Winegrowers are arming themselves with high technology to solve climate problems

In 2021, severe April frosts, hail, summer rains and mold have brought French wine production to “historic lows”, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

By 2050, this “historic catastrophe” will have more than a 60 percent risk of reoccurrence, according to Serge Zaka, agroclimatology“Winters are milder, the vines wake up earlier and burn out when the frost sets in,” he explains.

Long term investment

Technology thrives to anticipate extreme weather eventsand knowing where and by what means winegrowers must act in order to fight it. For example, Prevent from ITK, where Mr. Zaka works, collects weather and vine development data to estimate crop losses during severe weather events such as frosts.

For its part, startup Chouette’s drones are identifying frost-affected areas with precise visualization and artificial intelligence. There are other methods, sometimes outdated: candles, spraying water, mixing air with a helicopter or an antifreeze tower… But these specific solutions require significant financial or human resources.

drought years

Deborah Ducamp, a resident of the Medoc (Gironde), launched wine protection in 2020. The anti-freeze lamp, consisting of six bells placed at the foot of the vine, is powered by solar energy and is activated in case of frost thanks to sensors. The entrepreneur has already noticed a particular interest from castles in this prototype, which represents a “long-term” investment.

“Initially, it won’t be for everyone. But little by little, we will be able to optimize prices, like for solar panels, ”she points out. In Tresser (Eastern Pyrenees), Pierre Escudi laments the “years of drought and heat waves that are accumulating” in vineyards planted on granite soil, with already “very bad” yields.

“In ten or fifteen years, there will be no vineyards left on our slopes,” the grower was alarmed. Growers from Hérault and Gard remember that in June 2019 the temperature was 46°C.

Use Shade to Limit Water Use

“The intense heat associated with mistral or tramontana causes a hair dryer effect and burns the grapes,” notes Serge Zaka. The grapes dry out and concentrate in sugar, increasing the degree of alcohol during fermentation. The taste qualities of wine also change due to an imbalance between sugar and acidity.

In 2018, Pierre Escudier turned to Sun’Agri and its photovoltaic shading structures to protect his sites from repeated “sunburn”. Controlled remotely using sunlight, temperature, wind or humidity sensors, the blinds automatically move to protect from the sun or bad weather.

“Technology alone will not save viticulture”

Cecile Magherini, CEO of Sun’Agri, notes that 4 to 5 degrees of heat can be lost under the shutters in summer. “Skilled shading also limits vine evapotranspiration and we can save up to 30% in water consumption,” she continues.

An advantage for Pierre Escudi, who notes that water in his region has become “too scarce and too expensive.” Thanks to agrometeorological data, ITK’s Vintel solution predicts water shortages in vineyards for more rational irrigation. But “technology alone will not save viticulture. It must be accompanied by new sustainable cultural practices.”

warns Serge Zach. Plant trees or hedges, avoid ploughing, which promotes erosion, and herbicides, so as not to leave the soil bare… “Now everyone is worried.”

(with AFP)