Future of viticulture

Written by Franz Weninger on the 2nd of May 2024

It is usually difficult for us to anticipate the future, but one thing is clear: in the coming decades, nature will demand more from us than ever before. We cannot know whether it will be frost, hail, floods or drought, but we must be ready for what is to come.

This is why breeding has been an integral part of agriculture since the beginning of the sedentary way of life. Whether it is the selection massale in viticulture, where the best vines are further propagated, or the breeder boar, as was common in the past.

Grandmother Rosza, with the vilage breeder boar

Hybrids

The German name for hybrids, "PIWI", comes from "fungus resistance", as American fungus-resistant varieties are usually crossed with European grape varieties. The aim is to produce varieties that have the European taste but possess the stability of American varieties. This means a reduction of around 80% of plant protection products in an average year, not only in the case of fungal diseases, which will be more frequent and more difficult to combat due to weather conditions. These varieties are also usually more resistant to drought and manage to root deeper and further and therefore grow better. The disadvantages, of course, lie in the nature of crossbreeding: the stronger growth usually results in a higher yield, which we usually do not want, as this produces inexpressive wines, and in some crosses the aroma is too striking, i.e. the wine tastes too loud to be taken seriously by wine lovers.
Or, as the Hungarian writer Béla Hamvas once said about the first American grapes ("Noa" - Uhudler) in our country:

The Noa grape and the corrosive, stinking, wine-like liquid extracted from it is nothing other than the devil's clumsy attempt to make wine too. Never has an attempt failed so badly! Noa is the wine of the Puritans, the pietists, the old maids and the odd ones, the wine of the greedy, the miserly, the envious and the villains. A healthy person holds his nose when he smells it, and when he tastes it, he begins to spit like mad and roars until he can rinse his mouth out with a proper drink. As I said, the devil envied the Creator his work of wine and decided to make wine himself. He put into the vine all his yellow greed, vindictiveness, poison and bile, insolence, grimaces, cowardly baseness, cowardly crippledness, all his crude oil, and he made it incredibly productive. In fact, the Noa vines produce at least twenty times more grapes than the noble ones. But for whom? For the greedy and miserly, as long as it's a lot.*

I would like to know what Béla Hamvas would write about the current hybrid grape varieties or our Souvignier Gris.

At least since Bordeaux and Champagne have allowed hybrids in their variety registers, it is clear that hybrids are not a trend, but are here to stay.

We planted the first Souvignier Gris vines at the winery in 2021, as the wines of this variety impressed us the most. The grape variety is relatively easy to work with in the vineyard and is also very easy to work with in the cellar and should suit our style of winemaking.
Most of those who tasted our first 2023 vintage in our cellar said it was Furmint. It impresses with a precise acidity and, like Furmint, a very subtle fruit that is more characterized by our vinification (long yeast ageing). It is somewhat more accessible than our Furmints.
We will continue to give preference to Blaufränkisch and Furmint in our best vineyards. These varieties have been rooted in our region for a long time and show our terroir at its best. Only time will tell whether hybrids will ever reach this level of expression of origin.

Gemischter Satz - field blend

Grandfather Ludwig in our field blend

Single-varietal wines and thus the importance of grape varieties in wine are not as old as we might think. It began with Riesling in Germany, where many sovereigns and monasteries dictated the planting of Riesling. This trend became so strong in the 19th century that after the phylloxera catastrophe, Hungary, an important wine country at the time, also switched from mixed varieties to single-varietal cultivation. For centuries, the field blend was, so to speak, the assurance that in difficult years one of the many varieties would still produce a yield. At that time, the origin was communicated as customer information/marketing, as is still common in France today. The variety on the label was therefore not important. When it was noticed that a variety was performing better and better, it was replanted in the field and this resulted in resilient vineyards. In a very logical, simple way.
By chance, I tried this in one of our vineyards and planted a row of Blaufränkisch between hybrids. It was amazing how the row of Blaufränkisch also worked with only two plant protection treatments in 2023. It certainly won't be my last attempt in this direction.

*from: Béla Hamvas: Philosophy of Wine

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