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Jerry Rodrigues
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The Old Wynberg Village's 95-year old grapevine is now thought to be a clone

15 February 2019, 10:34


On the 17 January 2017 in MyNews24 I published an article entitled: "An extant 95-year old grapevine in the Old Wynberg Village is likely the Cévennes Jacquez cultivar."

I also stated that that 95-year old grapevine which is growing in the vicinity of Durban Road is still producing bunches of black grapes.

The vine is located on a property consisting of two quaint vernacular cottages which were built around 1846 (the date appears above the front door) and was 'upgraded' in the early 20th century (probably before World War I).

One of those cottages was originally known as the 'Village Inn' called Prince Alfred Arms Tavern, the other was known as the Prince Alfred Cottage.

The Prince Alfred Arms Tavern was often used as the local 'watering hole' serving as a refreshment stopover so that passengers on wagons and coaches (and also the horses) travelling from Cape Town to Simon's Town could get some rest before they continued on their long and tiring journey.

That particular grapevine which I had named "the Cévennes Jacquez" would have been planted around 1922.

Incorrect identification...

Well, it turns out, after a deeper ampelographic investigation into its identity (taking note of leaf and grape berry characteristics), that the old grapevine is probably a clone of  the original Herbemont hybrid cultivar.

Both Jacquez and Herbemont cultivars (including Herbemont seedlings) were imported into the Cape Colony in 1891 for the express purpose of using them as rootstocks because the phylloxera insect had begun devastating the Cape's vineyards. It had been previously determined that the Jacquez and Herbemont rootstocks were somewhat immune to the ravages of the insect precisely because they were hybrid cultivars containing both American and European Vitis genes – the former providing the vine’s immunity.

Some ampelographic evidence…

I tested the 95-year old grapevine for two notable characteristics and these are the results:

(1) Dormant Herbemont canes are notoriously difficult to start rooting. I compared the relative rooting ability of the 95-year old grapevine cuttings with those of the Madeira Jacquez.

Rooting of dormant canes was 4 – 5 times easier in the Jacquez compared with the former cultivar.

(2) The grape berries of  Jacquez grapevine cultivars (there are a number of Jacquez seedling cultivars) are all known to be of the teinturier type – in other words, the anthocyanins (purple colouring matter in the grapes) are found within both their skins AND pulp.

Using an 8x magnification microscope I determined that the 95-year old grapevine's berries contained anthocyanin colouring matter which was restricted to their skins. There was very little to no anthocyanin colouring matter within the pulp of the berry (i.e. once the skins were carefully peeled off the grape berry).

Inevitable conclusion…

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.

It will be a sad day if that happens in the near future because we all have a duty to preserve our grapevine germplasm for future generations.

There is only one species of cultivated European grapevine and that is the Vitis vinifera.

Climate change is likely to wreak havoc on Vitis vinifera in future, so we need all the available genetic diversity we can get.

In conclusion, in order to confirm the identity of that old Wynberg Village grapevine, it will be necessary to perform a microsatellite DNA analysis (a.k.a. Simple Sequence Repeat or SSR analysis).

Dr Jerry Rodrigues (PhD, Biochemistry, UCT)

(14 Feb 2019)
Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.


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