The SW Summary: On gene-editing to combat mildew, why British farmers should embrace viticulture, the future of forgotten grapes, and more

By Hanna Halmari
CRISPR to combat mildew 

In SevenFifty Daily Danielle Beurteaux discusses gene-editing as a potential solution for combating powdery mildew in the vineyard. The disease is one of the key reasons for pesticide use, especially for Vitis vinifera varieties that are particularly susceptible. The VitisGen research collaboration, a grape breeding project, is exploring the use of gene-editing technologies such as CRISPR to develop disease-resistant grapes.

The researchers have already created genetic maps for over 20 vitis families and identified genes responsible for mildew resistance. The next phase of the project is to test these candidate genes by inserting them into other grapevines and seeing how they respond to powdery mildew. Beurteaux explains how the goal is to assess the genes’ functions and “isolate favorable characteristics” to then develop a disease-resistant grapevine.

Although a new genetic ‘SuperGrape’ variety is possible, the aim of the research is not to create new hybrids. Rather, it is to increase a grape’s resistance to disease whilst maintaining its varietal character. As Kevin Corliss, vice president of vineyards at Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in Washington points out, “Through the CRISPR process, if you’re only making small changes that protect the flavor and the growth habit, then a Chardonnay would still be a Chardonnay.” Read more here.

Bordeaux struggles with spread of mildew

Writing for Wine-Searcher, Oliver Styles reports on the alarming spread of mildew in Bordeaux. According to, a French wine news website, almost 80 percent of monitored plots in the region are showing the disease. The sudden rise is due to a “cocktail” of meteorological conditions, explains Styles. The region has recently seen a combination of warm weather and rain from local storms, with Pessac, Graves, and Entre-deux-Mers the most affected areas.

While many are hoping for a return to hot and dry weather conditions, Styles notes how the 2023 vintage in Bordeaux is already estimated to be among the “earliest and hottest in the past decade.” Read the article here.

Why British farmers should embrace viticulture

A warming climate will significantly alter the UK’s agricultural landscape and farmers are being encouraged to turn to viticulture in order to adapt. In the drinks business James Evison discusses the exponential growth of the British wine industry, highlighting the significant demand for grapes as a “huge opportunity” for British farmers.

Co-founder of Balfour Winery Richard Balfour-Lynn emphasises the opportunity: “This industry is only going one way; and farmers who diversify now will reap the rewards in years to come. We’ve worked with a number of landowners and farmers over recent years to help them produce grapes, as the climate and landscape for English wine continues to improve.” Read the article here.

Future-proofing with forgotten grapes 

In SevenFifty Daily Jessica Dupuy explores how European producers are bringing back forgotten grape varieties as a way to combat climate change. What began in the 1980s as a project to preserve ancestral varieties, Spanish winery Familia Torres shifted its focus to climate adaptation in the early 2000s. Mireia Torres Maczassek, director of knowledge and innovation at Familia Torres highlights how “with climate change, we can’t only look to one solution. The potential of other varieties that are naturally well suited to Catalonia is a component we can address.” 

Dupuy also highlights the work of Matteo Bisol at Venissa Winery in Veneto, who is working hard to preserve the indigenous white grape variety Dorona di Venezia, as well as a region-wide study of native varieties in Sicily. Led by the Sicilia DOC consortium, “the project has identified and developed 70 varieties since 2009,” with the aim to determine which varieties are “best suited for long-term cultivation in the region.” Read more 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.