Consumer acceptance plays a key role in the introduction of new grape varieties. An Agridea consumer survey reveals a great openness to fungus-tolerant varieties that lend themselves to particularly environmentally friendly cultivation methods.
Controlling fungal diseases is a major challenge in viticulture. At the same time, both society and environmental organisations are calling for a reduction in plant-protection product use. For several years now, scientists have been developing new grape varieties for improving disease tolerance, and these offer a promising approach to the problem.
Nevertheless, out of the total vineyard area in Switzerland, the percentage of fungus-tolerant grape varieties remains modest, and these varieties are therefore seldom found on the market. The agricultural extension project ‘Swiss Wine of the Future’ deals with the question of how they can best be integrated into the Swiss range of wines. The project, which is 60%- funded by the Federal Office for Agriculture FOAG, is run by a consortium consisting of AGRIDEA, the Research Institute for Organic Agriculture FiBL, Agroscope, the Changins University of Applied Sciences and the Wädenswil Centre for Viticulture.
Surveys on Swiss Wine Purchasing Decisions
As part of this project, two surveys were conducted on the importance of environmental concerns when making Swiss wine purchasing decisions. AGRIDEA and the Changins University of Applied Sciences developed the first survey. This semi-quantitative questionnaire distributed at the Arvinis Wine Fair in Geneva-Palexpo in November 2019 provided initial findings. The second survey was conducted online by AGRIDEA in spring 2020. The results of both surveys are very similar, despite the sample selection bias in the first survey.
The survey participants constitute the core market for Swiss wine, with 80% of them drinking Swiss wine at least once a week. Although we were able to isolate a ‘traditional’ cluster (18% of the sample) that favours traditional varieties, as a whole the respondents show a great openness towards new grape varieties. A further ‘organic’ cluster (8.5% of the sample) are particularly keen on the introduction of tolerant grape varieties and was distinguished based on their purchase criteria.
In addition to taste, grape variety is also an important purchase criterion for both German- and French-speaking Switzerland. Whereas the criterion ‘regional product’ is more important for German-speaking Switzerland, Romandy Switzerland favours the ‘wine cellar or vineyard’ criterion.
Consumers expect environmentally friendly cultivation methods for the entire viticulture sector
A key question of the survey was how participants envisaged the future development of viticulture in Switzerland. The responses show that consumers expect environmentally friendly cultivation methods for the whole of the viticulture sector, and not just for organic production. Furthermore, both the continued existence of traditional grape varieties as well as the development of new varieties is expected.
With regard to the tolerant grape varieties, around half of the participants are familiar with the concept of such wines and most of this group have already tried them as well. The responses at the wine tastings vary widely. Comments such as ‘new flavours’, ‘very little character’ or ‘depends on winemaker and vinification’ show that there is still a great deal of potential here. The project module on interviewing winemakers will pursue the question of wine tasting in greater detail.
- There is great openness towards new grape varieties, which sets the scene for the introduction of fungus-tolerant grape varieties.
- New grape varieties are not in competition with traditional grape varieties: rather, a development in parallel is expected.
- Consumers expect further developments in environmentally compatible cultivation methods for the viticulture sector as a whole, and not just in organic production. Communication on environmentally compatible practices is crucial.
- Awareness of tolerant grape varieties has not (yet) translated into actual wine purchases, but there is interest. Communication on these varieties must continue.
- Taste is the most important purchase criterion, which shows the importance of wine-tastings for the introduction of wines from new grape varieties and underscores the role of the salesperson.