Allegrini 2018


It appears that the next few decades will hold a real revolution for Italian and European winemaking, dictated primarily, but not only, by climate change. Professor Attilio Scienza, one of the world’s leading experts in viticulture and oenology and professor at the University of Milan, talked to WineNews about what he imagines will be a very different future from what we are accustomed to now, and therefore calling it a revolution is not at all farfetched.

“It is very difficult to give a singular vision to a phenomenon that is much more complex than it seems”, explained Professor Scienza, talking about the 2017 vintage. It is particularly complex in terms of climate change, which could prove to be a real watershed between winemaking of the past and the future. “Italy is a long country that crosses many latitudes and has very different climatic conditions, so it is not possible to generalize.
Comparisons continue with the years 2003 or 2013, but even though in those two years temperatures were very high during the summer, spring conditions were very different, plants had much more water available to them, they developed much larger foliage, and they had to fight drought and heat with a much larger leaf surface, which was more difficult to protect. This year vegetation started slowly, the plants did not grow so quickly, and the symptoms of drought are not as harsh as they were in 2013 or 2003.
The plants have somewhat got used to the heat and therefore are now suffering, production will be less in quantity, but quality wise, the consequences will not be as severe as the above mentioned years. This is also because probably since these plants had to cope with very little water available from the beginning, the roots were stimulated to dig deeper to find water that they usually found higher”, said Attilio Scienza.

“It will certainly not be a very productive year, in part because of the areas that have suffered damage due to spring frosts, or where there were hailstorms or water bombs that damaged many vineyards. If we could fly over Italy, we would see, strangely enough, that all the Italian vineyards are green. This is an important aspect that differentiates this vintage from the others. Quality wise, concerning the chemical composition, it is difficult to make predictions. It is not only impossible, but also misleading; you must not define a vintage before verifying its quality in the cellar.
Unfortunately”, Scienza said, “it was a widespread practice in the past, which now even the media have given up doing. We will probably have certainties only when we can taste these wines in the cellar. Production will certainly be lower though patchy, quantity wise. Some areas will have fewer grapes, while others will suffer less damage from the drought.

“I believe that we have to considered how to face these climate phenomena in the coming years, which are no longer likely to be extraordinary events but rather constant repeaters. We will we need to use the tools our predecessors used a few hundred years ago, when they when they had no other means to react to climatic conditions, did not have irrigation or knowledge of how to deal with water stress, and therefore they used genetics and selection. They chose plants of varieties that proved to be more suitable to the climate, and capable of tolerating thermal and water stress. Year after year they identified and observed the plants that were particularly resistant and using those they re-created new plants. We have more efficient tools to do this”, explained Scienza, “even though the genetic tool is the most effective against climate change, about which we can do nothing. We could try to find out its causes, attributing it to bad human behavior, or else to spontaneous cycles, but what we really have to do is react. Genetics, choosing not only varieties but also cross breeding to project a series of varieties capable of tolerating water shortage and also able to maintain acidity and low pH levels in the musts, in order to resist these moments of excess heat”.

Genetics, yes, but let’s not forget good agronomic practices, because, as the Professor of the University of Milan reminded us, “rootstocks will also be a strategic tool. We formed the first rootstocks at the beginning of the nineteenth century, but they had never needed to deal with such hot and droughty years, so we limited ourselves to finding rootstocks that would tolerate phylloxera or active limestone levels in the soil. Now there is a new emergency, that of creating rootstocks capable of making grafted varieties more efficient; that is, the ability of a single vine to produce the same amount of dry matter - leaves, grapes and roots - with a smaller amount of water. For example, for years, the rootstocks we have developed in Milan have shown that the same qualitative results can be achieved saving 30% of water.
This is already an important step that opens up another perspective. It is not a definitive end, we have much work to do, but we also have a new American species capable of living in desert environments, very low rainfall environments, and that is the resistance we must take and transfer to our rootstocks. This can be done much more quickly through today's genetic engineering techniques, genome editing, which provides us with the tools to have, in just a few years, new genotypes to test”.

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