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Life cycle assessment applied to the environmental impacts of viticultural management techniques

research teams from the VINITERA Joint Research Unit*, associated with the INRA Research Unit for Agrosystems, Territories and Resources (ASTER) in Mirecourt, have initiated a research programme designed to measure the alignment between quality indicators for wine grape varieties and those for the environmental performance of viticultural management techniques (ITKv).

Updated on 01/17/2013
Published on 07/17/2012

Despite the efforts already deployed by winegrowers, the environmental impacts of their practices remain significant. Pesticides can cause the pollution of both surface and ground water, can pollute the air during spraying (losses can range from 10% to 90% of the quantities applied), or can pollute soil through an accumulation of copper that is toxic to soil micro-organisms. Some soil management techniques cause soil erosion on sloping plots. Environmental impact can also be measured from the contribution of winegrowing to the greenhouse effect. Indeed, it has been possible to evaluate greenhouse gas emissions at between 600 g and 1 kg per bottle of wine, and viticultural practices are responsible for 15%-30% of this total. Other impacts include the use of non-renewable energy (fuel for equipment, transport of inputs, mineral fertilisers) and the degradation of biodiversity (fragmentation of the environment, use of plant health products).

The objective of this research project is thus to develop a method to assess the environmental and qualitative performances of particular viticultural management paths and to identify, among their components, those which can contribute to good environmental and qualitative performance. The aim is therefore to be able to identify techniques enabling the best "quality-environment compromises", so that winegrowers can be informed regarding their choices. The environmental impacts of wine grapes, from planting of the plot to harvest of the grapes, will be determined using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).

LCA is being applied in the mid-Loire Valley region, over three vintages, on a sample of plots growing Chenin blanc vines. These plots are being managed using different viticultural techniques (ITKv) representative of the diversity that exists in this region. From a methodological point of view, although the time-step of productive stages (pruning, soil maintenance, green pruning, use of plant health products, harvest) remains the vintage, non-productive phases (planting, first three years of non-production and grubbing) will be taken into account over the lifespan of the vine.

Environmental impacts will be calculated using a pertinent functional unit, depending on the objective: by kilogram of grapes to measure the impacts of a mass of product, and by hectare of vines when the aim is to measure them at the level of an area cultivated for several decades, and in order to take account of the negative correlation between yield and quality (sugar and polyphenol contents, so as not to penalise higher quality but less productive yields). When account needs to be taken of the dual function of the quantity and quality systems for production, it will be tested using the kilogram of grapes allocated to quality criteria as the functional unit.

Depending on the research protocol, an inventory of the emissions and extractions of materials and energy is being performed on all the management techniques, based on annual surveys of the winegrowers concerned by the scope of this study.

Environmental impacts will be assessed using the international Eco-Invent life cycle inventory databases and a software system specific to LCA (Centrum voor Milieukunde Leiden/CML calculation method). These are the methods generally preferred for agricultural LCA, as the principal areas covered are: greenhouse gas emissions, aquatic and terrestrial ecotoxicity, eutrophication, human toxicity, soil acidification and land use, the exhaustion of natural resources and the quantity of waste generated.

These results will then be compared with qualitative data on grapes grown on the same plots during the three vintages studied, so that combined account can be taken of the qualitative and environmental effects of the management techniques to be proposed.

In addition to adapting the LCA method to viticultural management paths, this research will be useful because in the longer term it will enable support for changes to cultivation strategies and the identification of key areas where efforts should focus in order to respond to strong demands from the sector that are in line with societal expectations.

* In November 2011, funding of the Vinitera Joint Research Unit (Vinitera2) was confirmed for a further five years by the Directorate General for Education and Research at the French Ministry of Agriculture. This unit groups personnel from different research organisations (INRA Angers, UE1117), higher education institutions (Group ESA, GRAPPE and LARESSE Research Units) and development agencies (Institut Français de la Vigne et du Vin Val de Loire and the Association Cellule Terroirs Viticoles) around a common research programme entitled: "Constructing the quality of regional wines, from the producer to the consumer".

Scientific contact(s):

  • Christel RENAUD (+332 41 23 55 55) Groupe ESA, Laboratoire Grappe, UMT Vinitera 55, rue Rabelais, BP 30748 49007 Angers cedex 01
  • Frédérique JOURJON (+332 41 23 55 55) UE1117 UVV Unité Expérimentale Vigne et Vin
  • Marc BENOIT (+333 29 38 55 01) INRA - UR0055 ASTER Agro-Sytèmes Territoires Ressources 662 avenue Louis Buffet 88500 MIRECOURT
  • Marie THIOLLET-SCHOLTUS (+332 41 22 56 61) INRA - UE1117 UVV Unité Expérimentale Vigne et Vin 42 rue Georges Morel 49071 BEAUCOUZE CEDEX

For further information

  • Renaud, C., Benoît, M., Jourjon, F., 2010. Trade-offs between quality and environment in wine production: presentation of a research program for their combined assessment. In: Notarnicola, B., Settani, E., Tassielli, G., Giungato, P. (Eds.), LCA Food 2010. Universita degli studi di Bari, Bari, (IT), pp. 241-246