New strategies for adapting the vineyards to climate change

24 May 2022

New strategies for adapting the vineyards to climate change

  • The NEIKER technology centre has coordinated the VITISAD project with the aim of establishing farming practices to improve the adaptation of vineyards to climate change
  • During the investigation, it was also demonstrated that using vegetation cover can help maintain the quality of the wine and avoid environmental risks, and that delaying pruning can protect against spring freezes.
  • The results of the test conducted within the project framework in vineyards of the Basque Country, La Rioja, Navarre and the French Pyrenees-Atlantiques have been presented today in Laguardia, Alava
  • The initiative, funded by the European Union’s Interreg POCTEFA programme, comprises a consortium of five partners devoted to vinicultural research in the border region between Spain and France.

The conservation of genetic diversity in vines, the delay in pruning and the use of vegetation cover are some practices that can help adapt the vineyards to climate change. This has been confirmed by an international consortium, led by the NEIKER technology centre, member of the Basque Research and Technology Alliance, in the conference marking the close of the VITISAD project for the development of sustainable vinicultural strategies for adaptation to climate change.

The results of the project have been presented this morning at the offices of the Cuadrilla in Laguardia, Rioja Alavesa, a vinicultural region of recognised prestige, in a conference in which the attendees were able to learn about the characteristics of the tests conducted in 30 vineyards of the Basque Country, Navarre, La Rioja and the French Pyrenees-Atlantiques. Concretely, these new sustainable strategies for adaptation to climate change have been evaluated in crops of DO Ca Rioja, DO Navarra, DO Bizkaiko Txakolina, AOC Irouleguy, AOC Madiran, AOC Jurançon, AOC Jurançon Sec, AOC Pécharmant, AOC Pacherenc du Vic Bilh and AOC Pacherenc du Vic Bilh sec.

The attendees were also given a guide which provided details about the tests and the most relevant results of the project. Similarly, sheets were handed out in which the participating wineries and viticulturists told of their experience within the project.

The project has an expected duration of 32 months and, in addition to NEIKER as its coordinator, is comprised of five partners dedicated to Southwestern European wine research: the Directorate General of Agriculture and Livestock Farming of the Government of la Rioja, the Directorate General of Rural Development of the Government of Navarre, the Chamber of Agriculture of the Atlantic Pyrenees and the IFV (French Institute of Vine and Wine). This cross-border cooperation was based on experimentation, joint assessment and exchanging experiences on five practices corresponding to different climate change adaptation strategies for the vineyards of the border regions of France and Spain: optimisation of irrigation water, use of vegetation cover, reduction of bunch temperature, control of vine maturation and conservation of the genetic variety of the grape.


Maintaining wine quality

One of the consequences of climate change is temperature increase, which causes grapes to mature in hotter periods and may modify some of their qualitative properties such as colour and acidity. Due to global warming, more bouts of heavy rain are also expected, which may entail greater risk of soil loss due to erosion. Faced with these changes, pre-empting these potential scenarios and having solutions adapted to these new climate conditions is paramount. But how can we maintain wine quality with global warming?

One of the strategies verified is the efficacy of delaying pruning, which is well known by viticulturists for influencing the vine’s budding. “When it is done late, it delays the vine’s cycle. It has been demonstrated that pruning in April delays the budding by more than 2 weeks, which is highly significant in protecting the vines from spring freezes”, explains Ana Aizpurua Insausti, researcher from NEIKER’s Plant Protection and Production Department. Finally what is sought is a delay in harvesting the vines.

In addition, we have also carried out irrigation water optimisation practices, using different techniques such as overhead drip, underground drip and surface irrigation combined with vegetation cover. “This combination of vegetation cover with irrigation, in arid zones, can be a sustainable alternative to traditional tilling to balance the production and vegetative development of the plant, as well as improving the polyphenol load of the wine, a characteristic that is directly linked to quality in wines”, added the researcher from our technology centre.

Another of the studies within the framework of the project focused on the reduction of bunch temperature and maturation control. In this regard, the research conducted in the south of France verified that the use of shading mesh was able to reduce the bunch temperature, allowing more control over the maturation of the grape.

Similarly, within the framework of the initiative, the genetic variability of vineyards has also been studied and classified, including old, resistant and late-flowering vines, the diversity of clones, rootstocks, etc., with special emphasis on materials that will adapt to climate change. In this sense the existence of varieties, and even clones, able to prolong the cycle and obtain the desired acid content has been verified. “In this respect it is very important to evaluate the old strains and preserve those which are healthy and maintain properties that are of interest to viticulture”, concludes Ana Aizpurua Insausti. This strain evaluation was conducted jointly with several Rioja Alavesa wineries.

All these practices of climate change adaptation have been tested in 30 pilot plots in commercial vineyards in France and Spain. On a general level, it has been verified that the techniques used are effective and it has been possible to quantify their influence on the yield, quality and evolution of the growth cycle, among other characteristics.

Infused with 657,587 euros, the VITISAD project was 65% co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) via the Interreg V-A Spain-France-Andorra (POCTEFA 2014-2020) Programme, which aims to reinforce the social and economic integration of the POCTEFA border region (Spain-France-Andorra). Its aid is focused on carrying out transnational economic, social and environmental activity via joint strategies favouring sustainable regional development.



A member of the Basque Research & Technology Alliance (BRTA), NEIKER is a technology centre specialising in creating innovative solutions for the agriculture/livestock and forestry sectors. NEIKER’s primary lines of work include promoting operations’ sustainability and competitiveness, finding alternatives to mitigate the effects of the climate emergency on agriculture, driving the bioeconomy to reduce dependence on non-renewable raw materials creating new business activities, streamlining plant health protection in agriculture and reducing the use of antibiotics in livestock farming to minimise the impact of increased antibiotic resistance.

As an institution dependent on the Ministry of Economic Development and Infrastructure of the Basque government, NEIKER’s operations focus on providing answers and supporting the strategies designed by the executive branch of the Basque government for promotion, development and management in the Basque Country’s agri-food and forestry sector.