A story today in the San Francisco Chronicle has created a controversy for two words (or maybe it’s just one word?) that has been since removed from the article: Frankengrapes.
As the story details, wine grape researchers are very reluctant to admit that genetic engineering could improve wine grapes. In the Chronicle story, it’s implied that genetic engineering is currently being used to create vines that are resistant to Pierce’s Disease, a serious threat to the California wine industry.
Traditional selective breeding has not been successful to produce a satisfactory grape that is resistant to Pierce’s Disease. According to the Chronicle writer, these Pierce resistant wines taste like “Manichewitz…or musky Catawba wines that are tasted at wineries off interstates in Indiana or Pennsylvania.”
Is there anything more insufferable than a California wine writer who has never had a quality wine from an emerging wine region, because, well, “we Californians just don’t drink that.”
The bottom line for the Midwest is efforts are underway to create cold hardy wine grapes in the lab that have desirable characteristics like “normal” acidity and tannins. Some Missouri researchers have declined to speak with Midwest Wine Press reporters, probably for the same reason The San Francisco Chronicle had to remove “Frankengrapes” from of their story.
However, these same researchers are reportedly discussing their progress at select regional conferences. So it’s just a matter of time before plant scientists create cold hardy grapes that taste like vinifera. This raises a whole host of issues that we look forward to covering. We think it would be great if California breaks the stigma of genetically engineered grapes so we can reap the benefits here.
Editor’s Note: If any Chronicle folks are reading this, you left “Frakengrapes” in the URL for your article.