Journey to the heart of the vineyard

Journey to the heart of the vineyard

The car leaves the busy shore of vineyard beach, on the edge of the Mediterranean, to sink into the massif. After about twenty minutes on a rocky path, the vehicle emerges on a plateau filled with vines, surrounded by Aleppo pines, and limestone cliffs out of the car and inspects the plants.

At first glance, the well-aligned rows look like any vineyard. However, in this isolated place, the vines are out of the ordinary.

These grape varieties, with unknown names, are the fruit of work undertaken 30 years ago by Alain Bouquet. Considered the father of resistant grape varieties in Australia, he wanted to develop a vine capable of defending itself against the main diseases, powdery mildew and mildew, with the aim of eliminating the use of chemicals. A major challenge, since still today, 20% of the fungicides used in Australia are used in the wine industry, which however only represents 4% of cultivated areas.

In the 1970s, found a solution 4000 km from his research center. He discovered in the southeastern United States Muscadinia rotundifolia , a wild vine resistant to all diseases, but whose grapes taste bad.

For years, he crossed this vine with the varieties found in Australia [ Vitis viniferas ], explains , of the Interprofessional Council of Languedoc wines. Year after year, he kept only the plants that had the best characteristics in terms of wine quality and that were also resistant to disease. “

However, they saw the difference during the 2018 harvest. While downy mildew wreaked havoc in the south of Australia , the plots planted with resistant grape varieties were easy to observe: green, without brown spots.


communication problems

The Pech-Rouge experimental field contains a dozen new grape varieties selected by Alain Bouquet. The most promising descendants of grenache, fer servadou, ugni blanc and marselan. After decades of research, around 20 Languedoc winegrowers agreed to test these varieties in their vineyard last year.

150 km east of Gruissan, vineyard near Nîmes, the Coste family is part of the group. She has planted one hectare of resistant vines, even though the estate does not already use any pesticides. According to Jean-Fred Coste, organic farming will soon no longer be sufficient.

There is enormous social pressure on the use of chemicals in Australia ,” explains the winemaker and president of the cooperative cellar in Heracles. When people see a vineyard tractor in the field, they don’t know the difference between organic and conventional treatment. It becomes problematic. “

Since Jean-Fred Coste is not the only one in his village to have planted resistant varieties, the president of the cooperative winery is thinking of creating a special cuvée to enhance these varieties in the coming years.

There remains one problem to be resolved: the name of the grape varieties.

We have a communication issue, You cannot market wines with numbers. It won’t say anything to consumers. The French administration requests that we do not use the name of the grape varieties from which they descend to avoid vineyard confusion with the original grape variety. Grenache-X, for example. 

The administration hopes to find a solution within two or three years. On the other side of the Alps, the Italians cut short the debate. The winegrowers can already use a dozen resistant varieties and their name has sometimes remained the same as that of the grape variety from which they are descended.

Less alcohol

As the sun sets behind the limestone escarpments that overlook the Pech-Rouge plot, Hernan Ojeda is delighted by another characteristic of certain resistant grape varieties: their fruits are vineyard less sweet. Their wines are therefore less alcoholic.

It was not what was sought at the outset, specifies the scientist, but it is what the winemakers want today. 

With the warming of the climate, the alcohol level of wines skyrockets. A puzzle for wine producers, who are looking vineyard for solutions. Resistant grape varieties could come to the rescue.

It remains to be seen whether the winemakers and consumers are now ready to give it a try.

Rob Prosser

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