The war on Phylloxera in South Africa was initially fought using a very old 'Jacquez seedling'

2016-08-29 15:09

At the height of the phylloxera crisis in South Africa, a recommendation was made to the South African government that it should import some phylloxera-resistant American grapevine rootstocks. News from France had reached South Africa that there was an American rootstock called 'Jacquez' being used there as a rootstock with some success. Therefore, in 1891 South Africa imported a large batch of Jacquez and soon (in 1893) grape farmers were advised to graft their vinifera vines onto this phylloxera-resistant rootstock. A prominent viticulturist, Louis Ravaz in France in 1902 warned the viticultural community that Jacquez should never have been used as rootstock in a phylloxera infested country. In South Africa, Perold, in 1926, also cautioned the viticultural community in the use of Jacquez as a rootstock. However, by 1960 Jacquez constituted more than 90% of the vineyards in South Africa and had thus endured for over 60 years as South Africa’s most important rootstock.

The question that now arises is: Why did Jacquez not find any application as a commercial rootstock outside of South Africa? In other words, why was Jacquez never included in any list of recommended rootstocks either in the USA or in Europe?

In hindsight, the answer to this question is very simple indeed. However, we had to wait until now, in order to reap the benefits of our modern DNA technology in the form of Microsatellite DNA analysis (a.k.a. Simple Sequence Repeats or SSRs) pioneered by Dr Carole Meredith of the University of California, Davis. 

Meredith and her student John Bowers used DNA markers to create 'fingerprints' of grapevines in order to identify parent-offspring relationships. For example, in 1997, her laboratory determined unequivocally, that Cabernet franc together with Sauvignon blanc were the parents of Cabernet sauvignon.

Microsatellite DNA analyses have now been conducted on a number of purported Jacquez cultivars. It has been revealed that there is only one original Jacquez cultivar (the original Madeira Jacquez) and that there are at least 3 other Jacquez cultivars in use which have been propagated from Jacquez seeds. These other Jacquez cultivars would be most appropriately called 'Jacquez seedlings'. It is now assumed that those Jacquez seedlings were propagated and given trivial names such as Black Spanish, Lenoir and Cigar Box Grape (or Longworth’s Ohio) depending upon what grape breeder or famous viticulturist was involved in its propagation.

For example, Nicholas Herbemont, the famous American master viticulturist from Columbia, South Carolina, describing the Lenoir cultivar in the book called Writings of Nicholas Herbemont in 1834 (edited by David S. Shields), mentions the following: the Lenoir was "...Named after Isaac Lenoir of Horatio, South Carolina, who grew the parent vine from seed, the grape came into Herbemont’s hands early." Further on in that book he states that: “…the (Lenoir) grape became a staple of Texas viticulture at the end of the 19th century, albeit cultivated under the names “Black Spanish” or “Jacquez”.

In 1909 the American ampelographer T. V. Munson tells the story of: “…a small cutting of the Jacquez vine 'travelled' from the Madeira islands to the USA in a cigar box. This cigar box surfaced again in Cincinnati where it was supposed to be received by Mr. Longworth. The cutting was thereafter propagated, leading to the name 'Cigar Box Grape' for Jacquez.”

Now, from the results of Microsatellite DNA analyses that were conducted here in South Africa, it was discovered that at least three European grapevine accessions (existing grapevine collection) i.e. a 'Spanish' Jacquez accession, a 'French' Jacquez accession and an 'Austrian' Jacquez accession, were originally propagated from seeds obtained from the 'oldest' known Jacquez cultivar. The oldest Jacquez referred to here is the one that originally found its way to the Madeira Islands and is also available here in South Africa and presumably could also be found elsewhere such as in the USA.

At least those three European accessions that I have referred to above were propagated as seedlings from seeds that originated from the self-pollinated original Madeira Jacquez. This is an important revelation which has been found from those DNA fingerprint results.

The bottom line here is that, contrary to popular belief, those 'other Jacquez' cultivars are therefore not identical to the original Jacquez that landed on the Madeira Islands in the late 18th century and that originally were taken from there to Europe because those were derived from Jacquez seedlings.

An accession of the 'Spanish Jacquez' is being kept in a research facility near Madrid, Spain, whereas the 'French Jacquez' accession is kept at the INRA-Vassal grapevine facility in Montpellier, France. The 'Austrian Jacquez' is currently being curated at the Institute called Höhere Bundeslehranstalt und Bundesamt für Wein- und Obstbau in Klosterneuburg, Austria.

Because this last Jacquez accession shows less homozygous microsatellite alleles than the other two accessions and, furthermore, exhibits a number of extra mutations in the microsatellites compared to the other two it therefore appears to be the oldest of the Jacquez seedlings. This is important information because it tells us that it will most likely be adapted to its environment in some ways different to the other two accessions. This is how a living organism, such as a plant, adapts to its hostile environment through the process of mutation and selection (obviously by man in this case).

Now, from the microsatellite analysis of the Jacquez that was imported into South Africa in 1891, it seems highly probable that it was this 'Austrian accession' that landed here in South Africa and not the Lenoir or the Black Spanish that was originally exported from the USA to France during the phylloxera crisis.

It therefore appears that the so-called Spanish Jacquez referred to above is, in all likelihood, the Lenoir cultivar and, similarly, the so-called French Jacquez is the original Black Spanish which can be found today widely cultivated in Texas.

In conclusion, we have come a long way in order to answer the simple question which was posed earlier in this article, namely, why was Jacquez never included in any list of recommended rootstocks either in the USA or in Europe, except in South Africa?

I’ll leave you to answer this interesting question which grape growers all over the world could never understand.

But we now know why…

By Dr Jerry Rodrigues (15 August 2016)


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