At the end of 1986, under the leadership of Dr. José Luis González Mantilla (Research Scientist with the CSIC), and with the help of Dr. María del Carmen Martínez and José Enrique Pérez, work began at the Instituto de Investigaciones Agrobiológicas de Galicia (CSIC) to locate and describe the grapevine varieties then present in Galicia and Asturias.  A review of the literature published before the arrival of downy mildew, powdery mildew, phylloxera and black-rot in the study area (end of the 19th century) was undertaken, with the aim of finding documents referring to grapevine cultivation and to the names of the oldest varieties (Alonso de Herrera, 1513; Jovellanos, 1790-1801; Labrada, 1804; Casares, 1843; Ministerio de Fomento, 1877; Suarez Cantón, 1879; Abela y Sainz de Andino, 1885; De Arbas, 1897; Crespo, 1897; Viala y Vermorel, 1901-1910; Ministerio de Fomento, 1911).  The literature published after the arrival of the above diseases was also examined in order to determine how viticulture had changed and which foreign varieties had been introduced (Pacottet, 1928; Comenge, 1942; Huetz de Lemps, 1967; Marcilla, 1968; Johnson, 1990). The unpublished manuscripts and notes of García de los Salmones, which refer to Galician and Asturian varieties were examined too, as were documents held in convents and ancestral homes, and writings and notes made by old vinegrowers.   The List of Varieties composed by Hidalgo y Candela (1971) was also consulted, as was the List of Cultivated Varieties of the Catastro Vitícola y Vinícola de las Provincias de Oviedo, Coruña, Lugo, Orense y Pontevedra (Ministerio de Agricultura, 1981). The catalogues of national (Cabello, 1995; García de Luján y Lara, 1989) and international (Ministère de l’Agriculture de la Recherche et de la Technologie, 1984-1985) collections were also consulted.  The world collection of grapevine varieties at Vassal (France) was visited, and information gathered from living plants and from the institution’s archives (which contains references to certain Spanish varieties).  The El Encín estate in Alcalá de Henares was also visited for talks with the curators of the Spanish national collection of grapevines. Precise information was found on the origin of some of the vines in its collection, and even on the persons who donated them (we were actually able to speak with some of these persons).

Interviews were also held with the oldest viticulturalists in every village within the study area (many of these interviews survive on tape).  The aim of these interviews was to collect the information on the varieties grown in the area - their names, synonyms, homonyms, possible origin, most important characteristics etc. - that had been transmitted orally from one generation to the next.  In Asturias, some of those interviewed even remembered the time when technicians from Bordeaux introduced the trellis system, Guyot pruning, and grafting onto American rootstocks.  In addition, some remembered the arrival of varieties such as Alicante, Cabernet Sauvigon and Mencía etc.

Using the information gathered, a list of local names was drawn up for the varieties that had once existed – and might still exist – across the study area.  Field surveys were then performed with the viticulturalists we had come to know.  The aim this time was to locate living examples of the varieties on our list of names.  These surveys were performed alongside only one viticulturalist at a time to make sure that each gave the same name to the same variety.  Nearly 100 different varieties were detected in this way.  Many of these were represented by plants some 200-300 years old (Figs. 1 and 2).  Some were indeed on our list, but others were entirely unknown.  Some were nationally or even internationally known varieties that arrived in the area, usually after the Phylloxera problem.  Sometimes they had maintained their original names (e.g., Jerez, or Alicante), while others had taken on local names associated with some particular characteristic of the leaves or clusters (Folla redonda, Pirixileira, etc), or that commemorated their origin (Blanca castellana, Catalán blanca etc.).

Between 1987 and 1992, and at different times in the vegetative cycle (sprouting, flowering, between bud-setting and veraison, ripening), samples were taken in situ from the  organs (shoots, young leaves, adult leaves, clusters, berries and seeds) of the located plants, and complete ampelographic studies performed following the method proposed by the OIV.  Photographs and slides of all the material studied have been conserved.  The leaves and seeds collected in the different years are conserved in the herbarium of the Misión Biológica de Galicia (MBG-CSIC).

At the end of 1992, following the death of Dr. Mantilla, viticultural research at the Instituto de Investigaciones Agrobiológicas (IIAG-CSIC) ended, and in 1993 Dr. Martínez (who had recently been awarded her PhD) moved to the MBG-CSIC.  She took with her all the material that had been gathered over the years, including the herbarium samples, the seed collection, photographs and slides, along with plants growing in pots etc., and there she continued the work.

Based on a number of criteria (age running into centuries, lack of any external symptoms of disease, etc.)  Dr. Martínez chose one specimen of each of the varieties (except for Albariño) that had been located over the years around Galicia and Asturias. Of the over 40 centuries-old Albariño specimens found around Galicia, 11 with the most interesting characteristics were chosen.  During the period of plant repose in 1993, 10 woody cuttings were taken from all the chosen plants and grafted onto rootstocks in a plot at the MBG-CSIC (Figs. 3 and 4). This collection is now in full production and is used in the research work at this and other centres.

Between the end of 1994 and the end of 1996, Dr. Martínez left the MBG-CSIC to take up a two-year postdoctoral position in France at the Établissement National Technique pour l’Amélioration de la Viticulture y Ecóle Nationale Supérieure Agronomique de Montpellier, leaving behind the collection and its associated materials at the MBG-CSIC. She returned in 1997 and took up the care of the collection once again. 

1999 saw the defence of the first doctoral thesis supervised by Dr. Martínez, which involved research on the collection’s Albariño clones. This work was undertaken by María Dolores Loureiro.  In 2000, Dr. Martínez founded the current Viticultural Research Group with the incorporation of PhD students José Luis Santiago Blanco and Susana Boso Alonso, whose theses were defended in 2004 and 2005 respectively. Dr. Mar Vilanova de la Torre joined in 2002, but moved on in 2006. In 2003, PhD student Virginia Alonso-Villaverde joined, and defended her thesis in 2008. 2004 saw the incorporation of Sol Angel Zamúz, who stayed until 2007. In 2005 Pilar Gago joined, and defended her thesis in 2009. All these theses involved work with material from the collection.  Drs. Santiago, Boso, Gago and Alonso-Villaverde have remained with the group.

2012 began with a new research line: Galician local olive tree (Olea europaea L.), to carry out the botanical, molecular and agronomic description. Moreover, studies on acclimation to different areas of Galicia, as well as the stablishment of the bases for the creation of a DOP "Galician Oils" were carried out.

In 2017, another research line was created: the characterization of an Asturian rose (Rosa narcea), with possible uses in perfumes. The botanical, molecular and agronomic description of this rose was carried out. Moreover, analysis of the volatile compounds, polyphenols and others of interest in the field of cosmetics, medicine and food is of special importance.

Alberto Pérez Sanz joined the group’s technical and support staff in 2001, but left in 2003. His place was taken by Mariana Pizarro, who stayed until 2004.  In the same year, Elena Zubiaurre joined, and in 2005 Iván González became a group member. Between 2004 and 2006, Raquél Díaz was part of the team. María Soledad Taboada joined in 2008. Elena Zubiaurre, Iván González and María Soledad Taboada are still working with us.

Over the years, other researchers, students and technicians have spent short periods of time with us. 


Figure 1: On the right, Dr. Martinez, with a companion (1989), observing a centenary strain of "Cajarrento"

Figure 2: On the right Dr. Mantilla, on the left José Enrique Pérez (1989), observing a centenary strain of Albariño

Figure 3: Dr. Martinez planting the Collection in the GBM, in 1993

Figure 4: The Collection, actually (2013)

Misión Biológica de Galicia (CSIC)
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