Solaris: disease-resistant hybrids make waves in Italy @CorriereDiVini @terrauomocielo

werner mornadell

Above: Werner Morandell netting his vineyards in the Mendel Pass (image via his Facebook).

As Giovanni notes today on his excellent blog Terra Uomo Cielo, this is the time of year when grape growers treat their vineyards with sulfur and copper to reduce the risk of fungal diseases, chiefly oidium and perenospora.

At the sound of the tractors’ motors revving up on their way to the vineyard, he is reminded that “not only do the products used to safeguard the fruit pollute. So does the movement of the tractors” belching out diesel aromas more offensive to Giovanni, he writes, than the smell of the sulfur.

There is at least one grape grower in Italy who believes he has found a chemical-free solution to fungal disease: Werner Monrandell (above), winemaker in German-speaking South Tyrol, where his “super-organic” vineyards have no need of sulfur or copper treatments thanks to disease-resistant hybrids he has been developing since 1993, Solaris and Bronner.

The latter is named after the researcher who developed it. The former, evidently, after the 1961 novel and 1972 film.

According to a post by Corriere della Sera wine writer Luciano Ferraro, published on Saturday, the dried-grape Bronner is already available for sale in Italy and the Solaris, while not commercially available, has been offered to Italian sommeliers and viticultural research institutes where it is being studied.

Morandell is one of roughly fifteen grape growers, mostly from Trentino-Alto Adige but also Piedmont and Veneto, who are working together on this project.

“Every year in Europe,” say Morandell in an interview with Luciano, “72,000 tonnes of poison (pesticides, fungicides, insecticides, herbicides, etc.) are scattered on the fruit crop. Roughly 70% of those are employed in viticulture and they leave a residue on the grapes. It’s time to stop this [practice] because it’s possible to make fabulous wines even without chemical treatments to combat oidium and peronospora.”

Some winemakers remain skeptical, like Giovanni, who recently became a grape grower himself.

“I wonder if Solaris will have the same results if it’s planted elsewhere,” he writes.

6 thoughts on “Solaris: disease-resistant hybrids make waves in Italy @CorriereDiVini @terrauomocielo

  1. The potential effects if the resistant strains are transferrable would be fantastic. Maybe offering a true or singular definition to “natural” winemaking. Which could have the additional benefit of silencing the naysayers… If only, right?

  2. Jeremy–Thinking about tomatoes, brandywines taste way better than hybrids. In fact most commercially grown vegetables, presumably hybrids, in US lack the vibrancy of those we enjoy in Italy. Should we be concerned about loss of character in our grapes?

  3. Graz, it’s interesting: Werner calls his wines “super organic” (using the word super in the Latin sense, “above”) as if to say that biodynamic and organic farmers who use sulfur and copper treatments are still chemical dependent. When you travel to that part of Italy, it’s easy to see how they really can produce truly natural wines: it’s such a pristine landscape.

    Alfonso, I wish I had time to translate all of Giovanni’s post: he talks about the high costs of these treatments in terms of labor, expense, and pollution. And as you note, then the rain comes and washes it into the soil, thus contaminating everyone’s water. Luca of Bele Casel talks a lot about this as well.

    John, that’s a great question… Next time I get to Italy, I’m going to try to get my hands on some of Werner’s wine. In Texas, a hybrid — Blanc du Bois — is used to produce the only wines I’ve been able to drink here. Disease resistant hybrids have been an ambition of Italian agronomists for generations now. Incrocio Manzoni, Kerner, etc. There are already a lot of hybrids out there.

    Thanks for the insightful comments!

  4. This is so interesting. I recently read about how certain floral plants like marigolds can deter insects from eating vegetables on a farm but these hybrid vines sounds like the ultimate eco-friendly, chemical-free solution to fungal disease.

    • Stacey, I think that many believe this could be the future. In some ways, it’s kind of scary. But it also makes perfect sense, especially when we consider that humankind has attempted to genetically modified the foods we eat (and drink) since the monks first discovered genetics.

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