New original grape varieties?

The grape varieties we grow today were created a hundred years ago by men. Since then, the environment has changed, the diseases have evolved, the expectations from the consumers and vine growers too.
The new challenge at La Colombette is to perpetuate this work of selection interrupted for long decades, think, design, grow varieties more adapted to our time. In this long adventure, we can count on the experience of some researchers and vine growers gathered in the association called PIWI but also on Valentin Blattner and Philippe Borioli without whom it would not have been possible.

Why would we create new grape varieties ?

To stop using pesticides!
Everyone agrees to say that we have to limit the use of pesticides.
This is the aim of the « grenelle de l’environnement » by launching the « Plan Ecophyto 2018 » which would reduce the use of pesticides by agricultural companies by 50%. But it also establishes some harder rules to follow such as the control of vine spraying, more regulation for training of employees and the definition of spraying conditions. Legal action is more and more common for misuse of pesticides (sentences are given for spraying during windy weather – due to the possibility of employees contracting diseases caused by a regular use of pesticides).
Today, the standard organic vine growing does not give any solution. Between traditional and organic vine growing, the only difference is the medicine… In the first case, we use sulphur and copper respectively coming from oil refinement and recycling of electric cables. In the other, we use synthetic molecules from the phyto-pharmacy. In both cases, we do not have any solution. Just by breeding ancestral Vitis with wild Vitis, we can obtain a sustainable resistance to diseases.

The development and use of grape varieties resistant to Oïdium and Mildew enables us to almost totally eradicate use of fungicides in the vineyards. Therefore the workers are less exposed to pesticides. These new vines ensure the absence of chemical residue in the wine for the consumers and they do not change or destruct the environment.
For easier viticulture!
The first part of selection is based on the ability of the vine to resist disease. But, of course that is not the only element to be taken into account.
We are looking for some aerated bunches with small grapes to prevent from botrytis. The tolerances to some viruses are checked.
The adaptation to the soil is also one of the criteria. The resistance to dryness and date of harvest are some important points as well.
Each ancestral grape variety was selected in part for its pruning methods. For instance, the Grenache gets its best expression in Gobelet, and the Cabernet-Sauvignon in Guyot. These new grape varieties are chosen to be easily adapted to a natural bush-pruning. This modern pruning is also less demanding. It is not traumatizing for the plant and it ensures a harvest of quality. Its’ development in Languedoc these past few years is proof that it’s favourable for this area. These new grape varieties must be adapted to this pruning.

For more character, diversity and originality!
Thanks to this research work, we discovered a huge diversity that we often forget. The parents are great international grape varieties bred with wild, forgotten or local varieties. This has created a wide diversity of descendants with original aromas and personalities.

A bit of history

After the invasion of Phylloxera, breeding vines occurred to be the solution to reconstruct the French vineyard. Even today, our great wines are grafted onto hybrids. That is one of the most beautiful examples of biological struggle. But if this technique is the only one solution against Phylloxera, the use of this process to struggle against Mildew and Oïdium suddenly stopped in the end of the sixties. Meanwhile, the hybrid vineyard was massively expanding (+10% between 1948 and 1958) and was getting to its peak with 30% of the French vineyards. France was then the leader of this technique thanks to searchers such as Baco, Seyve-Villard, but especially Courderc.
There are several reasons why it brutally stopped. The arrival of new molecules such as Zinèbe or Manèbe reinforced the chemical struggles. Since then, this industry widely financed this research. The INAO, thanks to traditionalist politics, encouraged this orientation. This widely stigmatized the defaults of the American hybrids coming from the first experiments such as the Noah, the Clinton and the Jacquez, compromising at the same time, the whole sector. The ability of these grape varieties to colonize non-convenient areas for vine (Ardèche, Aveyron, Ariège) was also a surprise for the traditional areas for “Vin de table”. In Languedoc, it was seen as a new competition responsible for the overproduction. This convergence of interest from new wine producing areas culminated in the ban of the American hybrids and the classification of French authorized or tolerated grape varieties. As a matter of fact, this culture quickly decreased afterwards.

When France stopped this research in the sixties, others continued. The first ones were the German public institutes, then private such as Valentin Blattner. They slowly came to breed French hybrids to obtain today a dozen varieties with potential.
They are not classified as hybrid since the UPOV recognizes them as Vitis Vinifera. They are resistant to Mildew and Oïdium. They even benefit from appellations and these wines reach the top 3 at international contests. It is a very positive evolution for organic wine producers.

How to create a new grape variety?

It is really easy to create a grape variety, but it is long. It is an ancestral practice. You could watch Couderc’s movie which was made in the thirties, it is fascinating and explains the process very well. The technique has not changed since then.
The basic concept is to choose two parents. One brings the resistance to diseases, the other one the oenological qualities. We marry them to obtain descendants of which we are going to keep the individuals with qualities of both parents, but none of their defects.
The first difficulty is that the flower of the vine has the two sexes, so we have to castrate it. A few days before the flowering we remove the male parts from the bunches (the stamens) with tweezers in order to keep only the female parts (pistil). It takes around two hours to prepare a bunch.
Once the stamens removed, we protect the bunch with a small bag until the pistil gets mature. At this moment, we pollinate with the pollen of another individual and we protect with a new protective bag.

In September, we harvest the bunches and extract the pips. They will be preciously conserved during the winter and sowed in spring.
The observation and selection work begins. Along the first year, the 80% to 90% of plantlets presenting disease symptoms will be removed. The more resisting will be planted. Then, we start to observe the carpophore and will remove a second part of plantlets which will be fruitless. We will keep the well structured bunches, suppress the unpleasant tastes, observe the high or low yielding plants, the waxy or downy leaves… This step takes around 5 years.

From here we will conserve the individuals which will be multiplied by transplantations in order to obtain a dozen seedlings to be tested in micro-winemaking. Again, five years are necessary to have the first results.
The full field step can then begin. We plant a few hectares in various conditions to confirm the potential and test the ability of the vines to be adapted to vine growing and wine making methods, as well as its acceptance by the consumers. This takes a few more years. We can then start the inscription of the varieties to the official catalogues to ensure their commercialization to a wider public. The total project takes between 15 and 20 years from the first pollination. When we say we work for our children…

How to plant?

For vine growers willing to plant, it is quite easy. You just need to be a courageous, willing person and to have a good chequebook!
In France, no variety is registered yet to the catalogue and is classified as a tank grape. To plant them, it is necessary to use the experiment status. And you might pay a little bit more than with traditional vines to benefit from the status of research.
This investment is not a big loss in comparison to your peaceful mind while thinking that you will never spray again in your vineyard and that you will not have the worries of the threat of Mildew or Oidium. In the long term, you protect yourself and your employees in the most efficient and sustainable way. That will also be a commercial advantage since you will benefit from original, modern and worthier varieties.
Finally, you will participate in showing that agriculture or at least vine growing can live without help from the state. The Oïdium and Mildew will not be the only parasites you will get rid of…

What future for these wines ?

As Mr. COUDERC said at the International Wine Congress in Montpellier in 1911: “All these wine crisis’ end up by wine solution, the drugs and medicines can only be temporary palliatives. The Phylloxera was defeated by American vines, not with sulphur;…; The Mildew will be defeated sooner or later, by hybrids which resist it, all the copper in the world wouldn’t be enough after a few centuries”.
The changes will come slowly. The Vin de France first and a few IGP later will realize the interest of these new grape varieties more adapted to our time. They will have healthy viticulture and wines with diverse and original characters.
The wines of appellation will keep on defending their grape varieties and traditions for a long time. The Burgundians will be able to re-appropriate the Chardonnay, the Alsatians the Riesling and the vine growers from Bordeaux the Merlot or Cabernet. They will need to deal with some stricter rules in terms of contamination; only the large estates will be able to follow.
Everyone will find their way : the YMCA for the Vin de France and the retirement home for the AOP.

Conception et réalisation