigues (PhD, Biochemistry, UCT)
    (16 Feb 2019)

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