Chitosan inhibited growth of Botrytis cinerea in liquid culture and suppressed grey mould on detached grapevine leaves and bunch rot in commercial winegrapes. Germination of B. cinerea was completely inhibited in malt extract broth containing chitosan at concentrations greater than 0·125 g L−1. However, treated conidia were able to infect detached Chardonnay leaves and pathogenicity was not affected, even after incubation for 24 h in chitosan at 10 g L−1. When added after conidial germination, chitosan inhibited B. cinerea growth and induced morphological changes suggestive of possible curative activity. The effective concentration of chitosan that reduced mycelial growth by 50% (EC50) was 0·06 g L−1. As a foliar treatment, chitosan protected detached Chardonnay leaves against B. cinerea and reduced lesion diameter by up to 85% compared with untreated controls. Peroxidase and phenylalanine ammonia-lyase activities were also induced in treated leaves. In vineyard studies, Chardonnay winegrapes exhibited 7·4% botrytis bunch rot severity at harvest in 2007 after treatment with an integrated programme that included chitosan sprays from bunch closure until 2 weeks preharvest, compared with 15·5% in untreated controls and 5·9% with fungicide treatment. In the following season, botrytis bunch rot severity was 44% in untreated Chardonnay at harvest and the integrated programme (21%) was less effective than fungicides (13·8%). However, in Sauvignon blanc winegrapes, the integrated and the fungicide programme each reduced botrytis bunch rot severity to 4% and were significantly different from the untreated control (11·5%). This study provides evidence that suppression of botrytis in winegrapes by chitosan involves direct and indirect modes of action.