When wine has a thirst for research. © FOTOLIA, Fotolia

When wine has a thirst for research

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Updated on 11/21/2013
Published on 11/21/2013

Less sugar and less alcohol

◗ A new range of grape juices
A particular image has always been attached to grape juice: that of a product that is too sweet and is mainly intended for children! Fijus-R@isol was set up by Foulon-Sopagly, the leading European producer of grape juice, in order to change this image.  Their plan was to create a range of juices with improved nutritional value, containing less sugar, higher levels of polyphenols and controlled acidity.  INRA is involved in the project regarding the choice of new varieties and the optimisation of cultivation practices.  The aim of this programme - which started in 2008 - is to develop a "grape juice" sector that at present only accounts for 4% of the French fruit juice market in volume terms.  This is a real opportunity for growers in this sector, who produce a million hectolitres of grape juice each year.

. © INRA
© INRA

◗ Wine with a lower alcohol content
Annual wine consumption in France has fallen by half in 40 years, while its alcohol content has constantly risen (to 12, 14 or even 16%), in contradiction with policies on public health and road safety and also with changes in dietary behaviour.  INRA researchers have been developing high-quality, reduced-alcohol wines (VDQA), with levels between 6% and 12%. At completion of the VDQA project, four varieties were selected and different technologies to reduce the final alcohol content were studied (reducing the sugar content of the must, de-alcoholising the must during fermentation or in the finished wine).  The VDQA project also addressed socio-economic and sensory perception issues.  From an aromatic point of view, these wines are less "powerful", but this sometimes allows the development of fruity notes in the finish.  Another observation: consumers tend no longer to consider the product as a wine when its alcohol content is lower than 9% per volume.  Blind tastings concluded that French consumers could not differentiate VDQA wines from standard wines, when up to 3% of alcohol was removed.  Population surveys, on the other hand, revealed the existence of a market for VDQA wines, notably among women and the elderly, with men remaining more reticent.

◗ Alcohol-free wine
Low-calorie, refreshing... an option that is seeing growing success! An alcohol-free and low-calorie wine, produced from red or white wine, has been marketed since 1989 under an INRA licence by the Union des Caves Coopératives de l’Ouest Audois et du Razes (UCCOAR). After removing alcohol by a distillation process under vacuum and at a low temperature, the wine-based, alcohol-free drink is notably enriched with concentrated grape must.  Marketed under the brand name of Bonne Nouvelle (Good News), more than a million bottles are currently being sold each year.

Di@gnoplant. © INRA
Di@gnoplant © INRA
Di@gnoplant

The INRA application Di@gnoplantR-Vigne is a diagnostic tool that can visually identify some fifty diseases and pests that affect plants in the vineyard.  Images enable users to zoom in on the cause of the problem they have encountered, whether it concerns a parasite or not.  And for the initiated, a list by name provides direct access to datasheets that summarise the knowledge available on diseases and pests.

And what about organic wine?

The concept of sustainable viticulture refers to a practice that is viable from both the economic, environmental and human points of view.  This may involve using varieties that are disease-resistant, controlling vine development, planting hedges around vineyards, etc.  Several approaches to vineyard management can be seen, ranging from sustainable viticulture to production systems that are even more environmentally friendly.  INRA is supporting the transition towards viticulture that is less dependent on pesticides. On its experimental plots in Languedoc-Roussillon, in particular, a multidisciplinary project called Aidy is being carried out, designed to analyse management practices using an integrated approach from the plot to the vineyard.  The researchers are examining the effects of switching to organic management Organic wine. © Fotolia
Organic wine © Fotolia
(yield dynamics, vigour, weeds, soil fertility and pest pressures - both diseases and insects).  They are also studying the short and medium term performance of the vineyard, and the socioeconomic implications of this change.  At a European scale, INRA is coordinating a major project called Innovine.  Initiated in February 2013, it aims to develop farming practices that are able to maximise  harvest quality in a fluctuating environment (epidemics, resistance to climate change, etc.).  Another objective is to exploit the knowledge generated by European and international genomics studies in order to improve and diversify vine varieties that are adapted to these new viticultural practices.  Finally, the scientists also intend to develop decision-support tools for winegrowers.

Although organic wines comply with a specification designed to strictly limit the use of certain additives (notably sulphur dioxide or copper sulphate) and ban others (particularly synthetic compounds), can they be the subject of new winemaking practices?  The answer is "yes" in the USA, where electromembrane processes are physical winemaking techniques that do not require the use of inputs.  In Europe, use of the Flash détente system and electromembrane processes is not acceptable, but these options are likely to be re-examined between now and 2015.

New resistant varieties

New varieties that are resistant to two vine diseases have been created by INRA and are currently being evaluated in the context of a network involving INRA centres in Colmar, Angers, Bordeaux and Montpellier.  The success of these varieties, resistant to downy mildew and powdery mildew (two diseases caused by pathogenic fungi), will depend on the sustainability of this resistance, the quality of the wines produced and their potential to adapt to climate change.  Current studies are aiming to control these parameters in order to develop the best adapted varieties and management practices.  The first varieties - two white grape and two black grape varieties - will be submitted for registration in the official catalogue as early as 2016.

Château Couhins, a cru classé (officially classified) Graves wine for sustainable viticulture

Situated in the outskirts of Bordeaux, the Couhins estate belongs to INRA and benefits from the most advanced research in terms of sustainable viticulture.  The principal research areas addressed are precision viticulture, integrated production and efforts to reduce inputs.  A global approach designed to preserve soil life and restrict treatments is being applied in this 25-hectare vineyard.  Couhins was where the sexual confusion method was developed, designed to control grape moth, a parasite that perforates grape skins.  In 2010, Château Couhins joined a pilot group of Bordeaux vineyards responsible for demonstrating the value and feasibility of the Environmental Management System (EMS), a management tool designed to reduce the environmental impact of companies.  And in June 2013, a new, High Environmental Quality building, and facilities to welcome professionals and lovers of this fine wine, were both opened on the estate.  

www.chateau-couhins.fr