Robots, recycling map route to greener French wine


BORDEAUX, Jan 16, 2013 – An Earth-friendly future for French wine could include disease-resistant grapes, solar-powered robots, and lighter packaging, as vintners innovate to slash their environmental footprint.

“We can’t keep functioning like this, polluting the Earth,” Alexis Raoux, sustainability manager for the Bordeaux-based drinks group Castel, told AFP.

“What feeds us is the soil. If we continue like this, in a few decades the land will be polluted and our wine won’t be any good.”

Perhaps the most dramatic green innovation in the French wine world is in the field of disease-resistant grape varieties, the culmination of more than three decades of genetic research.

“Our solution is to put forth a plant that doesn’t need any treatment,” said Didier Merdinoglu, research director at France’s INRA Colmar research centre.

Concerned about the impact of pesticides and vine treatments, including the copper used by organic farmers, on soil, air and workers, the scientist believes zero treatment is the future.

Obtained through cross-breeding as opposed to genetic modification, he expects the first new grape varieties to be available from 2016, incorporating resistance to the two most commonly treated vine complaints, oidium — also known as powdery mildew — and downy mildew.

In the meantime, a new solar-powered vineyard robot called Vitirover aims to lighten wine’s impact on the soil, by mowing the wild plants between vine rows without need for heavy, polluting tractors or herbicides.

Winegrowers allow this wild vegetation to grow to control vigour, improve grape and soil quality, encourage biodiversity, and protect against erosion.

Invented by Xavier David Beaulieu, co-owner of Chateau Coutet, an estate in the Bordeaux region, the 11-kilogramme (24-pound), GPS-guided robot won a special jury prize at the 2012 Vinitech trade fair in Bordeaux last month.