The SW Summary: On NASA technology and grape disease, financial aid for organic farmers in France, pergola vine training, and more

By Hanna Halmari
NASA technology can identify the early onset of grape disease

In the drinks business James Evison reports on how NASA technology can be used for early detection of the grape disease spread by the mealybug. The disease has a latent period in which vines are infected, but lack any visible symptoms. The virus is usually identified through a slow process of “vine-by-vine analysis on the ground” and testing, with results often coming in well after the disease has taken hold of the vines. According to the article, the US incurs up to $3 billion in yearly damage and losses due to the virus.

The new NASA technology uses infra-red aerial imaging to identify the vines showing symptoms, enabling producers to take rapid action before it’s too late. Researchers have found that “airborne imaging spectroscopy and machine learning can be used to develop models that effectively identify [the infection]…regardless of visible symptom manifestation.” You can view the findings in the journal Phytopathology here.

€60m financial aid package to assist organic farming in France 

The French Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security has announced a €60m financial aid package to assist organic farmers, Meininger’s International reports. Organic farmers have faced significant losses as a result of the ongoing economic crisis, marked by high inflation and reduced purchasing power. Consumer preference for organic products has also declined, whilst demand for local products, whether conventional or organic, has increased. 

The financial aid package has been developed with industry associations and is registered with the European Commission as state assistance. Both certified organic agricultural businesses as well as those in the process of transitioning can apply for the aid, provided they meet specific criteria. The aid amount can be up to half of the gross operating surplus and will be no less than €1,000 per enterprise. Read more details here.

D.O. Cava’s organic ambitions

D.O. Cava plans to make all Cava de Guarda Superior, the highest quality tier for Cava wines, 100% organic by 2025. SevenFifty Daily explores what this means for the Catalan region, considering the implications for the style and quality of the sparkling wine, as well as the longer-term impacts on growth, distribution, and sustainability.

To many the decision seems to be a “natural extension” and “official formalization” of D.O. Cava’s evolution, as the denomination has been rising as a “global pioneer of organic viticulture” over the recent years. Javier Pagés, president of D.O. Cava, explains that the transition to organics is not only driven by market forces, but “amounts to an act of conservation for the territory itself.”

Going organic is not always easy. Luckily, the Catalonian region of Penedès has an ideal climate for organic viticulture, enjoying natural advantages such as low disease pressures, sufficient sunlight, and suitable soil types. Despite these benefits, going organic still requires additional effort and costs. The new standards also pose some challenges to winemakers, such as requiring estates to “trace every step of the production from vineyard to bottle.” 

Read the full article here.

Italian winemakers revert to pergola vine training

In the drinks business Patrick Schmitt discusses why many Italian winegrowers are shifting back to the ancient technique of pergola vine training. The horizontal, high-trained system provides a solution to two major problems that producers are facing: a warming climate and labour shortages. As such, an increasing number of producers in Italy are reintroducing pergola vine training, especially in Valpolicella where the technique has a long-standing tradition. 

Pergola systems provide shade for grapes as the bunches hang below a protective canopy of leaves. This keeps the grapes cool, prevents sunburn and allows slower ripening. Italian MW Andrea Lonardi explains how the slower ripening ensures “lower peaks of labour demand,” namely for vineyards who rely on manual grape picking. The training system also reduces labour demands as there is no canopy management, such as shoot thinning and positioning or leaf-removal. 

However, the pergola system may not be the optimal solution for everyone. “If you want high concentration wines, then pergola is not the right decision,” Lonardi points out. 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.