What is PIWI?
A. A process for removing smoke taint from win
B. The name, on TikTok, for wine influencers
C. A collective name for new hybrids of grapes being developed
D. A new medication that prevents headaches and/or lowers their severity
Ok this was a tough one; but stay with me because I think we’ll all be hearing more about (and drinking) PIWI in the future. According to a fascinating article about them in Meininger’s Wine Business International, PIWI stands for pilzwiderstandsfähige, a German term for fungus-resistant grape varieties. PIWI varieties are resistant to many of the most severe diseases that can affect a vine—phylloxera, Pierce’s Disease, and Powdery and Downey mildew for example. (Pierce’s Disease alone costs growers in California $100 million in vineyard losses every year). PIWIs are all hybrids (in this case, Vitis Vinifera varieties crossed with varieties that belongs to the North American species Vitis Arizonica). In the past, hybrids had a bad reputation for their somewhat off-putting flavor often characterized as “foxy.” But the new hybrids, grown in good terroirs at low yields, reportedly can produce delicious wines. (I have not yet tasted a PIWI wine). But here’s the reason I think they’ll be in our future and I’m excited to try them: PIWI varieties are not only disease resistant, they are hardier than vinifera varieties, and may be able to better withstand the chaos of climate change. These varieties are also environmentally friendly. They can be grown organically more easily than 100% vinifera varieties. Organic viticulture in turn means less or no spraying which means fewer trips into the vineyard with a tractor, so far less fuel use, and soils that are spared from being compacted by the tractor. The University of California at Davis is one of the research institutes working intently on the development of PIWI varieties. Wines made from PIWI varieties are currently being made and sold in Germany, France, and on the East Coast of the United States in Vermont, North Carolina, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Virginia.