Growing & Winemaking


Grapegrower Interview: Deborah Golino

February 2011
by Laurie Daniel
Deborah Golino
Deborah Golino
As director of Foundation Plant Services at the University of California, Davis, Deborah Golino is on the front lines of making new grape clones and varieties available to the United States wine industry. A key function of FPS is the importation and quarantine of grapevines, which ensures that nurseries and wineries can get the grape varieties they want without the threat of foreign pests or diseases.

Golino graduated from the University of California, Riverside, in 1974 and went on to earn her master’s degree and Ph.D. at the same university. After extensive work in plant pathology and research, Golino in 1994 became director of FPS, where she is more involved in service and outreach to the wine industry. She is also a leading expert on leafroll virus.

Wines & Vines: What prompts Foundation Plant Services to import a particular grape variety or clone?

Deborah Golino: We import grapes for a variety of reasons. Most important to the wine industry is probably the custom importation we do for individuals, nurseries and wineries when they want to bring in a new winegrape variety or clone. Because our center is a self-supporting activity at UC Davis, we arrange for these imports through use of business contracts. The cost can vary from $1,500 to $6,500, and the work takes a minimum of two years. Normally, a contract customer has a relationship with someone abroad who is willing to provide the desired variety or selection. Most of those imports remain in the ownership of the importer, who pays all the expenses for their testing and care.

The most well-known proprietary material in our collection is probably the ENTAV-INRA trademarked collection. ENTAV (L’Établissement National Technique pour l’Amélioration de la Viticulture) and INRA (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique) are the two institutions authorized in France to create and certify grape clonal selections for commercial use. FPS began discussions in the mid-1990s with ENTAV director Robert Boidron. It took a number of visits between their center in Domaine de l’Espiguette and ours in Davis before a plan developed to allow marketing of these sought-after clones in the United States. All ENTAV-INRA trademarked material in our foundation collection is proprietary and owned by ENTAV. They, in turn, provide licenses to some nurseries in the United States.

In addition to this and other proprietary collections, we have support from the California grape nursery industry for our public program—that’s the large collection of grapes (more than 700 varieties and many clones of the major winegrape varieties) to which we like to add whenever the possibility arises. I’ll tell you about a few of the interesting shipments that we have brought in to the public collection in recent years:

The general partners of Tablas Creek Winery, Robert Haas and the Perrin family, arranged in 2004 to ship to FPS all of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC-approved varieties that were not already in the United States. This included Vaccarèse, Terret Noir, Muscardin, Cinsault, Picardin, Clairette and Bourboulenc. The vines came from Château de Beaucastel, which the Perrin family owns. This means that soon we will have all of the 14 Châteauneuf-du-Pape varieties available for use here. Because the selections came from a working vineyard, there was virus in most of them, so it has been necessary to perform microshoot tip culture therapy upon them. The Terret Noir, Picardin and Clairette Blanche selections have all been released from quarantine and should be commercially available soon. We expect the others to be released in the next year or two.

Another group of new winegrape varieties has come to us from our collaborators in Croatia, Dr. Edi Maletic and Dr. Ivan Pejic of the University of Zagreb. These are the scientists who worked with UC Davis professor Carole Meredith to discover that a Croatian black grape called Crljenak Kasteljanski is identical to Zinfandel, whose origins had long stumped grape researchers. We’ve had a good relationship over the years with these scientists and exchanged Croatian and California clones of Zinfandel. In 2010, at the request of Dave Gates of Ridge Vineyards, Edi and Ivan sent us 16 of the varieties they thought would be the most valuable to California growers. This includes grapes with names like Babica, Glavinusa, Malvasia Dubrovacka, Zlahtina, Sansigot and Vugava. We hope there are some sleeping beauties in the group.

I think many of your readers know that Dr. Harold Olmo of the Viticulture and Enology Department here at Davis was a great plant explorer in addition to being a great plant breeder. He traveled in many countries—extensively in Europe but also in the Mideast, Afghanistan, Australia, South America—the list is exhaustive. He sent new grape varieties and clones back to Davis, even after his retirement in 1977. He stayed actively involved in research until shortly before his death in 2006. He often lectured me on the importance of maintaining the quarantine program at Davis and ensuring that new grape varieties continued to flow into Davis. We like to call him the Indiana Jones of grape geneticists. I have made myself a promise to bring as many new grapes to California as Harold in my career, but I intend to do most of it by FedEx.

Squeaky clean vineyard for FPS

Foundation Plant Services recently received federal funding under the newly created National Clean Plant Network, a USDA program authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill. Among other programs, the funding will allow FPS to establish the Russell Ranch Foundation Vineyard.

“We have identified the 100-acre parcel at Russell Ranch as an ideal location for a foundation vineyard in compliance with our newly developed NCPN standards,” says FPS director Deborah Golino. “The property is remote and isolated from current UCD vineyards. There is adequate acreage to accommodate the numerous FPS varieti es and clones.”

The site near Davis, Calif., is being prepared, and planting should begin this spring.

“Every vine in this new collection will have passed through microshoot tip tissue culture therapy and extensive new testing technology,” she says. “Nothing else will be planted there. This means the collection should be free of the crown gall bacteria, all the known grape viruses and even some viruses we haven’t discovered yet. The Russell Ranch Foundation Vineyard is going to set a new world standard.”

W&V: Are there particular countries whose grape varieties or clones are getting a lot of interest from California wineries?

Golino: In general, I would say warm-climate Mediterranean winegrapes are creating the most excitement. There is a lot of interest in finding new varieties that can produce high-quality wines in some of the warmer areas of California. In particular, our new imports from Portugal, Spain and Italy have gotten a lot of attention. We’re looking for contacts in Greece, as well, who might be willing to trade some of our winegrape varieties for some of theirs.

W&V: What new varieties or clones are likely to become available for planting during the next few years?

Golino: In addition to new releases from the collections that I mentioned before, we have a couple of initiatives of interest. We’ve had industry experts looking at the grape selections in the USDA Clonal Repository Collection at UC Davis. There are many interesting varieties there that have come to us for virus screening and therapy that will be available in the years to come. The warm-climate Mediterranean wine grapes such as Nero d’Avola and Coda di Volpe from Italy, Moreto from Portugal and Aspro from Cyprus have been the focus of this effort.

There is a very nice collection of Bordeaux varietals at FPS that was donated by an anonymous and well-respected producer near Bordeaux. We call that the Vincent Collection in honor of his vineyard manager and the patron saint of winemakers. The first selections in that collection have been released, and a few more should come out in the next couple of years.

We’re adding a lot of cold-climate varieties, both from Europe and American breeding programs (New York, Minnesota, etc). These aren’t likely to cause a big stir in California, but they are very important to the industry in colder states.

And we shouldn’t forget about Dr. Andy Walker, the UC Davis grape rootstock breeder. He has already released five new grape rootstocks, and I expect more in the future. These have the potential of improving the sustainability of our vineyards by providing disease and pest resistance through superior rootstock varieties. This means we may be able to control nematodes and viruses without the use of chemical intervention.

W&V: Some vintners prefer to do a field selection from their own vineyards rather than going to a nursery for new plant material. What are the risks, and what advice would you give these vintners?

Golino: Using field selections can result in severely diseased vines and even the death of vines. This doesn’t always happen, but I have seen plenty of cases, especially in the 1990s, when our vineyards moved from AXR-1 to rootstocks that were more susceptible to common viruses. We called this the “latent virus” issue at the time and were able to prove that AXR-1 was a rootstock that was tolerant of virus while many of our current favorites are much more susceptible.

If a grower wants to use a field selection, I always recommend planting a small block of the rootstock he is planning on using with budwood from his selected source. This is a simple, empirical test that can give you a lot of information. After a few years, you can see if there are any obvious problems. Screening the selection by testing in a commercial laboratory for virus can be helpful, but it isn’t a perfect solution: One set of tests at a particular time of year isn’t really enough to know what viruses are there. The same type of virus—say, leafroll virus type 3—has both mild and severe strains. You can’t predict which strains will be severe.

There is the age-old question of whether wine quality can be improved by virus infection. Fewer and fewer winemakers buy into this idea today, but there still are some. My colleagues and I have a large research vineyard that went in this year at the UC Davis plant pathology farm with multiple virus treatments against multiple rootstocks. In a few years, we’ll be able to make experimental wines and let people make up their own minds. But given that the leafroll viruses and the vitiviruses cause reduced sugar and color in fruit, it is pretty hard to imagine this is a good thing.

The most forward-thinking wineries address this issue by bringing their important field selections to FPS and having us test them thoroughly and provide disease-elimination therapy if they are virus-infected. A lot of this work is confidential, so I can’t name many names, but I can tell you we have cleaned up clones for some high-profile wineries and then returned them to the wineries.

Even better for the industry, there are others who have donated their favorite clones to our heritage clone program. For example, in 1974 Francis Mahoney, owner of Carneros Creek Winery, began a Pinot Noir clonal trial at Carneros Creek in cooperation with Curtis Alley, UC Davis viticulture specialist. In 1996, Mr. Mahoney donated what he thought were the five best California heritage Pinot Noir clones to FPS. Those clones (or selections, as we call them at FPS) are all available now in the public program. There are many similar stories: the Sterling Vineyard musqué Chardonnay clone (FPS 80), several sources of the Mount Eden Chardonnay clone (FPS 27, 28 and 66), the Larry Hyde Merlot clone (FPS 27).

W&V: You’re an expert on leafroll virus, which has become a widespread problem. Is there any promising news on the horizon?

Golino: The most promising news is that there is now an excellent team of scientists from UC Davis, UC Berkeley, University of Oregon, University of Washington and the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service wor king together on developing solutions. Dr. Kent Daane at Berkeley led a group that received funding through the USDA’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative. The American Vineyard Foundation has committed matching funds for this and several other leafroll virus research projects, including mine. And the technology available now to study these damaging viruses is radically improved from what was available even a decade ago. I am very hopeful we will see some real breakthroughs in the years to come.

At present, the best way a grower can reduce the damage done by leafroll in his vineyard is to plant California certified stock from a reliable nursery. If everyone followed this practice, the amount of disease we would see in California would be radically reduced.

A resident of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Laurie Daniel has been a journalist for 30 years. She has been writing about wine for publications for more than 15 years and has been a Wines & Vines contributor since 2006.

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