Masterclass: Viticulture and Climate Change – Challenges and Opportunities @Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (Italy)

This is a transcript from the Webinar on the Master in Viticulture from the Università Cattolica, that took place on 7th of May 2024. You can view it here:

Welcome, everyone. Welcome to today’s masterclass on climate change and viticulture challenges and opportunities. My name is Arianna Malavasi. I represent the International Office of Università Cattolica today, and I am the moderator of this webinar.

The masterclass covers topics that are an integral part of the Master of Science in Sustainable Viticulture and Denology, which is offered by Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore. And by participating in today’s masterclass, you’re basically engaging with just one of the many critical subjects that are actually taught at a very in-depth level during the master degree.

Before we actually start with the masterclass, let’s meet our speakers of today and let’s have a look at the agenda. So talking about speakers, speaker number one, Professor Stefano Poni.

Hello, Prof. Poni. Can you hear me well? Hello, full professor of viticulture at Catholicas Faculty of Agricultural Food and Environmental Sciences. Professor Poni is also the coordinator of the Master’s degree in Sustainable Viticulture and Denology. And then we have welcome, like huge welcome to Riccardo Castellana. Also welcome back, I should say, because Riccardo is a current student of our Master in Sustainable Viticulture and Denology and he just got back from Australia after one semester spent abroad. But no spoilers, we’re going to talk about this later.

So let’s have a look at the agenda of today. There we go. So first of all, we’ll kick off our webinar with a very quick introduction about Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore. We will delve into the masterclass on climate change and viticulture challenges and opportunities, which is going to be led by Professor Poni. Later we’ll hear more about the program and its peculiarities, again Professor Poni. Then we’ll hear inspiring stories from our current student, Riccardo, and I’m really very curious to know how was your experience in Australia. We will learn more about the procedures, the timeline and the entry requirements for the Master. Why? Because I’m sure that here today, and I’m talking also to Professor Poni and Riccardo, you know that we have potential students for our Master degree. So I’m sure they would love to know more about the program, but also about the application procedure and timeline. And after that, we’ll wrap up our session with a dedicated time for a live Q&A. So you’ll have the opportunity to engage with us in real time. So please ask your question or look for saying in the Q&A box.

So let’s start by talking a little bit about Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore. The choice of a location is a significant factor in higher education. And I guess you know that if you are specializing, for example, in the viticulture, enology, food sector, wine sector, you probably know that Italy stands out with a very deep-rooted tradition in the field. It’s a global leader in the wine industry, probably with France. Maybe, Professor Poni, you want to delve into it later a little bit. I think we’re there. But now we export as a country over 50% of our wine production. It’s exported abroad. Consequently, I would say engaging with international stakeholders has become essential for our country. And that’s, I guess, one of the reasons why we created such a master degree, fully English taught, very international in its soul, in sustainable viticulture and enology. Cattolica is a big university, really big. It has five campuses spread across the country. You can see the map on the right side of the slide. But this master degree in sustainable viticulture and enology is taught at the University Campus of Piacenza. Piacenza is located at about one hour train ride from Milano, but even more importantly, Piacenza is the place we call the food valley of Italy, because in Piacenza we produce the biggest amount of DOP products and VOC products, so cured meat, cheeses, and of course, wines. It is not a case that the Catholic School Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences is located, and Professor Poni, and then that’s your faculty at the Piacenza campus. And that’s where we teach the majority of our food and wine related products. OK, and we’re talking about like courses which are ranked top 150 globally, according to QS rankings by subject.

After this quick introduction about the program, about the university, Professor Poni, we get into the heart of this presentation, of this masterclass. So let us experience a little bit of what potential students can actually live if they decide to apply for our Master of Science in Sustainable Viticulture and Enology. Sure, Rihanna, thank you for this very nice introduction and welcome anyone, thanks for attending. Yeah, I have 25 minutes to talk to you about something related to climate change and multiculturalism. Well, the topic is huge. And actually, what I will do is just to give you an overview of what this means for the future of our agricultural system and in particular for the vine and wine sector. And then we’ll discuss something more specific regarding our master.

So talking about the impact of climate change on viticulture and on the agricultural system, well, as you know, the agricultural system is one of the most vulnerable systems to the impact of climate change. First of all, because it’s dependent on climate, that’s pretty obvious. So any variation in temperature, rainfall, humidity, or frequency of extreme events, as you can see in the slide, will have direct and indirect effects on crop productivity and quality, especially in regions like Europe, where crops are rain-fed.

So the impact of climate change is expected to reduce crop yields and product quality, but not only this, also to increase the prevalence of pests and diseases. There’s a nice paper by Nelson et al., published on Nature, and they estimated that under a scenario of 2 degrees Celsius of warming, which is the minimum expected by the end of this century, you could expect to lose 7.4% of the global agricultural GDP, which is huge.

So if we take this into account, and we think about what this means for the wine sector, well, it’s easy to understand that the impact on this sector will be even more dramatic, because first of all, because vineyards are very long-lived crops. I mean, if you think about an apple orchard or a wheat field, you can change crops in few years, while vineyards can last up to hundreds of years. And this is because of the cultural value and also economic value of the vines, especially in regions like Europe, where the landscape is deeply shaped by vineyards.

So this means that even small changes in climate may lead to huge effects on the productivity and quality of vineyards, especially because grapevines are very sensitive to variations in temperature and water availability.

So if you look at the slide, you can see that wine production in Europe is expected to decline dramatically by 2050 due to climate change, with a huge impact in the Mediterranean regions, which are the regions where wines are usually of the highest quality and value, like in Italy, France, and Spain.

So what are the consequences of this? Well, one consequence is that growers need to adapt their cultivation practices to cope with these new conditions. And this is not easy, especially if we think about the traditional approach to viticulture, which is based on empirical knowledge and local practices passed down through generations. So one of the main challenges we’re facing is that we need to change our approach to viticulture, we need to integrate new knowledge, new technologies, and new practices to cope with these new conditions.

I would be happy to give you some key messages related basically to these five items.

I will spend a little bit more time talking about impact on viticulture and the third one that is ripening goes wide. That is exactly what’s happening over the last years.

Well, I think that one good way to start is actually remembering that Charles Darwin many years ago already said that kind of sentence that is reported at the bottom of this slide. And that basically the species that is able to adapt to climate change will be actually be the one to survive. And he was right. And today we understand the value of that thought that he did actually 200 years ago.

Well, I think that all the people in this chat are pretty much convinced that climate change is real. Although, I mean, there are many ways that we can use to demonstrate that what is happening now is just not part of a cycle, but is just a change. And the thing that I like very much to show, to actually confirm, this kind of statement is, if you look at this graph, this is an impressive graph. I mean, if you look at the top panel of this graph, you see, this is the amount of CO2 in the air, so the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. And this is not a mistake. This graph goes back until 400,000 years ago. So that’s some time ago, right? And you notice that in this kind of time window that is extremely long the CO2 concentration never went up or above the threshold of 300 ppm. Now today, if you measure CO2 concentration outside, we are at 450. And by the end of the century, predictions are to be close to 600.

Well, I think that this is really a demonstration that something happened at some time that changed completely the scenario. And what happened was basically the Industrial Revolution, right? Because this steep rise in CO2 started at that time. And today here we are struggling, trying to mitigate this rise that is the primary cause of the global warming.

Of course, I mean, another thing that should be actually analyzed, I’m still not talking about grapevine for just a minute. But I really like this kind of example as a general phenomenon related to climate change. If you look at this map, on the left-hand side of the slide, you see this is the map of Uganda. And it’s a map for coffee growing in Uganda today. Okay. And you see that there are three colors. The brown, the light brown and the white. Well, the best area is the brown area. A reasonable area to grow coffee is orange. Whereas when the color is white, well, that’s not suited for growing coffee. But if you take that map and you imagine that the warming takes temperature to plus 2 degrees, well, the map would actually transform into the one that you see on your right left hand side, where basically coffee has disappeared from Uganda. Well, that is a very nice example of how climate change can affect basically worldwide, absolutely, the distribution of different crops. And of course, and now I’m entering the issue of the grapevine, we have to understand that something major is happening right now.

Okay, now let’s enter the viticulture part. And, you know, it’s not a surprise that vineyards are being planted. Also in Northern Europe, this is a trend on time. Over the last 18 years or something of the vineyard increase in UK, alright, and you see that there is a steep increase. And, you know, the other issue is that even if you look at the labels of wine bottles, For instance, from UK you have a perception that something is changing. If you look at those bottles, those are actually white bottles, although I mean they are fairly weird, right? But today this is a kind of white bottles that UK is actually marketed. And those are very serious bottles, as you can see. And this is a trend. Okay, this is indeed a trend that reminds me of the old European country style. Okay, so something is really happening. Of course, this is good for these countries. But, however, for us, climate change, where we grow grapes in a temperate climate that is becoming a hot climate in summer, well, that means that we might have a lot of issues.

I have chosen five different images to make you understand what the challenge today for us. This is flooding, extensive flooding that took place last year in our region. This is another picture that was taken, look at that, this is not a mistake. The picture was truly taken the 2nd of January last year, and here we are in the south of Italy. Now, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the grapevine growing, but on the 2nd of January it’s not common having already leaves on the vine, and that is of course an expression of climate change. This is a very extremely anticipated bud burst. And then we have the hail problem, we have the late frost problem, we have the drought problem. And overall, I mean, if we take Italy… I think that out of these five occurrences, at least one would happen every year. And so what we need to do is also a sort of risk assessment. Okay.

Well, the first point that would like to just briefly analyze with you is exactly the geographical distribution of the main grapevine varieties. Now this is just a very simple diagram showing four different climatic zones. So we have a cool climate, temperature, warm or hot climate. And these are actually the niche, the temperature niche of each cultivar that is actually taken into consideration. Of course, here you have the early ripening cultivars like Mühle, Tügga or Pinot Gris. And then you have some late ripening. Let’s take the Pinot Noir example. Well, the Pinot Noir is famous French variety that it’s actually an international variety for the other countries. And of course, what we know is that the optimum temperature for growing Pinot Noir is between this point and that point. And the midpoint, of course, is the optimum temperature for growing. And the problem is that this band is moving northward.

And of course, I mean, what is also happening is that the borders between these climatic zones are moving. This is just a cartoon, but you know, it’s a way to make you understand what is happening. And of course, the main grapevine cultivars are moving as well. And so that will change, of course, the composition of the vineyards.

And of course, this is a simulation for our climate in the south of Italy. And this is the, let’s say, the ideal temperature for growing. And this is the simulation for 2020, 2030, 2040 and 2050. And of course, what you notice is that the areas where we are actually growing grapes today will actually disappear because they would be above that critical temperature. And that is a major problem because those are the areas where we grow grapes because those are the areas where grapes grow best.

And then another issue that I would like to just briefly introduce to you is the second impact of climate change. The first impact, of course, is the increase in temperature. And that has a direct effect on the increase in sugar. So the sugar content, let’s say, in a grape berry. Now this is something that we know very well. But we also know that it’s not the only parameter that we have to take into consideration. And this is why I’m referring here to the concept of phenolic ripeness. Now phenolic ripeness is a concept that we use in winemaking, and it’s a very complex concept because it refers to the simultaneous ripening of different groups of substances.

The problem is that they ripen in a different way. Some of them will actually be fully ripe much before the sugar is ripe, much before the grape is ripe. And so that is a big problem because we need to understand when to harvest grapes.

The other issue, of course, is that phenolic substances are also important because they have an antioxidant effect. And that’s very important for human health. So we need to understand what is the consequence of these changes that we are actually seeing on the health of the grapes, on the antioxidant effect of the wine that we are producing. And of course, as a consequence on human health.

I think that this is really a very big problem that we are facing now. And the only way to cope with this problem is to understand what is happening. And to understand what is happening, we need to measure what is happening. So we need to monitor very carefully the evolution of the phenolic substances.

And of course, I mean, this is not only a problem that concerns the vineyard, this is a problem that concerns the whole supply chain. So from the vineyard to the winery to the market. And this is a very complex issue.

So I think that I would like to stop here and open the floor for any questions or any comments that you might have.

So let’s talk about a little bit about what this means for our master. I mean, if you’re interested in learning about sustainable viticulture and enology, well, this is the right place for you. Because what we offer in our master is a comprehensive education in viticulture and enology, which is based on a multidisciplinary approach that integrates scientific knowledge from different fields like agronomy, biology, ecology, climatology, and also economics, sociology, and law.

So if you look at the curriculum, you can see that we offer a wide range of courses, which cover all aspects of viticulture and enology, from soil and climate management to grapevine physiology, from plant protection to precision viticulture, from winemaking techniques to wine marketing, and so on.

But what is more important, we also offer practical training through a series of field trips, internships, and project work, which allow students to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to real-world situations.

So if you’re interested in learning how to produce high-quality wines in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way, well, this is the right place for you. So please don’t hesitate to contact us if you need more information.

Thank you, Prof. Poni. Thank you so much for this overview about the impact of climate change on viticulture and for introducing the master degree in sustainable viticulture and enology.

And now I would like to leave the floor to Riccardo, who’s going to talk about his experience as a current student in our master and about the time spent abroad in Australia. Riccardo, can you hear me? Yes, hello everyone. Yes, I can hear you. Yes. So, I am Riccardo Castellana, as I was introduced before, and I am a student of the master program in sustainable viticulture and enology. And I’m here to share with you a little bit of my experience.

So first of all, I would like to talk about why I decided to join this master. Well, I have to say that I’ve always been passionate about wine. I mean, I’ve always enjoyed drinking wine, but I’ve also always been curious about the whole process of winemaking. So I decided to pursue a career in the wine industry.

And when I heard about this master program, I immediately knew that it was the right choice for me because it offered a comprehensive education in viticulture and enology, which is exactly what I was looking for. And it also provided practical training, which I think is very important if you want to pursue a career in this field.

So, I decided to join the program, and I have to say that I’m really happy with my choice. I mean, I’ve learned so much during these past months, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet some amazing people, both students and professors, who share my passion for wine.

And then, of course, there’s the experience abroad, which was amazing. I mean, I spent one semester in Australia, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I mean, I had the opportunity to learn about winemaking from a completely different perspective, and I also had the chance to explore a new culture and meet new people. So, yeah, it was really an incredible experience.

So, yeah, I mean, I’m really happy with my choice, and I would definitely recommend this master program to anyone who is passionate about wine and who wants to pursue a career in the wine industry. So, yeah, that’s it. Thank you, Riccardo, thank you so much for sharing your experience. And it’s really great to hear that you’re happy with your choice.

And now, let’s move on and let’s talk a little bit more about the procedures, the timeline, and the entry requirements for our master degree. And again, Professor Poni, I will leave the floor to you. Sure, thank you, Arianna. So, yeah, let’s talk about the application procedure and timeline. So, first of all, you need to know that our master program is open to students from all over the world, and it’s taught entirely in English. So, if you’re interested in applying, you need to submit your application online through our website.

The application deadline for the academic year 2024-2025 is the 30th of June, 2024. So, make sure to submit your application before this date. And then, once you’ve submitted your application, you will be asked to attend an interview, which will be conducted online.

And as for the entry requirements, well, first of all, you need to have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as agronomy, biology, chemistry, or food science. And you also need to have a good command of English, since all our courses are taught in English.

And then, once you’ve been accepted into the program, you will need to pay the tuition fees, which for international students is 6,000 euros per year. And then, you will also need to arrange your accommodation and visa if you’re coming from abroad.

So, yeah, that’s basically it. If you need more information, you can visit our website or contact us directly, and we’ll be happy to help you.

Thank you, Prof. Poni, thank you so much for all this information. And now I think we can move on to the Q&A session. So, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

Yes, hello, thank you for this informative session. I have a question regarding the employment prospects after completing this master’s program.

What kind of job opportunities are available? That’s a very good question. So, after completing this master’s program, you will have a wide range of job opportunities in the wine industry. For example, you could work as a viticulturist, which is someone who specializes in the cultivation of grapevines. Or you could work as an enologist, which is someone who specializes in winemaking. Or you could work as a wine marketer, which is someone who specializes in promoting and selling wines. So, yeah, there are plenty of job opportunities available, both in the private sector and in the public sector. And I have to say that the demand for professionals in this field is quite high, especially now that there’s an increasing awareness of the importance of sustainable viticulture and enology. So, yeah, I think you will have no problem finding a job after completing this master’s program.

Thank you, Prof. Poni, thank you so much. I have another question regarding the duration of the master’s program. How long does it take to complete? Well, the master’s program is a two-year program, so it takes two years to complete. And during these two years, you will have the opportunity to take a wide range of courses in viticulture and enology, as well as practical training through field trips, internships, and project work. So, yeah, it’s a two-year program, and I think it’s a very comprehensive program that will provide you with all the skills and knowledge you need to pursue a career in the wine industry. Thank you, Prof. Poni, thank you so much for your response.

Do we have any other questions? Yes, I have a question regarding the language requirements for non-native English speakers. What level of English proficiency is required to apply for this master’s program? Well, that’s a very good question. So, to apply for this master’s program, you need to have a good command of English, since all our courses are taught in English. And as for the specific language requirements, well, you need to have a minimum score of 6.5 on the IELTS test, or a minimum score of 90 on the TOEFL test. And if you don’t have these scores, you can also provide other evidence of your English proficiency, such as a certificate from a language school or a letter from your university stating that you’ve studied in English. So, yeah, that’s basically it.

Thank you, Prof. Poni, thank you so much for your response. Do we have any other questions? No, it seems that we don’t have any other questions. So, I think we can wrap up this session.

Thank you all for attending, and please don’t hesitate to contact us if you need more information.

Thank you, goodbye.

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