With more than 500 years of viticulture history, Chile is home to numerous old vineyards that urgently need careful studies. In such vineyards, chances are high to identify ancient introductions and to possibly discover grapes that are indigenous to Chile. Their diversity belongs to the heritage of Chilean viticulture. Their study and conservation must become a priority, before they get lost through human or natural causes.
After 16 years of experience in grape DNA profiling, I have gathered up an important database composed >10’000 DNA profiles (>2000 produced by myself) corresponding to more than 2500 grape varieties from all over the world. Therefore, checking against my private database greatly increases the chances of correctly identifying an unknown vine.
During my next visit to Chile, I will sample leaves from old and unidentified grapevines for DNA analysis and I hope to identify some interesting varieties, and possibly some unique, indigenous varieties. I will analyze them at 12 genetic markers (called Simple Sequence Repeats, or SSR, or microsatellites), which is twice as much as the international 6 standard markers, in order to reach unquestionable statistical confidence. In addition, I will take core samples from the vine trunks of the oldest vines in order to estimate their age with dendrochronology, the science of wood age determination.
These studies will help Chile to preserve and put in the spotlight its unique heritage of old vines, potential unique varieties, as well as unique and distinctive clones of international varieties that were introduced long ago.
Dr José Vouillamoz, co-author of Wine Grapes (Allen Lane 2012)