Agroecology 5 min

Innovative grape varieties to revitalise vineyards

The first disease-resistant grapevines (Vitis vinifera) are now available, making it possible to reduce vineyard fungicide treatments by over 90%. Research and innovation are continuing to meet the challenges: new consumer expectations on the final quality of wine and table grape products; the agroecological transitioning of vineyards by minimising the use of crop protection products and fertilisers; adaptation to climate change, the effects of which are already very noticeable in most wine-producing regions, and participation in mitigating this change. Read on for a retrospective of an adventure anchored in long-term partnerships.

Published on 21 May 2021

illustration Innovative grape varieties to revitalise vineyards
© INRAE

Every year, as soon as the vine develops its foliage and flowers, any onset of downy or powdery mildew is monitored... because once established, these diseases are difficult to contain and require frequent treatments, using copper and sulphur, or synthetic pesticides. These treatments – on average 16 per year – represent 80% of plant health measures on grapevine. To overcome this, INRAE researchers have created resistant grape varieties from natural crosses. These innovations were developed through high-level research in partnership with the Institut Français de la Vigne et du Vin (IFV – French Wine and Vine Institute) and interprofessional unions, a prerequisite to the success and accelerated uptake of the innovation. Indeed, the choice of planting a new grape variety is a serious commitment for a winegrower: a vine is generally planted for 30 to 40 years, and the restructuring of a vineyard a carefully thought-out choice...

Innovation that plants the future of winegrowing

The success of this long-standing adventure is linked to the close partnership between research, the IFV and the wine industry

The creation of disease-resistant grape varieties that are now becoming available is the successful culmination of 40 years of research, from prospecting to identify sources of resistance in genetic resource collections, to crossing and selection to integrate and assemble them into grape varieties that suit our growing conditions and consumer tastes, their introduction to ensure that they deliver durable resistance over time, and adapting to regional specificities.

Four grape varieties with natural resistance to downy and powdery mildew are now available which produce wine as good as that made with traditional grape varieties. It took 14,000 seedlings from natural crosses, which allowed 700 plants to be selected for their resistance and other characteristics of interest before these four varieties were registered in 2018. As of 2021, these varieties are now grown on 800 ha – a record speed for an uptake of innovation in the sector! The success of this long-standing adventure is linked to the close partnership between research, the IFV and the wine industry, which has made it possible to explain, present and taste the products of this innovation to professionals before they adopt it.

In 2019, on the 43 sites, the resistant varieties enabled a 96% reduction in the use of fungicides!

Another objective was met in terms of disease resistance, as measured by OsCaR. OsCaR is a participatory research tool used in all the wine-growing regions of France to enable participating winegrowers to test resistant varieties in real growing conditions and fully take part in the research process. This system, which is unique in Europe, is used to determine the durability of resistance by monitoring downy and powdery mildew populations and the possible appearance of secondary diseases. It is now possible to quantify how these complex genetic resistances reduce the fungicide treatment frequency index: in 2019, on the 43 sites, it was possible to reduce the use of fungicides by 96%! OsCaR is also used to determine optimal conditions for the introduction of a variety, via a modelling approach implemented on the basis of the data collected, as well as to analyse the production and quality of the wines made from the resistant grape varieties.

GENETIC RESOURCES

In the 1990s, the Entav-Inra brand (the result of a joint IFV–INRAE collaboration) was launched for the marketing of certified grapevine plants. Today, this brand represents 95% of the material sold in France and is also distributed abroad. The two organisations continue to work together for the joint management of genetic resources. This exceptional resource collection is among the most extensive in the world: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5bSFCqUA14 In the current context of climate change and the emergence of diseases and pests, grapevine genetic resources are a source of resilience for viticulture... Maintaining and preserving them is our responsibility for future generations.

SUPER-ORGANIC GRAPEVINES...

Reducing plant protection treatments, adapting to climate change and meeting consumer expectations are just some of the challenges French vineyards face for this century. Organic farming is one solution being explored. Since 2019, winegrowers, whether they are certified organic or not, can count on the four “INRAE-ResDur” varieties resistant to the two main fungal diseases downy and powdery mildew:  Floreal and Voltis for white wines, Artaban and Vidoc for reds.

Looking to the future

France is home to an array of wine-producing regions, each of which has marked regional characteristics associated with well-identified grape varieties: Pinot, Cabernet, Syrah, Grenache, Ugni Blanc, etc. A tailored selection is currently being rolled out via 12 four-part programmes (INRAE, IFV, interprofessional unions), financed by the industry. The aim is to create resistant grape varieties that are as close as possible to the typical varieties currently used in vintages and regional production. Within this framework, more than 70,000 seedlings have been created and 2,000 resistant plants selected for testing in vineyards.

The creation of grapevine varieties, both for scions and rootstocks*, must also take into account new challenges that research is tackling: adaptation to environmental constraints, resistance to new diseases such as grapevine fanleaf virus, or ‘court-noué’, which affects most vineyards (by combining resistance to the virus that causes the disease and the nematode that carries it), black rot, which is progressing with the reduction in fungicide treatments, and emerging diseases such as Pierce's disease, caused by the bacterium Xyllela fastidiosa. The next challenge is to reduce breeding time: it took 18 years from the initial cross to the creation of the downy- and powdery mildew-resistant Floréal variety, registered in 2018. To shorten this time frame, scientists are mobilising genomic selection and phenotyping, which are already used on annual plants. Characterising promising genotypes as quickly as possible necessarily includes the wine-making process: a mini-cellar device – used to test organoleptic quality with just one kilogram of grapes – is currently in development.

* A scion is the harvested variety and aerial part of the plant. The rootstock on which the scion is grafted confers resistance to phylloxera (aphid pest) and is essentially the root part.

Nicole Ladettranslated by Emma Morton

Centres

Learn more

Agroecology

Alternatives to chemical pesticides: 24 European research institutes undertake an ambitious roadmap

PRESS RELEASE - A strong demand from public authorities, agriculture professionals, and society in general, all over Europe, has spurred collaborative research in order to accelerate the agroecological transition. To face a challenge of this magnitude the joint declaration of intent “Towards a Chemical Pesticide-free Agriculture” aims to rethink the way research is carried out and develop new common research and experimentation strategies, not just at a national level, but throughout the whole continent. This declaration was signed today by 24 research organisations from 16 European countries. Driven by the French Institute INRAE and its German counterparts ZALF and JKI, this unprecedented endeavour has brought the European research community together around this ambitious vision of an agriculture free of chemical* pesticides. The declaration, formalised on 23 February at the Paris International Agricultural Show, with support of the french Mnistries in charge of Agriculture and Research, in presence of Amelie de Montchalin, The French State Secretary of EU Affairs, establishes a European research alliance, aiming to build a scientific roadmap that will soon be presented to the European Commission, as a contribution to the European Green Deal.

23 February 2020

Climate change and risks

First grapevine rootstock genome finally sequenced

PRESS RELEASE - INRA researchers, together with colleagues from the Institute of Vine & Wine Science (ISVV) of the University of Bordeaux, have published the first genome sequence of a grapevine rootstock. Their research culminated with the assembly and annotation of the American native Vitis riparia Gloire de Montpellier genome. Up until now, only the European variety Vitis vinifera had been sequenced. In most vineyards around the world, grapevine is grown grafted onto rootstocks, since they offer resistance to soil-dwelling pests—like Phylloxera—and improve its capacity to adapt to different environments. This high-quality sequence opens new avenues to identify genes of agronomic interest that do not exist in the European variety (disease and pest resistance, environmental adaptation) including some specific to roots. This sequence will also allow experts to envision new approaches to improve grapevines and their cultivation, which are highly threatened by pathogens, constrained growing conditions, and climate change. The results were published in the journal Scientific Data on 19 July 2019.

12 December 2019

Food, Global Health

Changes produced in the grapevine sexual system during domestication

PRESS RELEASE - Grapes, consumed fresh or in wine, come from the cultivated grapevine Vitis vinifera, which originated from its wild ancestor Vitis sylvestris. For some years now, the cultivated grapevine has been examined from every angle, through the lens of multiple disciplines, from genetics and physiology to physics. Yet, there was a question left unanswered in the scientific community. Why is it that the domesticated grapevine is a hermaphrodite, while its wild ancestor is not? For the first time, researchers from INRAE, CNRS and Claude Bernard University Lyon 1 were able to sequence the wild grapevine genome. Thanks to cutting-edge technology, this sequencing allowed researchers to read the ancestral genome and to identify the genes that enable grapevine to change sex. Their research was published on 7 September in Genome Biology.

07 September 2020