Tests in Alsace using genetically modified rootstocks were given the go-ahead by the French agriculture ministry last week.

The tests, by the National Agricultural Research Institute (INRA), will begin in Colmar, Alsace, in the autumn, with the intention of understanding whether GM rootstocks can halt the spread of fanleaf degeneration, or fanleaf virus.

The virus affects the roots of vines and can dramatically reduce potential yield. The disease can be transmitted in a number of ways including the use of infected plants or via tiny worms known as nematodes.

Ironically, the process of grafting vines onto rootstocks in the late 19th century – which overcame the phylloxera crisis – was partly responsible for the wider spreading of fanleaf virus which now affects most wine-growing regions in the world.

The GM tests are being opposed by an association of major wine producers known as Terre et Vin du Monde.

The latest news will come as a blow to the group, which includes winemakers from major Burgundian domaines such as Leflaive and Romanée-Conti, Bordeaux châteaux including Latour, Smith-Haut-Lafitte and Cos d’Estournel, as well as Spain’s Vega-Sicilia and other world-renowned producers.

The INRA says that its tests will be performed under strictly controlled conditions and are not commercially-minded. Neither grapes nor wine will be produced from the experimental vines.

‘The results will help vine protection research to progress. They will be made available to producers,’ said the INRA.

Written by Oliver Styles