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French grapevine collection to be uprooted and relocated

The world’s largest and most important living grapevine collection at the Domaine de Vassal vineyard, in the South of France, is to be relocated following several years of negotiations with the vineyard’s landowner, wine company Domaines Listel in Sète, near Montpellier, over the renewal of the 30-year lease, and threats of eviction.

The 138-year old collection, started in 1876 was moved in 1949 to its current site and is home to thousands of unique grape varieties which are essential for research and winegrowers in France and around the world.

It is managed by the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), who are concerned about where the money will come from to relocate - estimated it will cost around €4 million and take years to complete, putting research on hold. As well as having a conservation role in preserving genetic diversity, the collection is used for research and for breeding qualities such as flavour, colour, adaptation to specific regions and pathogen resistance. Several hundred samples from the Domaine de Vassal are used annually, mainly by other French labs, but also internationally. It houses some 7,500 accessions from 47 countries, representing 2,300 different grape varieties, including wild species, rootstocks, hybrids and mutants.

The INRA intends to relocate the collection, probably to a site alongside Pech Rouge, an INRA viticulture and oenology research station in Gruissan, about 70 kilometres southwest of Domaine de Vassal. The relocation should get under way this year.