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Sustainable Grape Varieties on the Rise

09/19/2022

Among consumers and wine producers, there is growing interest in new sustainable grape varieties that need very little plant protection.


According to the German Wine Institute (DWI), their share of the nationwide vineyard area is currently around three percent - and trending upward.

Because these varieties are very resistant to fungal diseases, they are also known as "Piwi" grapes in technical jargon, an abbreviation of the German term “Pilzwiderstandsfähige Reben.” The two fungal diseases - downy mildew and powdery mildew - were introduced from America with wild grapevines in the 19th century and have since become prevalent in European viticulture.

Through the classic crossing of wild American grapevines that have a natural resistance to these fungi with European grapevines that are synonymous with high wine quality, it has been possible in recent years to breed new sustainable grape varieties in Germany that hardly need any plant protection. They combine good flavour with high resistance and help winegrowers to protect the environment. German grapevine breeders have established themselves as world leaders in the development of these sustainable grape varieties.

Environment and producers both benefit

By cultivating these new varieties, plant protection treatments can be reduced by up to 80 percent. Moreover, additional CO2 and fuel savings are made because it is not necessary to drive through the vineyards as often. For wine producers, this means not only environmental protection but also a reduction in time and costs.

By saving labour, the new grape varieties can also contribute to the preservation of the centuries-old cultural landscapes of Germany’s steep slope vineyards situated along many river valleys. These have been increasingly abandoned due to the high management costs involved in cultivating conventional grape varieties.

Cultivation of new varieties on the rise

The new sustainable grape varieties are now cultivated in all 13 German wine-growing regions. In the past, it was mainly organic wineries that devoted more time to their cultivation, but in recent years, more and more conventional wineries have also been cultivating these varieties. 

Of the approximately 3,000 hectares planted with the new varieties nationwide, about half are planted with the red grape variety "Regent", which has been cultivated in Germany since 1995. New red, robust varieties such as "Cabernet Cortis" or "Pinotin" still have less than 100 hectares under cultivation. However, they are steadily growing from year to year as much as, for example, the white wine varieties "Cabernet Blanc" or "Souvignier Gris", which together are already cultivated on more than 300 hectares.

Great diversity of taste

The new grape varieties are in no way inferior to their conventional relatives in terms of aroma and wine quality, as blind tastings have clearly shown. They have the potential to produce high-quality wines that can be stored for a long time and are also  ideal for making sparkling wine.

Increasing acceptance promotes dissemination

As environmental awareness of consumers increases, so does interest in and acceptance of the new sustainable grape varieties. Currently, wine producers' demand for vine planting material of certain varieties is even greater than supply. This is exacerbated by the rise in demand internationally. However, considering the fact that viticulture is a long-lasting crop and vineyards are only replanted every 20 years or so, the increase in the area planted with sustainable varieties in Germany is likely to be moderate.

 

Information site Piwis

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