Dr. Jay W. Pscheidt, Professor and Extension Plant Pathology Specialist, OSU Dept. of Botany and Plant Pathology
Dr. Patty Skinkis, Associate Professor, Viticulture Extension Specialist, OSU Dept. of Horticulture

As we get into fall with a little rain, we wanted to highlight the potential for various bunch rots. These bunch rots are weather-, disease- and insect-related. Botrytis bunch rot and sour rot are the two most frequently encountered in this region, but others that are important around the world are not common here.

Botrytis Bunch Rot
We in Extension have written about the ubiquitous Botrytis bunch rot off and on over the years. Water in the form of rain or irrigation drives this disease, especially at bloom and near harvest. The fungus can infect (gain entrance to) ovaries and colonize floral tissue at bloom. It then becomes inactive (quiescent) and does not reactivate until berries begin to ripen in the fall. Open training systems and cluster zone leaf removal help create an environment that does not favor the disease. Fungicides are less effective than canopy management but are useful in wet years. Fungicide use can be challenging since sprays need to go on well before you know whether it will be a wet season, and fungicide resistance is common and complicated by fungicides used in your powdery mildew program. Read more about Botrytis bunch rot here:

Powdery Mildew
Powdery mildew is not really a bunch rot. Depending on how early infection occurs, the result may be poor fruit set or small and split berries. By the time véraison rolls around there is not much of a cluster to rot.  Small or light infections of the berry, however, can also allow Botrytis to get a foothold. Good powdery mildew control will aid Botrytis bunch rot control. 

Sour Rot
New research out of New York has defined sour rot and given us clues as to how to manage it in the vineyard. Very specifically, sour rot occurs when the berry becomes brown AND has both ethanol and acetic acid accumulation, which gives it the characteristic sour vinegar smell. The ethanol is no surprise as it comes from yeasts, but the acetic acid comes from bacteria. There is a sequence of events that is required for sour rot to occur, and it starts with wounding.

Somehow the berry skin breaks, allowing entry of these organisms. This can happen through berry growth, rainy weather during ripening (as we had a few years ago) and/or insect or bird damage. The yeasts produce ethanol that is then converted to acetic acid by the bacteria. This is still not enough to get sour rot symptoms. In New York, fruit flies were critical for sour rot symptom development. They do not need to introduce the microorganisms but are a factor all in themselves, and that factor is unknown at this time. It is unknown whether other insects, such as yellow jackets, can also induce symptoms. Targeting fruit flies with insecticides in the vineyard did result in less sour rot development. Interestingly, targeting the microbes with anti-microbial sprays alone was not effective. You can learn more by reading:

Other Grape Rots
A few other grape rots have been reported or observed in the PNW. Several more have been described in other viticultural regions of the world, including the following list. (We mention these various rots because it is always possible for new exotic organisms to be introduced into our region. They may just be a temporary “flash in the pan” problem or could establish as an annual concern over time)

  • Phomopsis: I have seen Phomopsis fruit rot only once in my 30 years here in Oregon and that was in an unmanaged vineyard used for nursery stock. A disease with similar symptoms from the southeastern USA is called bitter rot. The only way to tell the difference is by taste, which I had enough of during my postdoctoral research in New York!
  • Black rot has been reported from eastern Washington on Concord grapes but is not a common problem.
  • Anthracnose (or better named “bird’s eye rot”) and ripe rot are also fungal fruit rots more commonly found in the southeast USA.
  • White rot is a real fungal disease of grape and not someone just joking around about bird doodoo on a leaf!
  • Downy mildew: This is not a problem here but is common in many other regions of the world.

In the Winery
Grapes affected by fruit rot diseases can cause problems in the cellar as well.  Dr. James Osborne wrote this article titled, Dealing with Compromised Fruit in the Winery, for Wines & Vines magazine in August, 2014.

Bottom Line
It is most important to manage powdery mildew and Botrytis bunch rot, and to scout for fruit flies around harvest. Also, keep an eye out for unusual problems or rots. If you find some suspect diseases or unusual rots, contact your local Extension team member. We hope that the harvest will go smoothly with few problems.

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