PIWI: fungus-resistant vines for a sustainable wine-growing future

05/06/2024

Recently, the first “Irresistible PIWI” Festival and Exhibition Market was held in Verona, which was attended by some 50 producers, mainly from Italy, but also from Germany, Spain, Canton Ticino, France and Slovakia. This event highlighted not only the promotion of PIWIs among consumers, but also the importance of knowledge and technical updating among the producers themselves. But what do we mean when we talk about PIWI?

Viticulture is one of the oldest and most relevant agricultural practices worldwide, but it faces numerous challenges related to fungal diseases, which can devastate vineyards and drastically reduce production. To address these challenges, PIWI (from the German pilzwiderstandfähig, “fungus-resistant”) vine varieties have been developed, offering a sustainable and innovative solution for viticulture. 

Characteristics of PIWI vines

PIWI vine varieties were developed by crossing European vines (Vitis vinifera) with American and Asian vine species, which possess natural resistance to fungal pathogens. This selection process led to the creation of vines that combine European wine quality with disease resistance.

The main characteristics of PIWI vines include:

  1. Resistance to fungal pathogens: PIWI vines are highly resistant to diseases such as downy mildew (Plasmopara viticola) and powdery mildew (Erysiphe necator), reducing the need for chemical treatments.
  2. Wine quality: thanks to selective crosses, PIWI varieties produce high-quality grapes that can be used to produce excellent wines while maintaining the typical organoleptic characteristics of traditional wines.
  3. Environmental sustainability: reducing the use of fungicides and chemical pesticides contributes to more sustainable agriculture, reducing environmental impact and promoting biodiversity in vineyards.

Benefits of PIWI vines

The adoption of PIWI varieties offers numerous advantages for both grape growers and the environment:

  1. Reduced production costs: due to their disease resistance, PIWI vines require fewer chemical treatments, reducing costs associated with fungicides and pesticides.
  2. Improved soil health and environment: reduced use of chemicals promotes soil health and biodiversity, contributing to a more balanced and sustainable ecosystem.
  3. Resilience to climate change: PIWI vines are generally more resistant to adverse weather conditions, making vineyards more resilient to climate change.
  4. Consumer acceptance: with increasing consumer awareness of sustainability, wines produced from PIWI varieties are gaining popularity in the market.

Challenges and future prospects

Despite the many benefits, the adoption of PIWI varieties presents some challenges. One of the main difficulties is cultural and commercial resistance from traditional grape growers and winemakers, who may be reluctant to change grape varieties that have been used for generations.

However, research and innovation in viticulture continue to improve PIWI varieties, increasing their acceptance and spread. In the future, we are likely to see an expansion of PIWI varieties, supported by favorable agricultural policies and consumer education about the benefits of these wines.

PIWI vines represent a promising innovation in the wine sector, offering a sustainable and effective solution to the challenges posed by fungal diseases. With their potential to improve environmental sustainability, reduce production costs and produce high-quality wines, PIWI varieties could be destined to play a central role in the future of viticulture.

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