Luxembourg's wines and crémants enjoy a very high reputation far beyond the borders of the Grand Duchy; a reputation that is founded in a millennia-old winemaking tradition. In Luxembourg, that tradition now extends into a paradigm shift in how grapes are grown: sustainability and organic viticulture are two concepts that have become very popular and have led to some groundbreaking developments in Luxembourg's vineyards. And the results are promising.
Sustainable winemaking in Luxembourg
Luxembourg has been making a lot of headway in establishing a sustainable viticulture. It was the first country to formally ban the use of glyphosate, a controversial herbicide. Moreover, many other chemicals used for fertilisation and protection against parasitic fungi and insects have been phased out and replaced by organic, mechanical and natural means. The result: healthy vines and a perfect basis for the high quality wines Luxembourg has come to be known for.
So, how do Luxembourg's winemakers deal with the sustainability challenge?
'Many winemakers already use methods common to organic winemaking,' thus Serge Fischer, head of the Viniculture Department at Luxembourg's Wine Institute (Institut viti-vinicole, IVV). 'Luxembourg's legislators provides for a partial conversion of a vineyard in order to start with organic winemaking. This way, winemakers can split the risks over several years' he adds, indicating that the transition is far from peril-free.
Better wines through organic means
Among those risks are first and foremost the different fungi which can rot grapes before the harvest and severely damage the vineyard. A risk that the Wine Institute already has in its sights:
'The protection of vines against fungi and insects is one pillar of sustainable vineyard management. The use of synthetic phytosanitary products is prohibited: this strategy is essentially based on the use of products of natural origin,' says Serge Fischer.
However, it's not only fungi that the IVV targets – certain types of insects are also damaging vines and grapes and may become a bane of Luxembourg's vintners if unchecked.
The grape worm in particular is the winemakers' nemesis. This small insect boroughs into the grapes and leaves small openings on the grapes' surface, through which rot can enter. In order to limit its expansion, the IVV uses sexual confusion, which Serge Fischer explains: 'Sexual confusion is achieved by using synthetic pheromones, reproducing the hormonal scent of female butterflies. This saturates an area with female pheromones, where it will be more difficult for the males to find the females to mate. This limits the production of eggs, and therefore of caterpillars.'
Luxembourg's wine-growing region is the first to apply this strategy on a large scale. Everywhere throughout the vineyards, the small red-brownish containers help the winemakers to achieve the quality they are famed for. The result is fewer chemical agents in the vines – and on the grapes, and ultimately the wine. Serge Fischer even goes so far as to claim that this strategy replaces the entirety of insecticides that had to be used before.
The IVV leads the charge
And the IVV leads by good example, as Serge Fischer explains: 'The vineyards of the IVV are run organically. In addition, we have set up a large test with grape varieties that are naturally tolerant or even resistant to fungal diseases.'
While the IVV was at its core aimed at fighting the invasion of certain types of fungi, its role has become much more important in Luxembourg.
Serge Fischer sees the IVV's role as that of an advisor in viticulture. 'This advice covers all aspects of wine production: choice of grape variety, vine cultivation and protection of the vine against diseases. We regularly send recommendations and organise seminars for winemakers.' These seminars include administrative procedures, as well as strategies for a more sustainable vineyard management, all in the interest of giving Luxembourg's winemakers the best shot at doing what they do best: renowned wines of excellent quality.