ProLOEWE faces

Professor Dr Otmar Löhnertz Viticulture within climate change

© Winfried Schönbach/Hochschule Geisenheim

Professor Löhnertz, as a partner in the LOEWE FACE2FACE Cluster, which is conducting climate impact research, you are working on viticulture at the University of Applied Sciences in Geisenheim. Has climate change not been a factor here for a long time? What about the Rheingau Riesling, for example? It is true that viticulture has also been undergoing noticeable changes for several decades. Some of them are certainly due to climate change. For example, we know from records since the late 18th century that growth has been moved forwards considerably during the course of the year, especially since the late 1980s. For example, the plants now sprout about two weeks earlier than in the past. This increases the risk in certain regions that a late frost in spring will mean the end of any fruit for the year. Ripening often occurs at the end of September. This means that the grapes then have to be harvested very quickly and at much higher temperatures than in the past to avoid losses due to fungal attack. This is a particular problem with Riesling grapes, because they need both - ripeness and harvest - at cooler temperatures. The change is also reflected in research: in the past we were looking for methods to accelerate ripening; we are now wondering what we can do to delay the ripening process.

What exactly are you studying at FACE2FACE? At FACE2FACE, we are focusing on a key aspect of climate change: we are simulating the increasing amount of CO₂ in the air with our "Free Air Carbon Dioxide Enrichment (FACE)" system. What are the vines doing with the CO₂? How does it affect plant growth and the quality of the grapes? Are there more or less pests? And how is the soil changing?

And what do winegrowers gain from your research? We have always maintained close contact with the winegrowers in the Rheingau district and with graduates of the university. Both sides benefit from this: we stay close to what is going on in practice and can include current challenges in our research. Conversely, we communicate our knowledge to the winegrowing industry, usually combined with suggestions for action. The knowledge that we gain at FACE2FACE is intended to provide answers to the question of how winegrowers can best react. To this end, we also plan to hold events at the university's further training institute starting this autumn.

As Vice President for Teaching, you are a member of the university management board. Do you still have any time to spend at vineyards? Fortunately, my work here in Geisenheim takes me to the university's vineyards from time to time, because I cannot stay away from them completely. After all, I grew up on a vineyard and first completed my training as a master winemaker, before moving on to research and teaching via my high school leaving exams and university studies. I even had my own vineyards until about 15 years ago, but at some point I could no longer reconcile this with my growing responsibilities for university management.

About the Person

  • In the steering committee of the LOEWE Cluster FACE2FACE
  • Vice President Teaching at the University of Applied Sciences Geisenheim
  • Since 1990 Head of the Department of Soil Science and Plant Nutrition, Geisenheim Research Institute

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