Getting resilience from managing diversity
The quality potential of wine depends, among other things, on the composition of grapes at the time of harvest, with the harvest date being critical, insofar as this composition varies during ripening. Being able to observe this process as it occurs – the increase in sweetness and colour, the disappearance of acidity – has always been a thing of the imagination.
Moreover, in the current context of climate change where water is becoming an increasingly more scarce resource, it is absolutely essential to guarantee the survival of plants in more extreme environments. Having said this, monitoring the vine’s water content as an irrigation management tool is of the utmost importance here, as it will allow for more and improved efficiency in the use of water in winegrowing. The current method for determining the ripeness of the grape and the water content of the plant is by collecting, weekly once the grapes start to take colour, a limited number of fruits and leaves at several strategic points in the vineyard. A physical-chemical lab analysis is conducted on the former to determine the baseline foliar potential (measurement of the pressure exerted by the plant to extract water from the soil, using a Scholander pressure chamber) of the latter.
These techniques, from collecting samples in the field to their analysis, are highly demanding on resources and have inherent sampling errors. Substituting this process with a real-time method which does not destroy grapes or leaves is an extremely ambitious goal which, when it works, will boost the accuracy and efficiency of work and eliminate the use of chemical reagents, helping to promote sustainability. With the i-GRAPE project, the lab now goes to the vineyard, and is literally set up within the clusters in the middle of the vines. Major improvements are anticipated in managing grape production for the various categories of wine and managing the harvest, as well as more efficient use of water at the vineyard to improve the overall sustainability of Sogrape's business. The idea behind the i-GRAPE project came from collaboration between Sogrape and the International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory (INL). The project consortium has four additional partners in Germany, Italy and Portugal, and is entirely funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme, with a total budget of around €3 million.