Interaction of red blotch virus (GRBV) and deficit irrigation on grapevine water relations, disease development, and vine productivity

The second year of a field experiment with two irrigation treatments – wet (W) and dry (D) – and two vine disease statuses – healthy (GRBV-) and infected (GRBV+) – was continued in a commercial vineyard to understand the interaction between GRBV infection and deficit irrigation on disease development, vine productivity, and fruit quality. W vines were irrigated at 100% of crop evapotranspiration (ETc), while D vines received water at 50% ETc. Within each irrigation treatment, GRBV- and GRBV+ vines (split-plot) that were previously identified in early 2017 based on symptomology data from 2016. The identified vines were confirmed as GRBV+ and GRBV- by PCR-based assays. GRBV- vines from 2017 were re-tested in early 2018 to confirm disease status.

In both years, measurements of vine water status (midday stem water potential; Ψstem) were made at regular intervals throughout the growing season beginning just after berry set until just before harvest. Similarly, disease severity was recorded every week after the first symptom appearance was observed on GRBV+ vines. At harvest, berry samples were collected for berry size and compositional analyses; and vine yield and yield components were determined.

With respect to vine water relations and gas exchange, there were no significant interactions among experimental treatments. Irrigation treatment and disease status both impacted these aspects of vine physiology, but they acted independently, with water deficits consistently reducing vine water status, and GRBV infection consistently increasing it. In other words, GRBV infection had the same effect on vine water status (stem water potential) under both well-watered and deficit conditions. However, the significant impact of GRBV infection on vine water status only arose post-veraison – at the same time that foliar symptoms became visible. The increase in post-veraison water status under GRBV+ conditions was likely a consequence of reduced stomatal conductance, which in turn reduced net photosynthesis.

Berry development was similarly impacted by the treatments independently, with consistently larger berries in W and GRBV+ vines. This was observed at nearly every sample date in each year, but differences between vines of different disease status only became significant post-veraison. TSS were also only significantly different between GRBV- and GRBV+ vines post-veraison, and there was a limited impact of irrigation treatment. In contrast, pH and TA were more variable among treatments and years, suggesting that GRBV has a limited effect on organic acid metabolism.

Irrigation treatment and disease status impacted skin and seed phenolic concentrations to varying degrees over two seasons. Whereas irrigation treatment and disease status impacted skin phenolic concentration together, disease status alone impacted seed phenolic concentration. In both years, skin anthocyanin concentration was increased with deficit irrigation – in both GRBV- and GRBV+ vines – but only increases in GRBV- vines were statistically significant. Conversely, skin tannin and iron-reactive phenolic concentrations were variably affected by treatments, and results were not consistent between years. In seeds, there were no effects of the irrigation treatments, but disease status significantly reduced both tannin and iron-reactive phenolic concentrations. This effect was consistent between years. All together, these results suggest that the genetic control of phenolic metabolism by GRBV infection is stronger than the environmental control due to vine water deficits. Furthermore, experimental results suggest that keeping vines well-watered may mitigate some of the negative effects of GRBV infection, but ultimate changes in secondary metabolism due to GRBV infection may necessitate using infected fruit for different wine programs (e.g. rosé and/or sparkling) or blending with lots from healthy vineyards.

In contrast to 2017 data on disease severity, significant differences on rate of disease progression as well as disease severity were observed in 2018 between the wet and dry treatments. The vines in wet irrigation treatment showed significantly low disease severity at harvest and two weeks prior to harvest. The differences were observed as significant increase in vine canopy in irrigation treatment compared to vines in dry treatment; as a result percent of symptomatic leaves in wet treatment vines were less compared to dry treatment vines. Even though, the virus expression remained same (symptomatic) within wet and dry treatments, it would be informative to assess the status of virus (quantity) within each treatment. Furthermore, the carry over effect of less severe vines on vine health as well as fruit qualities would be an additional information on long-term management of GRBV infected vines.

The removal of the experimental vineyard site between 2018 and 2019 precluded some of the confirmatory and deeper data collection that was originally planned. Unfortunately, this is an all too common occurance with respect to recent research efforts on GRBV. The new site was on a heavier soil, thus irrigation differences were not manifested until just prior to harvest. However, several of the vine physiological responses to GRBV infection that were observed at the first site in 2017 and 2018 were also observed at the new site in 2019. These included: (1) higher water status, (2) lower photosynthetic rate and stomatal conductance, and (3) lower sugar and color in fruit. Additionally, there were no effects of GRBV on yield or yield components, as in 2017/2018. These consistencies across the two sites underscore the main effects of GRBV on grapevines and future research efforts should be targeted at exploring the underlying mechanisms behind them.