The SW Summary: On the sound of soil, the search for the strongest grape, climate change challenges in Chile, and more

By Hanna Halmari
What does healthy soil sound like?

Noisy, apparently. In an article for Canopy, Chris Boiling reports on recent research in ecoacoustics technology to determine soil health. By measuring the “sound underground, the activity of earthworms and other invertebrates in the soil,” researchers can evaluate soil condition “relatively easily.”

The study is a collaboration between soil scientists at the University of Warwick Crop Centre and Baker Consultants Ltd. Soil health is crucial to sustainable crop production and earthworms play an important role in influencing soil health. With a basic hypothesis that a noisy soil is a healthy soil, the researchers hope to develop an ecoacoustics monitoring system to help farmers grow crops more efficiently.

Current methods to assess soil health are laborious and time consuming. The new soil monitoring system would be quick and easy to deploy. Farmers would need to place a probe within the soil and record the soundscape. This data would then be analyzed by AI to assess biodiversity. 

“Soil is the most biodiverse habitat on the planet and it makes sense to use technology to help us understand these complex ecosystems. Earthworms make rasping sounds and rhythmic scrunching as they move through the soil which we can use to detect them. This technology is non-invasive and quick; it will help people to act more quickly and get more done regarding soil health,” says Dr Jacqueline Stroud of the University of Warwick’s Crop Centre. Read the article here.

Catalonia’s search for the strongest grape variety 

In Modern Farmer Emily Cappiello highlights a project dedicated to finding the most resistant grape varieties The ongoing project, Resistant and Autochthonous Varieties Adapted to Climate Change (VRIAACC), was launched 12 years ago by viticulturist Mireia Pujol-Busquets of Alta Alella winery in Barcelona. Together with researchers and two other wineries, VRIAACC is developing disease-resistant varieties with high drought tolerance. 

Pujol-Busquets and her team planted over 5,000 seeds in greenhouses in Thailand to test how the hybrids, including Xarel-lo, Macabeu and Parellada, would cope in the extreme humidity. The team experimented with around 300,000 different crossings of these varieties and planted the most resistant ones on the field. Pujol-Busquets proceeded to make small test batches of wine from the hybrids to assess acidity, alcohol levels and other characteristics.  

Heritage is important to maintain and the goal of the project is to “end up with the 12 strongest that most resemble the origin plant.” The next challenge ahead will be the legalization of the hybrid grapes and their acceptance within a traditional wine region. “We have to evolve,” she stresses, “we have to do what we can do and we have to try new things, new techniques.” Read the article here.

Drought drives Chilean vineyards down south

In the drinks business Patrick Schmitt reports on why drought is one of the biggest challenges of climate change for Chile. When asked about the effects of climate change, Marcelo Papa, technical director at Chile’s largest wine producer Concha y Toro, notes how the impact is different for every country. Whilst some countries will struggle with rising temperatures, “the biggest issue in Chile will not be the temperature, but the amount of water.”

A short-term solution to less precipitation is to increase irrigation, but this comes at a cost. Schmitt explains how irrigation in Chile’s central and northerly winegrowing regions such as Casablanca depends on wintertime precipitation. This “falls as snow in the Andes, and then feeds agriculture in the country when it melts and fills up the rivers and dams.”

Concha y Toro are pursuing a more drastic, long-term solution, which is to move wine growing to the south of Chile. “Over the past 50 years we have been getting less and less rain, so we need to move to the south, where we get more rain, and over the last 20 years, this is what we have been doing,” Papa says. Dry farming is possible in southerly parts of Chile, provided that vines are drought-resistant with fully established root systems.

Another top Chilean winemaker, Francisco Baetting, echos the concerns over Chile’s water situation. He recalls how when he was a child, the average annual rainfall in Santiago was 400mm. Now it is 280mm. “Climate change is a reality,” he says, “It’s crazy.” Read the article here.

Torres trials reusable packaging

Meininger’s International reports on the Spanish wine conglomerate’s pilot initiative involving reusable bottles. As part of the EU-funded “rebo2vino” project to research the “feasibility and impact of a reusable system within the Spanish wine sector,” Torres will supply five gastronomy businesses with its organic white wine “Viña Sol”in reusable bottles. Torres plans to expand the initiative to additional restaurants as of October.

“The reuse of glass bottles presents an excellent alternative for specific markets and wine styles to advance emission reduction, provided that a uniform bottle format — preferably at the pan-European level — can be established. This is the next step we intend to take after already minimizing the weight of our wine bottles as much as possible,” says Miguel A. Torres. Read the full article 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.