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Tainted Vines Threaten State Grapes Officials Trying To Round Up California Imports

Washington State officials are seeking to stop the spread of an unwanted transplant: California grape vines which could be infested.

The state Department of Agriculture is cautioning consumers about vines recently brought to the state in violation of a 50-year-old quarantine. The plants may carry pests and viruses that could devastate the wine industry, officials said.

“This is not a food safety issue,” said Jennifer Boaz of the Washington State Department of Agriculture. “It’s not affecting the grapes themselves, but it does affect the vine.”

Boaz said while none of the uncertified vines has been found to be infested, “we are assuming they are, because we would rather be safe than sorry.”

Of particular concern is an insect called the grape phylloxera that could have infested the imported vines.

“It’s a root louse,” said Steve Burns, executive director of the Washington Wine Commission. “It slowly eats away at the roots of the plant, gradually killing it. Production will fall off, fall off and fall off.”

The louse is soil-borne and can be easily transferred from field to field. “If you happen to walk in an infested yard and then a Washington vineyard, the organism will be transferred,” Burns said.

A Vashon Island vintner who was browsing at a Puget Sound-area Home Depot nursery a few weeks ago first spotted some culprit vines.

“He looked on the tag and saw they were from California, which surprised him,” said Burns.

When the store didn’t have the vines’ certification which shows they are virus free - a requirement for the legal sale of out-of-state vines - the vintner notified the Department of Agriculture.

Home Depot has since been working with state officials to remove the plants from its stores. But some had been purchased and others have appeared at nurseries throughout the state.

According to Home Depot, the vines came from a California nursery that is certified as virus-free.

“But we’ve taken the plants off the shelves until the nursery gets cleared with the Department of Agriculture,” said Amy Friend, spokeswoman for Home Depot.

Washington enacted the grape vine quarantine in 1943, following California’s first problems with grape phylloxera.

The Department of Agriculture requests that anyone who may have the out-of-state vines call their local Agriculture Extension office.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, the retail businesses help us in regulating the quarantine,” Boaz said. “This time, it just kind of fell through the cracks.”

, DataTimes

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