Success story - Agriculture


Prune, ripe, harvest: Seasonal predictions for the wine sector

Thanks to the efforts of our scientists and our communication and user engagement teams, the largest wine producers in Europe are able to use seasonal predictions to make better informed decisions for crop management. The operational tool - co-developed with the well-known wineries Codorniu (Spain), Mastroberardino (Italy) and Symington (Portugal) - is the perfect example of the need of climate services to be flexible and adaptable to user requirements. This is the essence behind the work developed by the Earth System Services group.

 

Grapevine is one of the most widespread crops in the world, with varieties successfully adapted to many different climates. Its main producers, spread all over the world - Spain, China, France, Italy, Turkey and the U.S - allot more than 70% of the overall grape harvest for wine production. Under these circumstances, competition between wine-producing companies is hard.

Growing premium grape, of the highest quality, is not a lesser feat. The right amount of water, sugar, acids and tannins at harvest can make a huge difference during wine fermentation and ageing, ending up with the gourmet choice, or just a regular wine. Revenues per bottle being worlds apart in one case or the other. Difficult choices are around the corner: climate change is bringing hotter temperatures, making grapes accumulate higher levels of sugar and, therefore, potential alcohol, much sooner than it used to happen. Sugar accumulation occurs before other elements responsible of the wine flavours are ready, like tannins and polyphenols and, in this context, wine producers need to make a choice: either to harvest much earlier, sacrificing the interesting wine tastes for acceptable alcohol levels, or produce wines with undrinkable alcohol force.

 

There’s more than meets the eye in an optimum grape: variety, field orientation, soil composition, altitude, local climate and many other. All these are factors that constitute the terroir and will affect the final quality of the berries. How does a farmer decide what is the best time for pruning or harvesting? for centuries, tradition has been the answer to this question, constraining the where, how and when of viticulture since the ancient times.


But tradition does not account for climate variability in the climate change context and, in a highly competitive market, farmers need to minimize wrong decisions and maximize the right ones to endure. In this line of action, the H2020 project VISCA provides timely and reliable seasonal forecasts for relevant climate variables and grape berry phenology, in a single operational platform, to help in the producers’ decision-making.


ESS researchers Nube González-Reviriego and Raül Marcos have been involved in VISCA since the beginning of the project. As climate scientists, their duties involve downloading the seasonal prediction data issued by the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), correct possible biases and measure its quality (skill of the prediction), to ensure that forecasts are close to reality (observations).

 

The goal of this process is to transform climate data into relevant information and knowledge for the wine sector stakeholders. This constitutes the climate service that VISCA will provide to the wine producers through an operational platform. For the tailoring of climate predictions to be usable, direct contact with the end users of the predictions is paramount, and both Nube and Raül benefit from the expertise in user engagement of the ESS team, to effectively communicate with farmers and reach a common understanding.

 

The long-term success of the VISCA operational platform will mostly depend on whether the professionals in the wine sector adopt this new tool in their decision-making. To make this happen, co-creation is the key. At the Earth System Services group, we are experts in delivering tailored information to the right people, to help them adapt and be more resilient to climate change.

 

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