Sexual Confusion To Protect Vines

Laurent Panigai (with mic) in the Plumecoq vineyard

Sexual confusion sounds like something any teenager would be familiar with. But in fact le confusion sexuel is the name the French give to a revolutionary method of protecting grapevines from caterpillar attack, and short-cutting the need to spray pesticides.

This technique, developed in Champagne, is based on a natural insect pheromone which confuses a male butterfly into not mating with the female of his species. If the insects don’t breed, they aren’t a threat to the vines. As Laurent Panigai, viticulturist in the technical department of the Comité Champagne says, there are no eggs, so there are no caterpillars, and if there are no caterpillars, there is no damage to the vines.

He said the technique had been developed over 20 years, including 10 years of trials. It involves hanging on the trellis wires a small plastic capsule which emits the pheromone scent. The only drawback is that because butterflies and moths travel considerable distances, the technique must be used by everyone and used over an entire vineyard area. In Champagne, 13,000 hectares – or 40% of the surface of 34,000 hectares – is covered by this system. “It means that no pesticides are needed,” said Panigai.

Panigai and his team work a special vineyard called Plumecoq, where the Comité Champagne conducts viticultural trials. Among other things, they have vine breeding programs which are aimed at producing vines with inbuilt resistance to pests and diseases. They’re also into GPS mapping with a view to achieving ‘precision viticulture’ – suiting vineyard management techniques to micro plots of vines according to their soil type and topography. All good stuff and all aimed at improving the wine, while caring for the environment better. 

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