Will Icelanders be producing rosé wines? And will vignerons in Burgundy have to abandon Pinot Noir and switch to Syrah? Questions that may seem bizarre, but actually are far from it. Because the wine atlas is a book that is changing constantly. The most celebrated winegrowing regions to be found in fairly narrow geographical zones, so while the global warming which is proving increasingly hard to manage for those working in direct contact with the land is upsetting the apple cart, it is also opening up new horizons.
Your do not even have to go far to see the effects of climate change on winegrowing. In Southern Piedmont the race to seek out good soils and cooler temperatures at higher altitudes began some time ago. This is borne out by the success of Alta Langa, the Classic Method sparkling wine made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes grown on vineyards at above 250 metres, and the quest is venturing ever higher, approaching a thousand metres where only woodland and hazel groves were to be found until a few years ago. So while old-timers in the Langa used to say you should see where the snow melted first when choosing the best site to plant a vineyard, the criteria used to make this decision in the future are very likely to be different, with the pursuit of positions which are less exposed to the sun.
This and much more besides will be spoken of at Grinzane Cavour Castle on Saturday, September 17th, when the guest for the Chapter of the Selection of the Great Wines of Alba is to be Attilio Scienza, Professor of Viticulture at Milan University, President of the National Wine Commission, Scientific Director of the Vinitaly International Academy, an Honorary Knight of our Order and one of the most authoritative international academics on the subject.
Professor, the data are unquestionably showing that the climate is changing. Does the way in which vines are grown also have to change?
“The change has already taken place, and will continue to do so. But we must not play down how vinegrowers come from a truly centuries-long tradition of adapting to the climate. All our agriculture is the result of a battle against the climate, and man has always adapted, changing varieties, practices and tastes. Today we are facing the umpteenth battle, but we can count on sophisticated tools which go way beyond simple relocation”.
What are these tools?
“Our growers know very well that they have to plant the vines further apart, use more drought-tolerant stock, make sure the clusters are better protected by the foliage to prevent excessive radiation, learn how to fertilize and so on. And thanks to increasingly accurate modelling, we are able to predict the climate rather than suffer from it, implementing highly-targeted counter-measures”.
Major steps forward have also been made in the studying of genetics.
“Certainly, but a lot more needs to be one: today, besides being able to try out new stock, we can experiment with resistant vines obtained from crossbreeding or thanks to the Assisted Evolution Technology TEA. The varieties will unquestionably have an important role to play in the future, with those we grow in many areas having to gradually change, maybe in a return to the past. I think we will have to reconsider the very concept of certain soils and environments being the best for vines. If we look back to how vinegrowing has changed since the Second World War, we realize that we have abandoned many places and varieties which were suited to resilient viticulture, a little because of arrogance, a little out of presumptuousness and a little in order to follow trends. All these choices made over the last 70 years should be re-examined, because the vinegrowing models of the future cannot be those of half a century ago”.
Could emergency irrigation be a solution for vineyards?
“There are those who believe this from an agronomic point of view, but consideration has to be given to the fact that water is no longer as available as in the past, and above-all that the hills where water is needed the most are also the hardest to irrigate: getting the water up the hill is difficult and requires a lot of energy, and vinegrowing inevitably becomes much less cost-effective. This is why alternatives need to be thought of without losing precious time. There needs to be a cultural change, then technology and genetics will do the rest”.
by Roberto Fiori
* Attilio Scienza was born in Serra Riccò (Genoa) in March 1945. Graduated in Agricultural Sciences cum laude at the Faculty of Agriculture of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart of Piacenza in the academic year 1968-1969.
From 2009 to 2014 he was President of the degree course in Viticulture and Oenology at the University of Milan, holder of the Genetic Improvement of Grapevine and Territorial Viticulture course until 2015, the year of his retirement. From 1984 to 2002 he was general manager of the Agricultural Institute of S. Michele a / A ..
He is an ordinary Academician of the Italian Academy of Vine and Wine and Corresponding Member of the Georgofili Academy.
He was awarded the AEI Prize for scientific research in 1991, the Morsiani International Prize in 2006, the OIV-Paris Prize in the Viticulture discipline for the best scientific book on viticultural issues and the culture of the vine in 2003, 2008,2011 and 2012. and 2017. He is president of the Sanguis Jovis Foundation of the Banfi Foundation and is the scientific director of the Vinitaly International Academy.
He is the author of 380 scientific publications in international and national journals and conference proceedings and on national and international scientific manuals and monographs mainly dedicated to grapevine and viticulture.
He is the author of 32 printed texts dealing with technical and cultural topics.