Resonant Technology’s Marco Poggianella Helps Wine Grapes Resist Climate Change
Marco Poggianella, Founder and CEO of Resonant Technology, has his heart on his sleeve when it comes to his commitment to sustainable agriculture initiatives. At the very least, he wears that commitment on his lapel. The rainbow pin it sports is emblematic of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: the 17 pillars with a 2030 deadline that serve as a model for sustainability measures around the world.
In fact, he literally puts his money where he talks when it comes to sustainable winemaking: “I think it was Oscar Wilde who said you should never drink bad wine,” he says. . “I like to have an extraordinary wine, of course, but today I like to drink a sustainable wine more.”
Poggianella’s company, Resonant, is a force in helping wineries commit to sustainability. Resonant’s technology and agricultural products are approved for use in sustainable vineyard management and are designed to improve the resilience of wine grapes, especially in the face of climate change. As an Italian native and a physicist, Pogianella found the wine business to be the ideal intersection of science and passion where he could put his expertise to work.
Recently, he spoke at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in Glasgow, Scotland, about how technology can address sustainability in agriculture to feed a planet that is rapidly approaching 10 billion citizens: “Initiatives like the Green New Deal that will push farmers to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers are important,” he says, “but once that’s done…so what? This reduces yield. If I’m a farmer, I don’t want to reduce the yield. I want to feed the planet.
VinePair spoke to Poggianella about the development of Resonant, its application and its importance to the future of wine.
1. What was the impetus behind starting Resonant?
I have spent the last 20 years of my life studying the link between the microbiome and plant microorganisms. Soil quality has a lot to do with the presence of microorganisms, fungi and bacteria. Plants need macronutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, but microorganisms are the key for plants to process these nutrients. My goal with Resonant was to create a better alliance – a better synergy – between plant roots and these microorganisms, as well as to introduce new elements and nutrients into the soil. I wanted to create an approach to this type of agriculture that has both a short-term and a long-term vision because producers need to have the best harvest possible. At the same time, it is important to build, year after year, better soil, which means a better future for them.
2. What led you to focus on the wine industry? Were the wine grapes particularly receptive to this technology?
As an Italian, wine is part of my tradition, and wine and food are essential in our culture. Wine is so important because if I remember all the stages of my life, there was always wine to celebrate. As a scientist, I realized how difficult it could be in the future to continue making great wine where it has always been produced, and I felt a mission to help. Maybe other crops like corn, soybeans, or rice are easier to work with because they’re more industrialized, and when you find a solution that works, you can just scale it up. In the vineyards, you have to understand the biodiversity of the different grape varieties and the different grape varieties, and the challenge of finding solutions is greater.
3. How did you develop this technology?
Developing agricultural solutions is a matter of interpreting nature, which is sometimes difficult to do because we are part of that nature too, and it can be difficult to see things in a clear perspective. In our studies, we have found that 35-40% of all available plant energy, after photosynthesis, is returned to the soil. So you have to ask yourself, “Why? Why is this incredible force – instead of being directed entirely at the leaves, fruits, or vines – used to enrich the soil? This is called the microbial loop. As humans, we focus more on other factors, such as yield, but plants know what they need most, so they keep feeding the soil. Our goal was to interpret what plants do naturally and try to improve the system already in place.
4. Can you explain how this technology works?
Our products work not so much to deliver nutrients, as fertilizers do, but to create a type of stimulus and activity in the soil. That’s the difference between vitamins and probiotics, to put it in human terms. There are already nutrients and microorganisms in the soil; the challenge is to make the most of what exists. Resonant products stimulate the growth of secondary and tertiary roots and allow the plant on the one hand, and the soil microorganisms on the other, to interact in a more symbiotic way. Plants that have been treated with Resonant products are able to better utilize scarce water resources and access soil nutrients. Then over time, the more you use the product, the more you start to create these increasingly complex and robust root systems. This itself helps add more nutrients to the soil. So not only have you created a plant that is more able to take advantage of the nutrients in it, but you have also created a plant that is able to create more nutrients.
5. What role has climate change played in the development of Resonant products?
I am an optimistic person, but it is impossible to ignore that we are currently seeing the effects of climate change on the wine industry. In California last year growers had huge problems with drought, heat stress, etc. In Europe, we had frost after two months of super hot conditions. All these events create a lot of stress in the vines; too much stress. And the result is that they are not able to produce great grapes. The technology was developed for exactly this; to create a better resilience of the vine thanks to the action of the soil.
Ultimately, we want to create wine, but not just for this year — for years and years. Improving the resilience of vines can help them continue to exist in the places where they currently grow. Sometimes we joke about Swedish Amarone or Alaskan Cabernet. But if you speak with an academic who studies climate change, this might actually be the future. Thus, the goal of this technology is to find a way to maintain these grape varieties where they currently grow, in the face of the growing challenge of climate change.
6. Have winegrowers been very receptive to this?
The dryness makes them definitely receptive. There was a National Academy of Sciences study in 2020 that indicated the wine industry is the canary in the coal mine when it comes to climate change. It is easy to see the problem of viticulture with climate change, more than other sectors. It’s also what makes terroir so important in winemaking, because grapes are able to express different conditions so dramatically.
The first winemakers we approached seven years ago were very skeptical, but as a planet, we didn’t talk about climate change and sustainability as much then as we do now. The first year we didn’t have the best results, so we had to adapt the product and tweak it. After six years, we’ve had great results with vineyards in Europe and California, so now it’s easier to talk about sustainability, reducing chemical fertilizers and climate change.
7. How can you measure the success of the technology and products you offer?
Unfortunately, last summer in California was the ultimate test of whether we could help grow grapes without water. The results were devastating, which as a scientist is what you want. We had a very clear experiment, based on control, with certain plots of vines treated with our products, and others without. With the untreated block, the grapes turned into raisins, while with the treated block, we had incredibly hearty fruit. What happened in California and France last year was amazing if you approach viticulture from the perspective of sustainability science; not so surprising if you are in the business of making fine grapes. But what we are doing is trying to help these plants survive in these conditions. When the vine’s vascular system works well [but] gets too hot, the plant is still able to circulate nutrients, which will save the clusters, foliage and hold the canopy in place for shade. In the end, that’s what those roots and all that microbial activity do; it’s creating a much healthier plant. The fact that it has the potential to also create more yield for winemakers and even better tasting wine is a bonus.
8. For you and Resonant, what is the goal in terms of sustainability?
I think we have to fight to maintain our ability to produce, to improve and to be better in the world in terms of sustainability, and sustainability is a word with a lot of meaning. For me, it is definitely the environment of today and tomorrow. Of course, there is a social aspect, working to change behavior and reduce pollutants as much as possible. The third [and] perhaps the most important aspect of sustainability is based on economics. The farmer must stay in business. Some of them have big profit margins, some less, and so we want to help everyone with the economic part – making good wine, continuing to help the environment and helping with the social factors. It’s a win-win situation.
When we first started developing these products, we called our company SOP – Save Our Planet – but that was not necessarily the winemakers’ goals, and that’s what caused some skepticism at the start of our project. When we became Resonant, we didn’t change the mission; it is the same. It’s more important than the winegrowers we help. I want my Amarone and my Cabernet, but I also want my great-grandson to have the chance to have them too in his future.
This story is part of VP Pro, our free content platform and newsletter for the beverage industry, covering wine, beer and spirits – and beyond. Sign up for VP Pro now!