20 years of ampelography in Portugal

J E Eiras‑Dias – Estação Vitivinícola Nacional de Dois Portos (EVN) [National Vitivinicultural Research Station at Dois Portos]

In Portugal, one could say that ampelography began with the ampelographic collections compiled at the end of the 19th century in response to the destruction of the European vine stock by phylloxera. While this structure served as a base to achieve a coherent body of ampelographic work, the morphological description of the species and the control of varieties, it was not maintained continuously, which only served to contribute to the publication of ampelographic collections which followed at the whim of the fashion at the time. The commissioning of ampelographic collections was frequently justified on economic grounds and only when it was considered that the knowledge of the identity of the varieties was disappearing that the creation of now ampelographic collections was explored, without any reference being made to those collections which had already been commissioned. These facts led to much argument at the beginning of the 1980s over the identity of varieties such as Castelão (vs. Periquita, vs. Trincadeiro, vs. João de Santarém, vs. Castelão Francês) or Fernão Pires (vs. Maria Gomes).

Because they were widely cultivated, these two varieties acquired a great many synonyms, depending on the region in which they were grown. This confusion created by synonyms and homonyms of varieties being grown in Portugal had very negative effects on the knowledge and management of of rich viticultural heritage of the country.

It was in this context that in 1981, the National Ampelographic and Synonymous Grapevine Varieties Project commenced, which completely revolutionised the national ampelography and created the conditions conducive to our acquiring a knowledge of almost all of our varieties today. This project, financed under the aegis of activities just prior to Portugal’s accession to the European Economic Community (EEC), enabled the establishment of ampelographic collections in the main viticultural regions of the country which are still in use today. Coordinated by Eng. Castro Reis, this project was incorporated in the pre‑accession assistance Portugal received from the EEC, which enables workgroups to be created in all viticultural regions of the country. Under the project, the main varieties in each viticultural region were described in a systematic manner (Antunes and Costa, 1986; Banza, 1986; Duarte and Eiras‑Dias, 1990; Eiras‑Dias et al., 1988; Faustino, 1986; Mota and Silva, 1986; Pereira and Duarte, 1986; Pereira and Sousa, 1986; Rocha et al., 1990; Vaz, 1987), thus providing an in‑depth examination of varieties being cultivated, together with the recording of their names, and the creation of up‑to‑date ampelographic collections.

This project resulted in the publication of grapevine variety catalogues for the main national viticultural regions and in the creation of the Colecção Ampelográfica Nacional [National Ampelographic Collection] (CAN), situated in Dois Portos at the Estação Vitivinícola Nacional [national Vitivinicultural Research Station](EVN).

This work was assisted greatly by the publication in 1977 by UPOV (Union Internationale pour la Protection des Obtentions Végétales/International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants), and in 1983 by the OIV (Organisation International de la Vigne et du Vin/International Organisation of Vine and Wine) of codified, internationally accepted descriptive characteristics applicable to varieties and species of Vitis. These codes resulted in an exhaustive exercise of making the morphological descriptions of the varieties uniform, so as to provide a proper basis for comparison. These descriptor lists indicate the characteristics to be observed and their levels of expression, and assign a number to each level of expression for data processing purposes. To standardize the point of reference for the descriptors, an example is taken from of a variety or species which has a level of expression of the particular characteristic under observation.

The first doctorate in Portugal on Ampelography was presented in 1982 by Professor Antero Araújo of the University of Évora, concerning the ampelographic characterisation of grapevine varieties cultivated in the Alentejo.

In 1987, researcher Luis Cruz Carneiro of the Estação Agronómica Nacional (National Agricultural Research Station) presented as his dissertation, which was part of his doctoral examinations, a work of technical application Acúrcio Rodrigues’ numeric taxonomy method.

This doctorate is worthy of mention as far as the development of method is concerned, because it concluded that it makes no difference ampelometrically whether coordinates are obtained from green, freshly‑picked or dry leaves. Thus, the data gathering period is extended considerably. He also verified that morphologically, the degree of opening of the petiolar sinus and the dentition of the leaf are important distinguishing characteristics.

In 1994, Eiras Dias presented a doctoral dissertation which addressed the issue of the application of isoenzymatic polymorphism in the identification of grapevine varieties. This work made it possible to identify the grapevine varieties under study and to confirm that isoenzymatic polymorphism is extremely useful when profiling and classifying grapevine varieties.

In 1999, the use of microsatellites in molecular profiling of Portuguese grapevine varieties was initiated with the analysis of 49 varieties using 11 microsatellite markers (Lopes et al., 1999). Various previously detected synonymous varieties were confirmed: (1) Fernão Pires = Maria Gomes, (2) Moscatel de Setúbal = Muscat d’Alexandrie, (3) Malvasia Fina = Boal da Madeira = Boal Cachudo, (4) Síria = Crato Branco = Roupeiro and (5) Castelão Francês = Periquita = João de Santarém = Trincadeira. Three varieties thought to be different were identified as being synonymous. The Verdelho from the Azores, the Verdelho da Madeira and the Verdelho Roxo present identical microsatellite profiles in 17 loci, although one of them has a mutation at the level of berry colour. The data obtained also revealed that the Boal Ratinho descends from a crossing of Malvasia Fina with Síria.

All knowledge gained was applied when drafting the current Ministerial Directive (Portaria) No. 428/2000 dated 17 July, which lists the grapevine varieties from which wine may be made in Portugal. This legislative document contains 341 referenced grapevine varieties, which have been assigned national names.

In 2002, the molecular study of da Vitis vinifera ssp. sylvestris (Gmeli) Hegi began, and focussed on three populations located in Mourão, Valverde and Alcácer do Sal (Santos, 2002). This study revealed interesting relationships between wild grapevines and cultivars. Some 121 grapevines varieties, 5 rootstocks, 3 species of Vitis and 40 wild plants were studied in terms of 16 different microsatellite markers. it was observed that some alleles were specific to certain groups only and others were shared across all groups. Of a total of 141 different alleles discovered in all samples analysed, 4 alleles were specific to wild grapevines only, 18 specific to cultivars only, and 80 specific to other species and rootstocks. Of the 95 alleles found in cultivars, 65 were also present in wild grapevine varieties (68%), clearly demonstrating the importance of this germplasm in the evolution of Portuguese grapevine varieties.

During the same period a workgroup comprising researchers from the Instituto Nacional de Investigação Agrária e das Pescas (INIAP), the Instituto de Biologia Experimental e Tecnológica (IBET), the Instituto Superior de Agronomia (ISA) and the Universidade de Trás‑os‑Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD) conducted a microsatellite characterisation of the 341 grapevine varieties officially authorised for the making of wine in Portugal, using the 6 microsatellites studied under the aegis of the European GENRES 081 project and accepted by the OIV as molecular markers for Vitis. Some synonymous grapevine varieties were revealed during the course of this work. This will reduced the number of grapevine varieties officially authorised from the making of wine in Portugal in future legislation.

Portugal is currently integrating properly coordinated teams into the International Grape Genome Program (IGGP), and participating in the in the areas of molecular markers, genetic mapping and transcriptomic expression analysis, with particular focus on the study of the response to different types of abiotic stress, and the development of arrays.