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Everything you always wanted to know about wine but never dared to ask

Viticulture refers to an activity consisting in cultivating a certain variety of vine that produces a fruit for human consumption: the grape.

Viticulture encounters several problems and is subject to many criticisms, particularly with regard to its impact on the environment. As well as its relationship with consumers. This agricultural production is old and must now take up a challenge: to modernise. In the past, winegrowers have never been concerned about their environmental impact (misuse of chemicals).

Today, the challenge of modernization is all the more important
and urgent. Indeed, viticulture is the leading French agricultural sector in terms of value. The challenge is to reduce the carbon footprint, to abandon pesticides. But also to use new technologies to achieve this. The French wine industry has even committed itself to reducing its use of phytosanitary products by 50% by 2025.

Future technological challenges

First of all, let us start with the challenges that we will call "technological". In other words, the progress that viticulture must make to overcome material concerns. This is for several reasons:

The pollution

Conventional and productivist viticulture is indeed one of the most consuming agricultural activities in terms of plant protection products.

However, solutions have already been found. But the concern still lies in the application of these solutions, which remains rather limited. The main solution remains organic viticulture.

Organic viticulture is forced not to use synthetic organic molecules. In order to promote natural control between species, soil life. As well as the sustainability of animal and plant species and their natural ecosystems.

Organic viticulture represents 9% of the vineyard in 2016, or 70,740 hectares, cultivated by 5,263 winegrowing farms. The problem is that this same organic viticulture is not always the least polluting if, for example, treatments are multiplied and therefore the expenditure on diesel is higher.

Water consumption resulting from viticulture

The vines are not irrigated but to clean the tanks, barrels, or sprayers, you need a lot of water. In 2014, more than 23.5 billion m3 of water, or 23.5 trillion litres of water (23,500 billion litres!), was used for wine production worldwide.

Organic viticulture is therefore not enough, it is necessary to find technologies to remedy the environmental impact of viticulture.

New technologies

New technologies have been invented but they are very expensive. The wealthiest castles now use drones and robots to make the work of winegrowers easier.

Recently, there has been a robot that was very successful at the Agriculture Show. It is a straddle robot capable of mechanically weeding the rows of vines, alone, thanks to a GPS system. This robot is an alternative to herbicides and saves valuable time for winegrowers who no longer need to weed their vines themselves. It also improves their quality of work, before this same work was done by hand and was very stressful. Thanks to the technologies, it is no longer necessary to use astronomical quantities of pesticides and weedkillers.

There are also drones to monitor vines, detect diseases or evaluate plant vigour. The problem with these technologies is that they are not accessible to all winegrowers

The challenge is also to restore a good image to viticulture, which for many years has over-consumed pesticides. It was time to find solutions to stop this over-consumption.

Business challenges

The challenge is also to restore a good image to winegrowing, which for many years has over-consumed pesticides but which also suffers from communication and exchange problems with its customers. It was obviously time to find solutions to stop this over-consumption, but this was not enough to restore their image. By commercial challenge, we will therefore mean the progress that the wine sector must make towards its customers.

An offer that is difficult for consumers to understand, due to the multiplicity of appellations (450 in France) and denominations (127 in France) - not to mention brands and subtleties such as the classification in growth for AOCs - and the complexity of wine labelling, which should be accentuated by the recent reform of European regulations.

Consumer trends

At the same time, consumption patterns are changing, with regular consumption (27% of consumers) giving way to occasional consumption (63% of consumers), in which wine has a less edible, more festive dimension.

Moreover, there is an increasing increase in the consumption of organic wines, which coincides with the concern for consumer health and respect for the environment.

Between 2010 and 2016, the turnover of organic wine increased sixfold to 792 million euros.

Harvesting at Château Beauchêne

Winegrowers must therefore adapt to all these changes, find a way to better target customers and communicate with them. This also involves platforms such as Les Grappes, which work as closely as possible to winegrowers and improve the relationship and communication between the winegrower and a customer.

Thus, viticulture faces two major challenges; the first being technological and aims to adapt the sector to the great environmental challenge (reduction of pollution, changes in production methods). But it is also a marketing problem, and therefore an image problem, which comes into play, particularly in terms of readability for the consumer.

Source: Special series of La Revue des Vins de France

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