Agricultural officials in Napa, California, are turning a critical eye towards the region’s “winked-at” act of sneaking in grape cuttings, reports Tracie Cone in the Associated Press, due to the detection of a pest called the European grapevine moth which damages grapes in its larval form. The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has imposed a quarantine on parts of Napa, Solano, and Sonoma Counties to try and control the spread of the moth. But it’s odd that it’s taken this long to call out smuggling vine cuttings as risky in an area where “an acre of fruit can sell for $15,000 and more.”

“A handful of California’s best vintners today admit to having used ‘suitcase cloning’ to avoid yearslong waits in USDA quarantine for their vines.

Their stories of success after stuffing cane buds down pants legs and in backpacks romanticized an outlaw behavior that, even if it’s not directly responsible for a coming wave of vineyard spraying over most of Napa Valley, has reminded growers that one person’s miscalculation can affect them all.”

Still, nobody knows for sure how the moth got there. Cone notes that entomologists aren’t sure if the moth could actually survive on cuttings in a suitcase, and there are other theories being tossed around: Did it hitch a ride on imported machinery, or, gasp, get introduced intentionally as some diabolical scheme?

Regardless of whether a smuggled vine proves to be the culprit, the deputy agricultural commissioner for Napa County, Greg Clark, has a clear message to vintners about sneaking in cuttings: “Knock it off.”

Image source: Flickr member John-Morgan under Creative Commons

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