The SW Summary: On robots tackling grape disease, the debate on wine capsules, the winemakers recognizing Indigenous history, and more

By Hanna Halmari
Grape disease tackling robots

American Agriculturist reports on the development of a robotic camera that can automatically scan grape leaf samples and collect information at an equivalent scale to that of an optical microscope. The robot prototype, named ‘BlackBird’, was developed by researchers at Cornell who, in their efforts to develop mildew-resistant grape varieties, faced the significant challenge of having to “manually assess thousands of grape leaf samples for evidence of infection.” BlackBird provides 8,000-by-5,000 pixels of information for each 1-centimeter examined and artificial intelligence technology is used to analyse the images and identify biological traits. The potential of this technology is huge. The development of these tools at scale would allow farmers to detect disease early and “target fungicides before infection spreads.” Read more here.

Do we really need wine capsules?

Writing for wine-searcher Kathleen Willcox poses an interesting question: “Are wine capsules a crucial element of the theatre of opening a bottle or a crime against humanity?” Whilst some producers believe the capsule is a necessary aesthetic component of the wine bottle, others argue that it is “pointless, terrible for the environment,” and “unethical.” Willcox explains how tin, usually the primary material used in ‘premium’ capsules, has a host of environmental and social supply chain issues associated with it, especially in Nigeria and Indonesia. Furthermore, capsules generate unnecessary excess waste, with complicated recycling procedures varying across states. Read more here about the wineries driving the change towards capsule-less bottles, and whether “topless bottles [will] truly go mainstream.”

A hybrid future

Traditional vitis vinifera can no longer be grown in certain regions “without nuking them with chemicals.” However, as Kathleen Willcox discusses in The Wine Industry Advisor, a solution can be found in hybrid grapes. Cornell University and University of Minnesota “have created thousands of new varieties of grapes designed to combat diseases and weather challenges.” These grape hybrids can “flourish in challenging conditions” and are necessary to producing organic wine, especially in specific regions with tougher climates. Willcox talks to a number of producers in the US using hybrid grapes who are hoping to “simultaneously increase the value of hybrid fruit, and change market perception.” Read more here. 

Recognizing Indigenous land, Country, and history

In Wine Enthusiast Rachel Signer draws attention to the Australian wineries changing their labeling to recognize Indigenous land names. Although aware of the risks of being perceived as tokenism, many believe this recognition and acknowledgement to “represent not just semantic shifts, but also an effort for Australians to reckon with collective pasts—and futures.” The Other Right, Jauma, Commune of Buttons and Travis Tausend are among the wineries who have added acknowledgements or changed land names to “communicate land, Country, history, and culture.”

Jack Bucksin, a Kaurna and Narungga man, suggests that winemakers looking to add Indigenous words should first consult “with [their] First Nations and traditional owners,” which can be done through “organizations such as Kaurna Warra Karrpanthi (KWK), where Buckskin is involved.” Read more here.

Devastating forest fires in Provence

Meininger’s reports on the tragic fires in Southern France that have destroyed 7,000 hectares in Provence and taken two lives. The fires, suspected to have started from a discarded cigarette, have “literally reduced some vineyards…to rubble.”

the drinks business published an open letter from Stephen Cronk of Domaine Mirabeau in which he shares the “heart-break” of watching “the devastation [unfold] over Provence.” He stresses the absolute urgency of the need to act on climate change now. He expresses his hopes that “this will serve as a further wakeup call” and emphasizes that “collectively, the potential to make an impact is still enormous and this is not the moment to be disheartened.” Read the letter here.

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About the author

Hanna Halmari

Hanna Halmari is the editor at Sustainable Wine and the head of conferences at Innovation Forum. Hanna specialises in sustainability research and events across various industries. She holds an MSc in international development from Kings’s College London, where she developed a strong interest in political economy and post-communist transformation. Hanna speaks Finnish, Bulgarian and English. In her spare time she is a dedicated Radio Lollipop volunteer at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, enjoys travelling, and tasting new wines.