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France’s national library of grape varieties under threat, say protesters

Plans in France to relocate a living library of 7,000 wine grape varieties, some dating back to 1876, have come under fire from protesters who fear some may not survive the journey.

(Vines in Languedoc-Roussillon, close to where the INRA centre may be relocated)

An online petition set up to prevent the move of the library, which holds wine grape varieties from 40 countries, had gained nearly 4,000 signatures by the end of Friday (29 November).

Protesters described the collection as ‘the viticultural equivalent of the Louvre‘ – a reference to the renowned museum in Paris – and warned that a ‘vital genetic resource’ is under threat if the move goes ahead.

The Domaine de Vassal collection dates back to 1876, when the Phylloxera crisis led the University of Agriculture in Montpellier, southern France, to create a research library for French grapes. 

It switched to its current location in 1949, and today covers 27 hectares, between Marseillan beach and the Thau Lake, just outside Montpellier.

Although final confirmation is still pending, it is due to be moved again from next year to the National Institute for Agronomic Research (INRA) site at Peche Rouge in Gruissan, near Narbonne

Laurent Bruckler, president of INRA Montpellier, confirmed to decanter.com that the move is likely to go ahead, but will be spread out slowly over the next five to seven years. An official statement is due in the next few days.

He strongly denied that the research agency is jeopardising the grape varieties’ survival, or that the proposal is a cost saving initiative – as some have claimed.

‘This move is for the financial and environmental future of the vineyard. Contrary to rumours, this is nothing to do with budget cuts, or rising rentals costs. It will cost far more to move than it would to stay. We are looking to save the collection, not destroy it.’

He added, ‘it is a complicated procedure, and our first priority is protecting the vines. We are still undergoing a careful process of gathering the best scientific and environmental advice, and nothing is going to happen swiftly’.

The current sandy location protects the original rootstocks against disease such as phylloxera, meaning most of the vines are non-grafted. But, according to INRA, the site is under threat from rising sea levels, meaning potential damage to the vines from salt water flooding.

The size of the site is also a problem, because around 50 new varieties arrive each year. The new site offers 170 hectares, although some forest would need to be cleared to make way for plantings, according to INRA.

Written by Jane Anson

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