More about grape varieties

5 questions for Jean-Michel Boursiquot

Jean Michel Boursiquot is Scientific and Technical Director of the IFV’s Vegetal Material Department, and a Teacher-Researcher at the SupAgro Agronomy School in Montpellier.

Why do French grape varieties continue to be such a success around the world despite the fact that winegrowing is increasingly globalized?

This is because French grape varieties, like Cabernet-Sauvignon and Chardonnay, have long proven their capacity to adapt and produce wines that appeal to ever-increasing numbers of consumers around the world. This success also comes from the fact that French grape varieties and global trade of French wines have been around for centuries. Finally, scientific breakthroughs in the 20th century have given us greater knowledge of French grape varieties and enabled them to spread. This history means that today, international consumers prefer wines made from French grape varieties.

Are the French grape varieties grown in France considered as benchmarks in terms of quality of flavor? Why is this?

Yes, the French grape varieties and the French wines made from them are the standard bearers around the world. In addition to the historical aspects and France’s technological know-how, these wines offer rich aroma, finesse, and elegance, as well as a certain power, enabling the wines to be aged in oak barrels to make them more complex. However, the real interest of the French grape varieties produced in France is the fact that they grow in extremely diverse, high quality soils, not to mention the advantageous climates ideally located around the 45th parallel. These climates vary from one year to the next, making the wines more interesting.

What role does your organization play in continuously improving French grape varieties?

The IFV’s role is to organize and carry out a natural selection of the grape varieties to provide winegrowers with plants – called clones – without flaws or health risks, in order to ensure that parcels planted with these vines have a longer lifespan. Our role also involves offering plants whose potential is precisely known, for instance in terms of yield, sugar content or intensity of color. The IFV thus offers winegrowers rational criteria for selecting plants based on their own aims – for example producing a light and fruity wine or, on the contrary, a long-keeping wine with a lot of expressiveness.

What role do the IFV’s grape variety conservatories play?

They are the strategic weapons of French winegrowing, as they enable us to maintain a living memory of France’s great biodiversity in terms of grape varieties. Today, everything changes very quickly - food and consumer habits are changing all the time. They focus on certain grape varieties and certain specific characteristics of these varieties: dark colors, aromatic richness, etc. But what will consumer tastes be like in the future? Maintaining the biodiversity of the grape varieties will help us to anticipate new needs and better meet them. This means, for instance, creating new generations of clones or updating older clones to meet today’s tastes. The 120 grape variety conservatories located throughout France today account for around 30,000 clones, France’s entire winegrowing memory.

In your opinion, what French grape varieties can look forward to a bright future in France and around the globe?

Forty years ago, nobody would have bet that the Merlot grape variety would become a worldwide success. It was barely 20 years ago that Syrah started to be loved around the globe. Though it is difficult to predict the future, we can observe that demanding, active producers with a lot of media exposure often generate mass enthusiasm for one variety or another. Time and time again, we have seen that it is most often French grape varieties that benefit from such enthusiasm. The example of Sauvignon illustrates this very well: it was in fact winegrowers from New Zealand who sparked renewed interest in the variety. Today, we can see winegrowers going crazy over Chenin, Viognier, Roussanne and Tannat... Perhaps these varieties will be the new Merlots, Chardonnays or Syrahs of the 21st century.

The French Vine and Wine Institute: Technical progress and expertise for French winegrowing. The French Vine and Wine Institute (IFV) is France’s premier technical organization for all economic players in the Wine industry. Its work ranges from selecting high-performance vine varieties to developing tools for sustainable, competitive winegrowing. It also helps to predict new trends in markets worldwide.

The “Vine and Terroir" Scientific and Technical Department The IFV is at the very heart of research to develop sustainable yet competitive winegrowing. This requires research and gaining a deeper understanding of organic winegrowing, namely reducing the number of inputs in winegrowing and the development of alternatives to chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This also involves managing the soil in a sustainable manner and beautifying winegrowing regions and their countryside. Preventing and limiting wood diseases is another of IFV’s fields of activity.

The “Vegetal Material” Scientific and Technical Department In collaboration with its 34 partners in all of France’s winegrowing regions, the IFV carries out work to improve and select grapevine varieties. This includes creating new varieties, with varieties that better tolerate disease and are better suited to climate changes; genetic screening and tracking the health of vine clones; and conservation and distribution of vegetal material. The IFV manages the ENTAV-INRA® brand.

The “Wine and Market” Scientific and Technical Department Here, the IFV is involved in enabling quick adaptation to new market and consumer trends. This involves innovating enological materials and packaging, by reducing the number of inputs in enology and managing winegrowing effluents, as well as research on microbial ecology, hygiene and change control. Finally, the IFV is involved in food safety and wine & health projects in the Wine industry. The IFV, fully involved in several French competitive clusters, has a scientific and technical board composed of 40 experts renowned worldwide. They work in a network with an international approach. Dissemination of technical advances made by the IFV ranges from standard publications to technology transfer in companies, not to mention Internet. For more information, visit IFV’s Website at