Wine sector experts from Catalonia and Switzerland discuss how to adapt viticulture to climate change

INCAVI researchers, experts and a delegation of winemakers travel to Switzerland to exchange R&D expertise

This week, a Catalan delegation made up of twelve winemakers, winegrowers and researchers from the Catalan Institute of Vine and Wine (INCAVI) is set to visit several places in Switzerland to exchange knowledge and best practices on how to adapt viticulture to climate change. Representatives from different Swiss wine-growing regions and researchers from the School of Viticulture and Oenology (Changins) will join them.

Organised by the Delegation of the Government of Catalonia in Switzerland and INCAVI with the collaboration of DIPLOCAT, this trip follows on from the exchange that took place in Catalonia in November 2023. During that first meeting, they highlighted the similarities between Catalonia and Valais, the Swiss region where most of the delegation came from.

Gabriel Boichat, the Government Delegate in Switzerland, said that "the participation of these three stakeholders has resulted in setting up a robust international project, which combines INCAVI's know-how of the sector, its needs and the main stakeholders, international experience, local knowledge of the host country and the identification of opportunities for both the Government Delegation in Switzerland and DIPLOCAT".

Meanwhile, Alba Balcells, INCAVI's CEO, believes that "missions overseas help us to learn from the best international benchmarks and are an essential way of positioning Catalan wine as an international leader. They are a key contribution to international viticulture activities in Catalonia, as we share the knowledge and experience that exists in the country".

Climate change and winemaking

The visit combined work sessions on research projects and visits to iconic Swiss wineries to discuss the challenges posed by climate change for the wine industry. Both research institutes, Changins (Switzerland) and INCAVI (Catalonia), shared their respective research projects.

Debates focused on research and development projects on water and soil management in Catalonia and Valais, digitalisation of field work, hybrid varieties and drought-resistant rootstocks. There were also visits to various experimental plots on plant cover, where the Changins Institute and the Biological Agriculture Research Institute (FiBL) are working to study different weed control formulas to find out the effects on vines.

INCAVI also presented its research on controlling water stress in vineyards, cultural work to retain rainwater, how to apply plant cover in Mediterranean growing conditions, resistant varieties in Catalonia and drought-resistant rootstocks. These topics are the main focus of the 2030 Research Plan of the Catalan institution which is a benchmark for vineyards and wine.

The Catalan delegation visited two Swiss wineries near Valais to round off their theoretical knowledge with a more practical approach. The first, Domaine Chappaz de Marie-Thérèse Chappaz, is a small organic mountain winery and participants saw the problems and solutions applied in areas such as native varieties, plant cover and winemaking processes. The second visit was to the Domaine du Mont d'Or winery, where the Changins institute and FiBL are conducting a joint study on different weed control formulas to determine their effects on the vineyard.

The most interesting points for the Catalan delegation include the study network on plant cover (30 plots throughout Switzerland), plant cover formulas and the correlation with soil temperature, the use of alternative natural products for combating powdery mildew and downy mildew, precision viticulture, irrigation automation and the current situation of disease-resistant hybrid varieties.

This knowledge and experience exchange between the Swiss and Catalan winemaking sectors has led to the various stakeholders becoming stronger in the face of climate change, which is a major challenge for the future. Through scientific research, the winemakers have been able to learn about different solutions that can have a direct and positive impact on their production. The Catalan delegation highly appreciated the exchange of know-how and experiences, especially the different opportunities for future collaborations that have begun to emerge in fields such as soil and water control and the mechanisation of steep slope vineyards.