Just because it is science, does not mean I have to like it. Not that I can claim breaking into a sweat of hysteria and reaching for the gas-mask whenever the term Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) is mentioned.
If plants can be subjected to genetic variations that would rid the world of starvation without any detrimental long-term effects on the environment, go for it. I would support GMO if it really benefits mankind where there is a real need and where it can be proven the implementation of GMO is all positive and no negative.
The wine industry does, however, not fall into the category of an industry requiring GMO’s to improve the quality of life or the human race in general. And that is why I object to the University of Stellenbosch’s Institute for Wine Biotechnology’s plans to go ahead with experimental GMO vines in Stellenbosch.
The two issues at hand are necessity and the potential harm to the image of the South African wine industry.
With regards to issue one: why consider any genetic modification at any stage of the wine-making process? When the rumours of GMO dabbling by the Institute for Wine Biotechnology surfaced I called a few winemakers, most of whom told me that the only reason something like GMO vines would be considered was to eliminate virus’s and diseases. Think no leaf-roll and no mildew after those warm summer rains.
But, I ask with tears in my eyes, is it really worth playing God by means of genetic modification to make life on the wine farm a bit easier? When it comes to bearing the brunt of what nature throws at you, wine farmers have little to complain about when comparing their irritating bouts of mildew with a impoverished maize farmer in Ethiopia who has lost a total crop due to a hail-storm.
I have no formal ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ or any other – qualification in viticulture, but know that the vine must be one of the hardiest pieces of plant ever cultivated. If you need GMO’s to fix your vines, you are in the wrong business.
And, as little as we in the industry like to believe, the world is not going to starve if a global wine crop fails. Last time I looked, the tanks were pretty full, China!
The other reason I question the necessity of GMO in the wine industry is because this practise would destroy the fabric of wine’s diverse nature. This is the one aspect that makes wine intriguing, unique and worth pursuing: taste of place, specific style, taste of place.
Get the GMO ball rolling and you could theoretically create a Pinot Noir vine that will produce grapes of the same genetic make-up and style as those found in Beaune or at Hamilton Russell. This will enable winemakers to replicate specific wine styles and intrinsic from Koekenaap to Champagne; Devon to Dunedin.
Like Guinness stout or Coca Cola, you could just plonk down a winery to make any wine you want, anywhere in the world to a predetermined taste. Ch?+¦???+¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¬teau Global, anyone?
(Of course, even global giants like McDonalds have banned the use of any GM products, anywhere, which should get one thinking: do global behemoths like McDonalds who are accountable to billions of consumers know something about the perceptions of GMO’s the wine industry doesn’t?)
My second reason for disagreeing with the GMO experiments in Stellenbosch is the short-sightedness of those responsible in failing to realise the damage this can have on the already shaky image of the South African wine industry.
Labour issues, farm conditions, rubber-tainted wines, the 2004 flavourant scandal…..all these are being used by our competitors in the global markets in attempts to shunt us aside. Throw in “SA wine industry looks to GMO’s” to this mix, and you’d have a brew to make a Macbeth witch puke in her cauldron.
The failure of those responsible to see this time-bomb is mind-boggling. Especially when looking at the one marketing tool the South African industry has been using to characterise our wines, namely biodiversity and nature. It is going to be very difficult to maintain the industry’s Variety is in our Nature campaign, with its commitment to the floral kingdom, birds, chameleons and other critters when you ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ the industry ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ are condoning a little bit of GMO experimentation.
The fact that the Institute for Wine Biotechnology also has the arrogance to perform its little experiment at Welgevallen, probably the most hallowed part of vineland real estate due to the role that it has played in the birth of the South African wine industry, also leaves an especially bitter taste.
I would like to end with a question to producers: would you ever like to see the words “Made from Genetically Modified Grapes” on your label?
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