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Giovanni Bigot from Friuli is an expert in organic viticulture, he advises wineries and associations in Italy and other countries. The agronomist has developed an innovative method to measure the qualitative potential of a vineyard with a smartphone app: the "Bigot Index".

What exactly do you mean by the Bigot Index?

Giovanni Bigot: The index gives winemakers the chance to evaluate their vineyards objectively. It is based on nine internationally recognised agronomic factors that influence grape quality. Until now, these individual aspects were each considered separately. The index takes them all into account at the same time. This is new. It shows the winegrower precisely where there is still room for improvement. Through appropriate work in the vineyard, the quality of the later wine can thus sometimes be improved. The rating scale ranges from 0 to 100 points.

What are the factors and how are they measured?

Giovanni Bigot: The nine parameters are: Cane yield, canopy surface area, ratio between canopy surface area and canopy yield, grape health, grape morphology - i.e. how loose or compact the grapes are -, water stress, vigour, biodiversity and finally vineyard age. The individual factors are measured by the winemaker himself and the values are entered into the monitoring app "4Grapes" that I developed. These entries are easy and quick to make, and they provide reliable results. Once all the data has been collected, it is sent to my colleagues and me. We calculate the index from it.

The monitoring app "4 Grapes": fast, simple, reliable

How does working with the app work?

Giovanni Bigot: After the app is installed, one should look at the manual and the short video tutorials on how to measure the individual factors. Unfortunately, hardly anyone is able to carry out the observations in the vineyard properly nowadays, there is a lot of catching up to do. However, the app can be used by several employees of a winery at the same time, and the data is synchronised in real time. This is particularly advantageous on larger farms where several people look after the vineyards.

Can you give a concrete example of an investigation?

Giovanni Bigot: Take the water stress factor, for example. We use the Apex method developed in France, which determines the vine's water balance by visually inspecting the tips of the shoots. Is the shoot tip longer than the two uppermost unfolded leaves when you fold them up? Or is it partially or completely covered by them? Or is the shoot tip wilted or withered, are the basal leaves additionally yellow or withered? These are the typical signs of different levels of water stress: no stress, mild and medium stress, severe and extreme stress. For white varieties, light water stress, and for red varieties, medium water stress is conducive to quality. For a meaningful measurement, I examine 30 to 50 shoot tips in a plot and enter the respective result into the app. After about five minutes, the observation is complete.

How do I know when and how often to take the measurements and how much time it takes?

Giovanni Bigot: The app informs the winegrower via push notifications. There is also a calendar that shows which observations should ideally be made when. If the monitoring is carried out as recommended, it comes to about 180 minutes per year and vineyard.

Can a German-speaking winemaker also use the app?

Giovanni Bigot: Of course. Apart from Italian, the app is available in six other languages, including English. I think most people can do that. But a German version is planned.

Back to the index: at what score can winemakers be satisfied with the quality of their vineyard?

Giovanni Bigot: Vineyards with a score of 70-75 points make good wines. The highest score calculated so far is 92 points. For the calculation of the index, I used as a basis the tasting results from 1,000 vineyards where the values of all nine factors were known. I combined them with the findings of international research on the influence on the respective factors. In this way I was able to establish the correlation between the parameters of the vineyard and the wine.

Giovanni Bigot at his favourite workplace, the vineyard

How did you come up with the idea?

Giovanni Bigot: This started twenty years ago. At that time I was looking for a way to collect my observations in the vineyard, archive them and retrieve them at any time. I used a programmable GPS handheld device for this. Over time, a database of 80,000 georeferenced observations from 3,000 different vineyards in Italy and other countries was created. For me, all this has always been about how the vineyard affects the wine quality.

So you initially only used this approach for your work?

Giovanni Bigot: Yes, in the first few years it did. Because it proved to be very useful, I developed a monitoring app that others can also use. It has been available since 2015. Then, at the beginning of 2020, I made the Bigot Index publicly available. A big part of the work was to weight the influence that the different parameters have on the overall result of the index. Depending on the factor, it ranges between five and 30 per cent. The index not only shows the overall result, but also provides information about the value of the individual parameters. This shows which area can still be improved.

It's about aspects that the winemaker can influence through his actions. How does the age of the vineyard fit into this, since the influence is at most of a long-term nature?

Giovanni Bigot: True, but the age of the vines is an important factor. When you are aware of this, you think twice about uprooting an old vineyard just because, for example, yields have declined or because the tramlines are too narrow for the new tractor. Old vines are in a natural equilibrium, there is neither water overabundance nor great water stress, their grapes are always looser, the fruit thicker-skinned than young plants and much more.

How many winegrowers use your app "4Grapes"? I read that Angelo Gaja is already working with your index.

Giovanni Bigot: Yes, that's right, I've been working with Angelo Gaja for a few years. He is very interested in a new way of viticulture with precise, calibrated management. Gaja's Nebbiolo site San Lorenzo is one of the first eight vineyards in Italy to achieve a Bigot index of over 90 points. The app is now used by around 1,300 winegrowers for monitoring, but not all of them use it to calculate the index. After all, the tool not only collects the data required for the index, but also makes a total of 150 different measurements in the vineyard possible. For winegrowers who want to learn more about it, there has also been the digital "Academy 4Grapes" since the end of 2020, with which I teach vineyard monitoring.

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