Organic and territoriality

Apertura_portaleIn recent years organic vineyards are becoming more and more widespread worldwide and this organic enthusiasm marks a decisive step: the interest that so far concerned the final product is now accompanied by attention for both production process and its consequences. Now the phenomenon does not concern any longer just a type of alternative producers, but also very established and large companies. This is essential in order to (finally) understand what organic viticulture means and how it should be managed.
Organic is not the enchanted paradise that today the market idealizes (vague dream that can also disappear), but it is the most professional concrete method in order to make evolved agriculture and which just in quality viticulture finds the best chance for expressing its absolute convenience (giving a positive role model for the entire food industry, and not just this).

Increasing grape growers’ talent

Making viticulture means dealing with two aspects, variability and unexpected events (that is to say soil and weather). And it can be managed with more or less strong or gentle manners.
If a method based on strict protocols is followed, an aggressive (very self-confident) technique is imposed to the system in order to achieve the goals that were set: the strategies are little differentiated at the local level and the products are much standardized (this is industrial viticulture, either organic or not).
On the other hand, if the operators work to bring the system to be more self-sufficient, looking for the best solution in each case (a lot of sensitivity and experience are needed), the products are much more territorial (adapting to the year, terroir is revealed and conversely).
In the first case, the vineyards are increasingly less durable (in order to save one cent today, 10 ones will be spent tomorrow), working always in trouble and under stress (it is impossible to grow and reduce costs). In the second case, management becomes easier and safer over the years: grape growers’ talent increases, vineyards are more durable, and costs tend to decrease.

Method and goal cannot be separated

Income, quality and organic production cannot be pursued independently. Organic production is not the goal, but the means for achieving the goal itself, which is the income, without which the company closes. However, income is achieved only with quality, and quality is achieved only if the operators work well, enhancing native resources according to specific potentialities. Viticulture has always been related to the geographic origin: in short, the quality of a wine is given by its flavour profile in the absence of technical defects and with a strong territorial connotation (that depends on what / how much/ how vines can absorb from both soil and air). Vine is well suited in poor hills: if no local wines are produced, there is no reason to grow it in these uncomfortable places, because identical wines could be produced where work requires little effort and costs less.

What gives more territoriality to wine?

In order to produce a great territorial wine, it is not necessary to do something more, but something less. This means being able to create such conditions that the vineyard needs the least possible intervention (manual or mechanical, chemical or natural), so that its territorial imprinting is enhanced at the most. And only if no artificial molecules are introduced in the system its organoleptic characteristics depend essentially on native properties (cultivars and soil depending on the year).
So while industrial viticulture looks for solutions outside the vineyard (working on effects), terroir viticulture looks for solutions in the vineyard itself (working on causes).

Territoriality and phytoiatric problems

As parasites and pathogens from which we must defend ourselves move in the air, ignoring the boundary between the single properties, only thanks to coordinated action based on monitoring in all companies of an area it is possible to have maximum protection with minimal impact.
Fighting fungi and insects is easier, if things are considered in the same way they see them. For us a territory is the sum of the single properties (in which everyone works no matter what happens out), while for fungi and insects a territory is the set of single properties (that is to say prairie where they can freely roam). In order to make territorial viticulture, it is necessary to learn to think in terms of space and time that go beyond what it is possible to see and do every day in one’s company. The epidemiological models teach us to assess the development of more future events. Instead, often our mistake consists in considering single facts and moments as if they were independent, without connecting them with what happened / will happen in earlier / future times or in more or less close domains. By thinking in terms of spatiotemporal dynamic, it is possible to learn a lot by referring to those vineyards or parts of vineyards where natural vocation spontaneously guarantees both quality and health in continuous and easy way.

Protection: the crucial point of organic / non-organic matter

Diseases of vineyard are very different, but have some things in common: they certainly should be placed in relation to climate change, but also to some of our bad habits. The fact that direct chemical intervention is never definitely sustainable allows us to understand that we must work more on causes than on effects. Fighting a fungus or insect only with a fungicide or insecticide is equivalent to arm wrestle with nature, but this way we always lose (and with all fungi and insects that are present, we end up unleashing a world war in the vineyard). Diseases teach us to work better and be more present, accurate, and timely in order to increase the natural resistance of single plants, vineyard and surrounding environment. The suitable tools are:
– natural internal protection: less vigour (less susceptible tissues, with more responsive self-defence mechanisms, more airy microclimate of canopy);
– natural external protection: more biodiversity in both vineyard and surrounding environment (vacuum in nature does not exist, because it does not resist; it is necessary to occupy the places coveted by pathogen agents).

Agronomy comes before viticulture

Organic production begins from the good agricultural practices that all companies must adopt in order to do quality. However, we ourselves can be the main causes of deterioration of vineyards, with compacting and wounds caused by tractors and scissors. It is impossible to do without them, but they can be certainly used less and better. The way we see things must be changed: while watching a vineyard, we should not see plants with ground below them, but ground with plants above it. Viticulture (all agriculture) begins with knowledge and management of soil (the root is the brain of the plant). In some respects we have to learn to think about management of the soil of a vineyard as if it was an open field (agronomy comes before viticulture).

A matter of posture

For posture of the plant we can mean the relationship between its morphology and physiology. The vegetative-productive balance does not concern only the aerial part, but especially the root one. A good posture helps to avoid giving in to temptations (stress or excessive vigour), with greater natural resistance to diseases (in this a vital role is played by the small ecosystem that lives it, made up of helpful, harmful and indifferent endophytes and epiphytes, with territorial and even varietal specificity). In order to obtain a good posture (preferably bilateral) it is necessary not only to work the land (in order to avoid stimulating the vigour, which is already intense at the beginning of the season) and avoid leaving permanent scars with pruning. Especially during training stage, if obstacles are created to the smooth flow of lymph, the instability of plants is increased (the ones which were badly pruned are less tolerant to stress and give rise to the first focuses of infection). In the canopy management, the key actions are very early basal deleafing in pre-bloom stage (in order to strengthen the future bunches and slow down the vegetative exuberance before it has the upper hand) and not topping (in order to avoid awakening the juvenile phase in advanced age, when the plant must already enter the accumulation stage).
In terms of vineyard, the ideal posture must be sought with careful management of available water resources (grassing with long cuttings in order to create long lasting dry mulch) and reduction of the distance between plants in the row (higher competition between plants, reduced competition on plant).
The permanent natural grassing (run with autumn decompacting of tracks and slight localized subsoiling along the row in pre-germination stage and / or early summer) increases the specific biodiversity and models the response of plants according to the different nature of soils. Composting of runners, stems and pomace is a very important tool for revitalizing soils in territorial key. Planting density rules group physiology: by determining the amount of space available for every single plant, it regulates rooting depth, balance of each plant (left gems / useful buds ratio), productivity, and longevity of the vineyard.
The right combination of all these factors allows having more resistant and more self-sufficient plants, with less vigour and less variability in the vineyard.

Vine is a particular plant: on the one hand it has large vegetative energy (with the growth of shoots in the first part of the season) and on the other hand it is characterized by big potential for accumulation (with both maturation and reintegration of reserve materials). In practice it is a little cicada and a little ant. When the cultivation techniques enhance at the beginning cicada stage (fertilization, working of the soil, irrigation, cordon pruning…), they must then implement drastic measures in order to contain the excess of vigour (too many treatments, toppings, thinning …) and this way they increase susceptibility, risk, cost and impact. Viticulture, in order to give quality continuously and be economically and ecologically sustainable, must begin with the aim of transforming cicada into ant.

In organic viticulture it is impossible to make miracles, but it is possible to work very well according to these premises:
– Soil = more oxygen and more microorganisms
– Vine = more roots and less scars
– Defence = territorial monitoring and control.
The general management is based on two levels:
REMOTE PREVENTION: depending on the SOIL = a strong sensitivity is needed for the different soil characteristics and their localized variability.
TIMELY ACTIONS: depending on the WEATHER = here it is necessary to have a great ability to interpret promptly the course of the season.
By means of remote prevention, timely actions are run in a better way, facing more effectively and with less impact the ordinary problems (defence from downy mildew and oidium, loading and quality of grapes per plant…) and extraordinary ones (chronic deterioration of vineyards with vigour here and there, esca disease and other systemic diseases…).

The harvesting choice is strength of territorial viticulture: the correct posture increases the average company standard in all the vineyards, and by saving in the ordinary management economic margins are created to make selective harvests (in different spaces and times).

Article by Ruggero Mazzilli – Stazione Sperimentale per la Viticoltura Sostenibile (Panzano in Chianti, FIRENZE – I)

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