Abstract Asynchronous ripening of individual grape berries within clusters can lead to inconsistent organoleptic characteristics for wine making. Ripening initiation in grape berries is non-climacteric and not well understood at the molecular level. Evidence is lacking for a single master switch controlling this process, such as the established role for ethylene in climacteric fruit ripening. We used Affymetrix microarray analyses of 32 individual Vitis vinifera cv. Cabernet Sauvignon berries sampled from two clusters at 50% ripening initiation. By delineating four developmental stages of ripening initiation, we demonstrate that pigmentation is a statistically significant indicator of transcriptional state during ripening initiation. We report on clustered gene expression patterns which were mined for genes annotated with signal transduction functions in order to advance regulatory network modeling of ripening initiation in grape berries. Abscisic acid has previously been demonstrated to be an important signaling component regulating ripening initiation in grapevine. We demonstrate via real-time RT-PCR analyses that up-regulation of a 9-cis-epoxycarotenoid gene family member, VvNCED2, in grape seed and pericarp and a putative ortholog to a reported abscisic acid receptor, VvGCR2, are correlated with ripening initiation. Our results suggest a role for these genes in abscisic acid signaling during ripening initiation.
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