Doctor Wine: More on Genetic Editing

Signed DW
Signed DW | Published on DoctorWine N°225
Laymen and clerics
by Daniele Cernilli 04-09-2017
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Riccardo Ricci Curbastro President of Federdoc writes to DoctorWine about genetic editing and the future of winegrowing, and underlines the risk of an idealogical battle.

I received the following letter from Riccardo Ricci Curbastro, a Franciacorta producer and president of Federdoc.

“Dear Daniele,

It was with great pleasure that I read your editorial Trend Topic: Genetic editing. A pleasure because I believe that it is the future of winegrowing, the wonderful and difficult world my children are now getting involved with. I agree with everything that was said: organic methods are not less polluting (since they uses so many treatments, demand more fuel and lead to a copper build up in the soil); and biodynamic methods are difficult to accept three centuries after the Enlightenment during which time science has given answers to what could appear to be witchcraft.

If it has now clearly been accepted that vines contain genes that are “resistant” to disease, then I firmly believe the time has come to move from developing hybrids to genetic editing. The benefit would be that of not modifying the genes that distinguish a Chardonnay from a Sauvignon Blanc but only to give the vines of both varietals the capacity to resist disease.

I have personally studied and worked with hybrids at length and seven years ago, when it was not the fashion, planted a vineyard with PIWI, a resistant, hybrid variety. The experiment worked and the vines have not needed any chemical treatments in seven years.

We are now working with other new, resistant varieties which are again hybrids but have over 95% of the original genes (Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot and so on) with only 5% of the genes from other resistant varieties. It is my hope that my children will have vineyards that are still 100% composed of the original varietal but be “cancer free” thanks to genetic editing allowing a recessive gene to become the dominate one.

Being now close to 60, I will probably see this dream come true from up above but I’m sure it will still fill me with joy there, too. Today we have opened a door to a cleaner future for our children. What dream could be better?

Thank you for putting your pen at the service of these realistic dreams… although from some of the reactions to your editorial posted on your site I can see a long, ideological battle lies ahead of us.

Best regards and hope to see you soon,

Riccardo Ricci Curbastro”

I hope this will help to clarify aspects of a question that will be central to the future of winegrowing in Italy, much the way grafting European shoots onto American rootstocks was after the phylloxera blight at the beginning of the 20th century. Genetic editing is an authentic revolution and I hope that the debate it will spark will be serious and concrete and not just the usual ideological claptrap that will confused matters by dragging up ant-scientific bias much the way clerics did during the Counter-Reformation, those who condemned Giordano Bruno to death and forced Galileo Galilei abjure, just to name a few. The arguments are different but the mentality is always the same.

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