[WATCH] Viticulturist: Ageing farmer population, longer droughts threatening viability of wine industry

Marsovin CEO Jeremy Cassar urges government to help protect indigenous grapes and support efforts to increase production 

Local wine production under pressure (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Local wine production under pressure (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Viticulturist: Ageing farmer population, longer droughts threatening viability of wine industry

An ageing farmer population and more frequent droughts are threatening Malta’s wine sector, according to Marsovin CEO Jeremy Cassar whose family of viticulturists has been producing wine since 1956.

Launching the grape harvest season at their Marnisi Estate in Marsaxlokk, Cassar urged the government to step in, before it becomes too late, stressing that this wasn’t just about viticulture but agriculture in general.

“We need to incentivise the younger generation to take up the trade or we are going to suffer in the long-term,” he said, as he warned of less local produce.

He explained that last year saw 380mm of rainfall, up slightly from the previous year, but still a far cry from Malta's 540mm yearly average. More significantly, said Cassar, 340 out of the 380mm fell before February - vines' dormant period - with most water being required after.

Compared to last year, yields of Malta’s two indigenous grapes, Gellewza and Girgentina were down, while other grapes had shown a slight increase.

While water was a problem that could easily be tackled by big operators like Marsovin - the company presses 60% of grapes grown in Malta - a significant number of vines were old, and needed replanting, said Cassar.

This was particularly true of the Gellewza and Girgentina. 

Cassar explained that vines die sooner when exposed to stressful conditions like  heat. As a result, they are replanted every 10 years or so, and that the majority of the Girgentina and Gellewza vineyards in Malta were over 25 years old, an age at which they tend to start losing economic viability.

"Many countries like Italy and France take care of their indigenous plants," said Cassar. "Little has been done between our appeal last year and this year and we need the government needs to be pressured more to take action.”

In addition to harsher conditions and ageing farmers, a heavy increase in wine consumption is also adding more pressure to the industry.

"People ask us whether we're looking at tapping into foreign markets but the truth is we can't even keep up with the local demand," said Cassar.

Cassar insisted that Marsovin did not want to go back to a situation similar to which the industry was in some 15 years ago, when a lot of grapes were imported.


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