The availability of clean grape planting material in Washington State is a result of coordination and collaboration between the grape industry, government, certified nurseries, and Washington State University.

Although availability has been stretched thin from the industry’s rapid expansion during the last decade, in-state nurseries and WSU are working to meet the needs of the industry. Efforts include the recent revitalization of the grape foundation block at WSU’s Prosser research station and creation of WSU’s Northwest Grape Foundation Service, the only clean stock program in the Pacific Northwest states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

The role of the Grape Foundation Service is to distribute material from the foundation vineyard or greenhouse that has been properly identified and tested diseasefree for required diseases, said Gary Ballard, manager of the Foundation Service. Both proprietary and public grape selections are maintained in the foundation block, with maintenance fees for private selections paid by the sponsor.

New selections

One of the more important functions of the Foundation Service is sourcing new varietals and clones for inclusion in the foundation block. Sourcing new material is how the foundation vineyard stays current and is able to meet future industry demands. An advisory committee meets annually to review requests submitted by growers or groups and recommends to WSU which selections should be acquired and included in the foundation vineyard.

The foundation block has room to acquire up to 30 selections per year, but the number that is actually brought in depends more on available funds, explained Ballard. “From start to finish—bringing in a new selection and getting it planted in the foundation vineyard—costs around $2,000. That’s our limiting factor.”

He noted that if the selection comes from outside an existing foundation program, such as a foreign country, the price goes up dramatically.

“We acquire selections to be able to provide certified material to the grape industry, and that includes all segments of juice, table, wine, and ornamentals,” Ballard said, adding that Oregon nurseries do big business in mail order with table and ornamental grapes, with one company selling more than a million grape plants annually. The selection committee must balance the needs of the entire grape industry in the Northwest, he said.

“Anybody can request that a selection be brought in for public use, just as anybody can request a private selection,” Ballard stressed. Request sheets are available on the Foundation Service’s Web site, or Ballard can be contacted for assistance.

Depending on where the material comes from and its disease and bacterial status, it can take up to two years before the material is ready for planting in the foundation vineyard. Material is on provisional status once it is planted in the foundation block for at least the first growing season. At best, Ballard can shorten the time to one year before planting in the foundation block, if all goes well during indexing and propagating.

Crown gall free

While other states have certified planting material programs, Tom Wessels of the Washington State Department of Agriculture said he believes that Washington’s certified program is superior because of its extra testing efforts. “I don’t know that the others have gone back in and retested the foundation and mother blocks as extensively as we do.

“If we see crown gall or virus in any of the blocks, including the registered stock, we have it taken out. California doesn’t test for crown gall like we do.”

Also, unlike some certification programs, Rupestris stem pitting associated virus is a required virus that is tested as part of the Washington certified program.

Wessels noted that Washington certified material has an extensive paper trail behind it, allowing each vine to be traced back to the vine in the foundation block.

His goal is that someday soon, enough certified material will be available so growers can stop planting noncertified stock. He reminds growers that all grape material imported into the state must satisfy state and federal quarantine rules with accompanying documentation and be inspected by WSDA officials.

For more information about the Foundation Service and a list of certified nurseries, visit: