|Trees and hedges in between vineyards|
A few days ago, while walking in the Barla vineyard, I watched the wild flowers that for at least twenty years have grown in different spaces with a precise positioning that allows them to share in the environment’s micro variability that eludes me. So, accompanied by the enveloping scent of violets, I found myself by chance remembering memories of my youth when, just a researcher at Sant’Angelo Lodigiano, I was quickly introduced to the world of research at the Roshamsted Experimental Station (UK), the oldest active research station in the world. Here, they were researching, among other things, grassland systems that had been stable for over a century… along with a soil science for sustainable agriculture that could be traced back to the year 1620.
|Wild flora in the vineyard|
It was only after a few years that I began to better understand this world and the fact that biological complexity is the norm, while agriculture moves away from this, making instead the planting of a few species the norm, thus rendering the system more fragile and delivering artifice and inadequate ‘agronomic’ interventions for a comprehensive economic benefit (environment and land considered). But if I look at what the ‘school’ of agronomy has taught for the past fifty years, I conclude that almost all crops and livestock breeding methods have followed this logic of ‘simplification’: fields that are increasingly filled with monocultures including orchards and vineyards with high varietal selections. I am not versed in the world of animal husbandry, which follows the same logic with paradoxical situations… but I want to at least mention Michael Pollan, who with The Omnivore’s Dilemma starts a chapter with a thousand ways of looking at a pasture’. To quote him: “the cow opens her lips moist and fleshy, his rough tongue is rolled around the clump of clover… then will devote his attention to the fescues… the grass is at the base of the food chain but beneath it is the soil that houses a community of unprecedented wealth…”.
|The butterfly as an indicator of a healthy environment|
Plants (that can’t be moved!) continuously activate coping mechanisms, i.e. produce defences (= metabolites) to counteract environmental stresses and those produced by man. Many of these metabolites are favourable for those who nurture them… all herbs and fruits have beneficial properties and are the true pharmacopoeia for animals and us. The most important metabolites produced by the grapes are those found in the skin (which protect the seeds and thus the vine’s reproduction). We’re talking about polyphenols in general, stilbene, resveratrol… all substances that protect the grapes from some diseases and are beneficial to our health.
These mechanisms can foster a cultivation that’s more attentive to the complexity established in a vineyard. Taking good care of the land reinforces nutritional symbiosis like mycorrhizaA mycorrhiza is a symbiotic association composed of a fungus and roots of a vascular plant. In a mycorrhizal association, the fungus colonizes the host plant’s roots, either intracellularly as in arbuscular mycorrhizal and better fights diseases, resulting in more natural harmonies within the physiology of the plants, producing grapes and wines with more complexity, harmony, taste and health benefits.
The world of wine, almost by necessity, is partly exempt from the insane objective of mass production because it’s managed to profit from other factors such as the beauty of the place to defeat the impoverishment of taste, to create emotions and intangible values and restore the goodness of places and products offered in conjunction with the best use of soil resource: a true ‘celebration of life’.
|Intercropping between vine and grasses|
This value is the true origin of wine in its strongest expression, which must be understood and pursued with commitment and knowledge.
It would therefore be expected that Italian vineyards, the gardens of rare complexity, could find new production energy for a more solid, lasting and forward-looking economy.