Planting the vineyard
The planting of the vineyard is the birth of that vineyard, and it is crucial to make the right decisions based on the nature of the terroir. This entails the selection of which grape varieties to grow, clones, and rootstocks. Our own vineyard layouts are quite dense—some 8,000 vines per hectare--, in order to ensure the best-quality crop per vine.
Selection of the training system is an important factor in grape quality and it should be established during the first years of the vineyard’s growth. The history of Italian viticulture has produced a significant number of systems, more than 40, although the ones in use today ae those that have proven to yield the best quality. Our own vines are trained to the bi-lateral spurred cordon and Guyot systems, depending on grape variety, two systems that make possible high-quality fruit and optimal performance of vineyard operations.
Soil management is crucial for overall soil quality and for vine balance in general. We chose spontaneous cover-cropping for its numerous benefits. It encourages a natural balance, since in cooler seasons it helps avoid water and nutritional excess—the grass competes with the vines--, while in the summer, when water is scrarce, the grass dries spontanteously (it has a very shallow root system). The grass contributes to increasing biodiversity, since it supplies an attractive habitat for beneficial micro-fauna, whose many species flourish at different periods. Not working the soil means fewer entries into the vineyard, which thus prevents problems of soil compaction.This in turn brings better soil gas balance and organic matter supply, which favour development of soil components—mycorrhizae, bacteria, worms. Finally, a cover crop protects against erosion by rain and wind and prevents ponding on the ground.
A high biodiversity index is an important component of organic viticulture. It favours vineyard balance, since it positively impacts the recycling of organic matter, nutritional supply to the vine, disease and parasite control, soil quality, and the water cycle. We favour biodiversity, thanks to the low impact of its vineyard interventions, one result of spontaneous cover-cropping and the nearby presence of hedges and woods.
The biodiversity index is based on a combination of various parameters that can also provide us with an evaluation of vineyard health. For example, the number of herbaceous plants and of worms and the nitrogren balance calculation are overall indicators of soil quality. The number of carabids, a family of beetles that are a key link in the food chain, makes possible a general estimate of the biodiversity of insects in the vineyard. The number of worms and springtails, on the other hand, are sensitive reflections of the copper content in soil.
The grapevine is not a demanding plant. Its requirements vary, depending on climate, soil, grape variety, rootstock, seasonal weather conditions, and vineyard management. In our own vineyard, a significant organic soil enrichment comes from the mulching of grass cuttings and from vine-pruning cuttings—chopped up right in the vine-rows--, which enriches the soil with nitrogen, calcium, and potassium in particular. A high biodiversity index favours mineralisation and correct nutrient distribution. Any supplementary fertilisation is, therefore, neither regular nor casual, but performed only when necessary and in a precision fashion.
Protection of the vine
The European grapevine is sensitive to numerous diseases, of animal or fungal origin, that can seriously compromise grape quantity and quality. We follow the principles of integrated viticuture, which is based on the best proceures of organic management and of defensive measures that have the lowest-possible impact on the environment, and on agronomic practices. It means intervening in the vineyard in a very focused and minimal manner (precision viticulture), and only when required and without dispersal of substances used. This approach allows us to combine maximum efficiency in defense of the vinyeyard with minimum impact on the surrounding environment. Here too, such interventions are very depending on the seasonal weather conditions.
Among the operations required to assist the vine towards a state of harmonious balance, the most important of all is pruning. In the winter, when the vine in in repose, the previous year’s canes are cut off, leaving a certain number of buds, which are carefully evaluated. Leaving too many buds will result in an excessive crop, while leaving too few will cause too-vigorous growth of the vegetation, subtracting energy from ripening the clusters. The pruning operation will vary from vine to vine, and can ony be done by hand and by experienced experts.
The growing vine tends to continuousy extend its canes (apical dominance). Over time however, the leaves at the base age and lose their efficiency in photosynthesis. Hedging, or cutting off the tips of the shoots, helps to contain that growth and to stimulate lateral buds, which form new young leaves that are quite efficient. Hedging thus provides new energy to the vine, to encourage ripening. How and when to perform hedging depends on the seasonal weather and vine-growth patterns.
Some clusters are removed before ripening, to control the crop load on the vine. This is a decision that must be very carefully weighed. The number of clusters, in fact, varies from year to year, and it is important that the overall crop be moderated in order to achieve high final grape quality. It is also true, however, that excessive thinning may be counterproductive in hot areas or seasons, since this can cause unbalanced grapes, with too much alcohol or concentration, and too-rapid ripening.
Towards the end of the ripening stage, it can prove useful to remove some leaves from each vine to ensure that every cluster is well-exposed to sunlight and that there is good air circulation in the fruit zone. This helps to prevent onset of rot and mould, particularly in humid periods. Leaf-pulling can be skipped or reduced in drier seasons and where there is intense sunlight, since excessive exposure could sunburn and damage the cluster.
The selection of the moment to start the harvest is crucial for wine quality. Picking too early or too late risks wasting all the hard work done through the entire year. For this reason, we very carefully monitor the ripening level of every single micro-zone. The decision to pick is the result of various parameters: laboratory analysis (levels of sugar, acidity, pH, and colour), tasting the grapes (to judge the ripeness of the tannins, aromas, etc.), and experience. The grapes of each homogenous micro-zone are then picked as rapidly as possible.
Vineyard experimentation and research
We support research and experimentation by the University of Milan and other research centres, by operating directly on the vineyards, or on a section “lent for research.” In general, this consists of in-vineyard testing that leads to the development and improvement of integrated and sustained viticulture practices. We believe in research and development, and we actively support it in order to continuously improve viticulture and the quality of our own efforts.