Vineyards act as an open-air laboratory, helping to set up the Douro’s sustainable future

vineyard robotWine producer Symington Family Estates is behind a recent initiative involving experimental vineyards in the Douro region, where they have been investigating the behaviour patterns of the different grape varieties, and their capacity to resist drought and hot weather, consequences already felt due to climate change.

They have set up vineyards which they refer to as “libraries", which are installed in different climatic zones within the region: at Quinta do Ataíde, in Vale da Vilariça, at Quinta do Bomfim, in Pinhão, and at Tapadinha vineyard, near Quinta do Retiro in the Rio Torto valley.

"This collection of vineyards aims to preserve the genetic heritage that we have in the Douro Region", said Fernando Alves, the man responsible for the development and research branch of​​Symington, to Lusa during a visit to Quinta do Bomfim where, at this time of the year, the vineyard workers are mainly concerned with pruning the vines.

The objective of these "libraries" is to expand knowledge about indigenous varieties from the Douro region, as well as others of a national scope. According to Mr. Alves climate change has made this research work "particularly relevant", since it has presented a need to investigate the varieties that are more resistant to heat and drought conditions.

In the company's research vineyards, the behaviour patterns of more than 50 grape varieties is studied. Fernando Alves details that "analyzing the oenological, viticultural and, above all, phenological aspects is necessary, because they allow us to know the dynamics of the cycle of each of the grape varieties, from budbreak to the maturation period ".

The spokesman said that, in relation to 10 of these varieties, the mechanisms they use to "deal with issues related to water, thermal and light stress" are currently being studied in more detail, as they seem to be the most resistant to environmental changes.

"If we understand how they work, we can better understand the impact of the changes and we can look for ways to get around some of the harmful effects that may come to be felt," he said. The company is very keen to ensure that their future choices of grape varieties is carefully made taking into account the research that has been done.

Symington, one of the largest wine producers in the Douro Region and in the country, currently integrates two EU projects in their research: the Vineyards Integrated Smart Climate Application (Visca) and the robot VineScout.

These are, for Rob Symington, a fifth generation member of the family behind the company who oversees the company’s long-term sustainability, "key projects" to help "respond to the risk and serious threat of climate change".

"In terms of climate change, we have three areas of focus: the first is to adapt to changes that are undoubtedly already happening and that are going to unfortunately get worse, the second is to reduce our contribution to the problem, reduce our emissions, and the third area is to use our voice and our platform to draw attention to this problem ", he told Lusa.

He continued: "this is an existential risk that we are taking very seriously".

With a budget of 3.2 million euros, financed by mainly by community funds, Visca is a consortium of 11 partners from Portugal, Spain, Italy, France and the United Kingdom, who are analyzing the impact of climate change on grape production in Europe.

The project is also developing a precision climate service at the local and temporal level that will be available to winegrowers and will help to program, plan actions and mitigate the effect of weather conditions.

Furthermore, the VineScout robot stands out for its ability to monitor the vineyard autonomously and using electric propulsion and solar energy to act independently.

It is intended that this robot will take measurements of key parameters in the vineyard that support viticulture, such as the control of the water supply to the vines vine, which allows for the correct management of water availability, and the temperature of the vine leaf, and plant health. VineScout has a budget of two million euros, of which 1.7 million euros is community funding.

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