A group of major wine producers has declared its opposition to testing of genetically modified vines.

Terre et Vin du Monde counts among its members Château Latour, Pichon Longueville, Cos d’Estournel, Smith Haut Lafitte, Domaine de la Romanée Conti, Château de Beaucastel in the Rhône, Spain’s Vega Sicilia, Egon Müller in Germany, and many other world-renowned producers.

It was set up five years ago following the first GM vine tests in France. Since then, the association has swelled to 400 members. Having previously argued for a GMO moratorium, the group’s position has changed to outright opposition.

The group has just met to declare opposition to France’s National Agricultural Research Institute in Colmar (Alsace), which is seeking government approval to resume field tests of GM vine rootstocks.

The aim is to produce vines resistant to court-noué or fanleaf, a degenerative disease carried by a nematode present in most vineyard soils. France’s Biomolecular Engineering Commission has already signalled its approval.

The Institut National des Appellations d’Origine (INAO) agreed in 2002 to ban the use of genetically modified products in France’s AOCs, but the ban has yet to receive the signature of the Agriculture Minister.

The National Agricultural Research Institute insists the risk of contamination from the small test plantation envisaged is virtually nil. Opponents argue that not enough is known about GM products to exclude the danger.

Alain Graillot, President of Terre et Vin du Monde told decanter.com, ‘Apart from the damage that GMOs could do to the image of French wines, it’s the word ‘virtually’ that bothers me. The fact is no one can guarantee that there is no risk of accidentally contaminating non-GM vines.’

The association argues that introducing GM products could irreversibly damage the genetic diversity and typicity of France’s terroirs, the product of centuries of careful vine selection.

Elsewhere in the wine world, there have been a number of tests of GM products designed to improve both viticulture and winemaking. In Germany and the USA, there has been research into producing GM vines resistant to fungal diseases such as downy mildew and powdery mildew (oidium). South African researchers are meanwhile working on GM yeasts for winemaking.

Wine producers in California’s Mendocino County have just voted to prohibit GMOs.

Written by Rupert Joy