Scientists are set to develop a radical new vine after isolating the forgotten half of Pinot Meunier.

Pinot Meunier – which was formed from a spontaneous mutation of the Pinot Noir vine 400 years ago – is responsible for about a third of Champagne production.

Now Australian plant geneticists Paul Boss and Mark Thomas announced last week they have produced a new, high-yielding, vine.

They found that cells taken from the two different layers of the growing tip of the Pinot Meunier shoot create plants with markedly different characteristics. The inner layer cells produce vines indistinguishable from Pinot Noir, while those from the outermost layer produce a vine with vastly increased fruit production and reduced foliage.

This new vine is stocky, has fewer leaves and produces bunches of grapes where other vines produce tendrils. Thomas told decanter.com these grapes are normal size and colour, and ‘look and taste good’. He cautions that ‘they haven’t yet been assessed for winemaking quality as this is the first season we’ve had enough grapes to make a small quantity of wine’.

As well as increased yield, the new vine is less vigorous, producing fewer leaves. Too much foliage can compete with grape ripening, so growers usually have to prune vines mid-season to control canopy growth. Reduced vigour is a desirable trait, providing there is enough foliage to allow the grapes to ripen.

But Carole Meredith, professor of viticulture and enology at the University of California Davis cautioned that more fruit does not necessarily mean better wine.

She said, ‘This opens a big doorway to understanding the control of fruitfulness but a vine that bears fruit at every node doesn’t really have value. In most

vineyards, the fruit load already has to be reduced every year to keep the quality up.’

The scientists say that if this new vine proves successful, the gene could be transferred to other varieties. But Thomas adds, ‘we don’t really know enough yet’.

According to Boss this novel tissue culture technique could be used to generate new grape varieties. ‘Other varieties may have other interesting characteristics in their separate cell layers,’ he said.

Written by Jamie Goode2 May 2002