Chianti winegrowers call for experimentation with disease-resistant hybrid grape varieties

Jacopo Mazzeo

Jacopo Mazzeo

07 February 2019

Giovanni Busi, president of the Chianti Wine Consortium, has stated that it's time winegrowers are allowed to work with resistant hybrid grape varieties.

If Busi's call is embraced by the Italian and Tuscan governments, the Chianti denomination of controlled and guaranteed origin (DOCG) will become the first Italian denomination of origin to employ disease-resistant hybrids.

Talking to Imbibe, Busi said that his proposal was motivated by multiple factors. ‘As winegrowers, we need to spray [pesticides] in order to get healthy enough grapes for vinification, but sprays can become a threat to the wellbeing of our vines, our neighbours and ourselves,’  he explained.

‘In Chianti we usually spray seven times a year; in northern Italy it can go up to fifteen. This is all done by tractor, so by limiting the amount of treatments, we would also drastically reduce pollution.’

There would also be financial benefits. ‘Treatments are really expensive, so by using resistant varieties we could take that cost out of the equation and our wine would become more competitive on both national and foreign markets. We need to act fast if we don’t want to be left behind compared to other wine-producing regions.’

Indeed, disease-resistant varieties, known as PIWI (from the German pilzwiederstandsfähig, which translates as ‘fungal resistant’), are already widely planted across Europe. Currently, their use is mostly limited to the production of table wines or wines with geographical indication only, as most European appellations rule them out.

However, as regulators become more and more aware of environmental issues, PIWIs are slowly making their way into higher quality wines. Austrian winegrowers, for instance, can make qualitätswein, Austria’s highest quality level, by using PIWIs (the number has been recently increased to five). Meanwhile in France it’s now possible to experiment with hybrids across any AOC.

PIWIs based on Sangiovese, the leading Tuscan wine grape, are currently being experimented with at the Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedothe Veneto-based cutting-edge vine nursery, but they can't be used commercially by winegrowers. Busi complained that regulators should instead allow producers to start using these PIWIs immediately, ‘because even if [the producers] all start now, it would take [them] at least 50 years to replant 50% of Tuscany’s vineyard area’.

‘We can’t wait for universities or the regional government to make trials first,’ he said. ‘Growers should be allowed to do their own experiments without interference, to understand how these varieties actually work in Tuscany. Eventually each single producer will be able to select the varieties or clones that work better for them.’

Busi is confident that the public will support the change: ‘I trust the consumer. Once the gains for both environment and people’s health are explained, people will embrace the innovation.’

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