Science focusing on new grape varieties


An article by Professor Ruth Fleuchaus, Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences

Sustainable development means giving equal consideration to environmental, social and economic factors. In other words, it is about ensuring a good life for people, while at the same time managing the economy successfully.

The concept of sustainability also plays an important role in the wine industry. In Germany at least, there is no sign of any uniform approach to achieving sustainability yet. Key issues that are raised in discussions about sustainable viniculture include the use of (new) fungus-resistant grape varieties and minimal pruning methods, i.e. cutting back the grapevines as little as possible. 

Funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the novisys project at Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences involves researching the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of growing fungus-resistant grape varieties from business and socio-economic perspectives.

Viniculture is responsible for almost 70% of the fungicides (chemicals that kill fungus or its spores) used in the EU, yet it accounts for only approx. 7% of the total acreage in agricultural use (European Communities, 2000). Given the global and national importance of issues such as environmental protection, resource consumption and alternative production methods, the wine-growing sector therefore needs to explore possible ways of producing and marketing wine in the future. In particular, solutions need to be found that will reduce the use of pesticides. Pesticides entail a wide range of potential risks: even their production releases considerable quantities of CO2, for example. Furthermore, the burden on ecosystems would be relieved considerably if the raw materials used in pesticides could be reduced. And last but not least, the additional CO2 emissions generated by the machines that apply the pesticides will have consequences that are impossible to predict with any accuracy today.

Fungus-resistant grape varieties could be an important partial solution to these highly topical global problems. As such varietals would require considerably less spraying, their cultivation would reduce CO2 emissions thanks to the savings on pesticides, while the risks of subsequent damage by the pesticides to soils and waterways would be minimised (Klohr, 2008).

According to the findings of the novisys research project, CO2 emissions could be reduced by at least 50% on average. This would significantly improve a number of key variables in sustainable viniculture: the burden on the ecosystem would be reduced (the ecological aspect of sustainability), wine-growers would cut costs by noticeably scaling back their use of pesticides (the economic aspect of sustainability) and the work burden for farmers would be eased (social aspect of sustainability).

New, fungus-resistant grape varieties also produce wines that offer novel taste sensations – which consumers will be only too happy to sample!

About the researcher

Ruth Fleuchaus is a professor of marketing, and especially wine marketing, at Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences. In both her teaching and research she concentrates on issues relevant to the wine industry. The topics of sustainability, consumer behaviour, fungus-resistant grape varieties, brands and national brands, and the international wine market are particular focal areas of her research. In addition, she has been Vice Rector International Affairs and Diversity since 2008.