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Making grapes into wine – it's di-vine!

After a long week of balancing home-life, work-life and all the other kinds of – life we juggle, it's easy to understand why a glass of wine tastes so good. The big question is – Which One To Choose?!? It can feel like all of the work goes into choosing the right wine, making us quick to forget the amount of work that goes in to getting the grapes in the bottle, on to the shelves and into your glass.

Canada's wine industry is a $1.2 billion industry, with exports worth $133 million in 2016 (and increasing fast). That's a lot of grapes! It may not seem like it at first glance, but the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has a big role to play in the protection of those grapes. Nestled on the coast of Vancouver Island is one of 13 CFIA laboratories, the Sidney Centre for Plant Health. This lab's location is picture perfect – but it is its isolation from major production areas that helps those in the lab prevent the possible spread of diseases and viruses, and the area also offers the best possible climate for growing diverse fruit and ornamental crops. This isolation makes the Centre the first stop for certain plants – including grapevines – entering Canada from over 30 different countries. When someone wants to grow grape varieties from countries that are not yet authorized for import, the process starts at the Centre for Plant Health, the only post-entry quarantine program for grapevines in Canada. When grapevines from those countries arrive at the Centre for Plant Health, the diagnostic testing team immediately begins the lengthy process of testing the grapevines for threatening viruses while keeping the grapevines under strict quarantine. After preliminary tests, it is sometimes possible to identify whether a grapevine is carrying a virus. Other times, more extensive testing is required. The importer can have the grapevine enter a virus elimination program. The vine is placed through a heat therapy and microshoot tip culture regime. Once the program is complete and the vine is determined to be virus-free, cuttings from the grapevine are declared safe to hit Canadian soil.

In parallel with this "grow and show" method of virus detection, the scientists at CFIA are working in collaboration with partners to develop advanced genomics-based detection tools that will clear grapevines on a shorter timeline (up to 3 years versus weeks). The development and use of these tools has been, and will continue to be, a key component of the innovative science delivered at the Centre for Plant Health. Collaboration with other scientists – including universities, other research organizations, and industry partners are an important part in enabling the Center to support national priorities and initiatives. These new tools will reduce the logistical cost of vine imports to Canada.

But the work for the Sidney Centre doesn't stop there: it also offers an array of scientific expertise that keeps Canadian vineyards growing and your wine flowing! Once a grapevine has gone through the virus elimination program, it is kept in Canada's only repository of confirmed virus-tested vines located at the Sidney Centre for Plant Health. Cuttings of an accepted vine in the repository are then distributed to its importer making it possible to produce many plants from just one cutting! In simpler terms, the clean plants can be cloned over and over to produce vineyards-worth of virus-free grapevines. Voilà! A new grape variety to grow in Canada is born.

The dedication of those working at the Centre shines through as they safeguard plants, small fruit (e.g. berries), tree fruit and vines. Their passion for what they do allows Canada's wineries to stay at the top of their game. The Centre for Plant Health is essential for healthy vineyards and a growing wine industry. Without the everyday work of the Centre, we wouldn't be able to enjoy that perfect glass grown right here in Canada. So, next time you are about to take a sip of Canadian-made wine, remember to toast the critical and passionate behind the scenes work of the scientists at the Sidney Centre for Plant Health. Cheers!

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