As a member of the technical team at the Bordeaux Wine Council (CIVB), Laurent Charlier is directly involved with the “Newvine” project, in partnership with the National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) and the French Institute for Vines and Wine (IFV).
These three institutions are working together to develop grape varieties with a natural resistance to the major vine diseases (mildew and oidium in particular), which are also capable of adapting to climate change without sacrificing the quintessential qualities of Bordeaux wines. With these goals in mind, they have been working on cross-breeding highly resistant varieties developed by INRA with the classic Bordeaux varieties Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. “Cross-breeding is a game-changer, it’s not simply a matter of making ‘Petit Verdot Mark Two’,” Laurent Charlier explains. In his view, the ultimate goal here is to “pave the way for the viticulture of the future by creating new plant stock corresponding to the specific demands of Bordeaux.”
This programme is studying the behaviour of the new vines, to begin with, then using them to make wine and tasting the results. It is set to run until 2030.
For INRA’s Agnès Destrac Irvine, climate change looks set to bring forward phenolic maturity, with consequences that will vary depending on each variety’s ripening window. She points out that one key response is the effective selection of grape varieties, which is precisely the goal of VitAdapt, a joint observation project launched by INRA, the CIVB, and the Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences (ISVV).
An experimental plot was planted in 2009 at INRA’s estate, La Grande Ferrade, in the Gironde departement. This plot contains a total of 52 different grape varieties from all over France and Europe, grafted to the same rootstock. VitAdapt thus allows experts to study the adaptive capacities and quality potential of all of these varieties, while also observing how Bordeaux varieties respond to climate change. A first round of tastings has already been conducted, but extensive testing is still required to establish the character and representativeness of each variety.
“We’ve noticed a downturn in productivity, and the health of the vines is also a cause of concern for professionals,” explains Nathalie Ollat, a researcher at INRA.
Nevertheless, new innovations in rootstock should help to dispel this worry. There are currently 31 authorised varieties of rootstock in France, most of which were created shortly after the phylloxera crisis. And yet, just five of these varieties account for 75% of all planted vines. There is a distinct lack of diversity and modernity in the viticultural sector, and Nathalie Ollat is proposing two strategies to shake things up:
Approaches to vine-related research and development may differ, but researchers all share a certain philosophy and a commitment to prioritising solutions based on plant material. While conclusive results may still be several years away, current indications are highly promising for all of these initiatives.
Healthy bunches thanks to mating disruption at Château Dalem
For several years now this estate, located in the Fronsac appellation, has been applying the principles of sustainable viticulture. Taking this philosophy to the next level, Château Dalem recently decided to implement the technique known as mating disruption, an approach to combating damage due to grape worms. This all-natural technique uses pheromones to prevent caterpillars from developing and harming the grapes. Non-toxic for winegrowers, respectful of the local fauna, and not harmful to the environment, mating confusion offers many advantages. Château Dalem is one of the pioneers of this biocontrol technique in the Fronsac appellation.