What is Sustainable Wine?

The concept of sustainable wine gained ground in the1960s as a result of the irrational industrialization of the farmscape and of the irresponsible consumption of natural resources. What took shape was the idea that it was possible to create a new agriculture, one that could satisfy human needs but be more repectful of the environment and of human health. Decades of research and devlopment have made it possible to build a solid conceptual base that promises enormous potential even into the future.

Making sustainable wine means working in a way whose purpose is the preservation of our natural resources for future generations. That implies a reasoned selection of the currently most suitable, experientially-tested practices (taken from tradition or from the best innovations), that will make it possible to obtain excellent-quality products with, at the same time, the lowest-possible negative impact on the environment. It is based on a concept of integrated viticulture, that means in a holistic conception of the whole production process and the surrounding environment.

In this conception we do no longer look at defense as a relationship only between disease and plant (and to spray some substance to kill the responsible cause). With the deepening of biological studies, it has been understood that the development of an infection depends on a far more complex system of factors. In addition to the couple formed by a susceptible host and a virulent parasite, there intervene also environmental conditions, coexistence time, micro fauna and surrounding flora ... Trying to act also on these factors, we can find more sustainable ways of defense.

Our own set of sustainable practices had its origin with the establishment of our winery. From there, it grew and organisationally improved, thanks to our participation in one of the first and most comprehensive projects in Italy, Magis, founded in 2009, which connected together numerous research centres, universities, and wineries in order to put together a detailed protocol for practices and monitoring.

Integrated viticulture
It attempts to solve viticultural problems, with an overview of the whole production and ecological process, by bringing together the best approaches and selecting the most appropriate for effective functionality and the least-negative impact on the environment. It privileges organic treatments and agronomic systems (able to prevent adversity or reduce the conditions favorable to their development) , and in cases where these lack effectiveness, the focused, minimal use of substances that biodegrade rapidly in the environment. One of the important element is the concept of precision viticulture, that means, to make any intervention in a precise way and differentiated (only where needed, when needed and in a different way according to the needs of each micro-zone), introducing accurate control systems. It is not a permanently-fixed system but one in continuous evolution and improvement, with the continuous development of research in the sector.
Ecology of the vineyard
The great leap in quality in defense, which led to the birth of integrated viticulture, has been due precisely to the development, from the 1950s onwards, of knowledge on the biology of plants and pathogenic organisms, especially on their physiology and on the mechanisms of interaction between them and with other organisms. Decades of studies have increasingly underscored the importance of the management of the vineyard as a complex ecosystem. An integrated ecological system, the various “actors,” or active factors, intervene in a substantial fashion in the nutrient cycle, in ensuring soil quality, and in containment of damaging parasites and diseases.
Protection of biodiversity
Biodiversity is important not only ecologically but agronomically; the richness of flora in the vineyard and its surroundings encourages the presence in the vineyard of micro-fauna that can contain vine-damaging parasites. Micro-organisms in the soil—bacteria and mushrooms, alone and in symbiosis with the roots, the so-called mycorrhizae —break down organic substances and supply mineral elements to the vine roots. Worms, though their digestion, modify bacteria and protozoa populations, quality-select fungi, improve water and oxygen supply in the soil, and encourage flora growth and development of micro-organisms that can combat agents harmful to vine root systems.
Protection of the life of the soil
The soil quality is fundamental to the vitality and health of the vines. Intensive working of vineyard soils has been shown to be counterproductive in the long run, because it increasingly degrades soil characteristics and therefore requires ever greater soil inputs. Viceversa, a well-managed ground cover and a high degree of biodiversity improve vineyard balance over time. We protect the soil avoiding any buildup of pollutants in the soil and in the water acquifers, thanks to low-impact, constantly-monitored interventions. In fact, we regularly check the status of the soil, evaluating the degree of compaction, absence of residues, and biodiversity index.
Defense of natural habitat and of the landscape
Sustainable management ensures that the vineyard is not an element totally extraneous to its surrounding environment, through reduced impact on the landscape. Ecologically-sensitive management of our vineyards makes them “green corridors” that small animals can pass through, as they move about the growing area and in the surrounding woods. This does not mean that we do not need to protect the vineyards from potentially-damaging animals, in our case wild boar, which is possible only by fencing. We use low mesh fences, however, which has openings that allow non-threatening fauna to pass through. In addition, we have protected the countryside by constructing our cellar underground, by the modest size of each vineyard, and by alternating them with woods, hedgerows, and other crops. Finally, the low impact of our viticultural treatments is not a source of pollutants for the surrounding countryside.
Water quality and consumption
Optimal water resources management is one of the key factors that ensure that a particular activity is sustainable. Vineyards do not require large amounts of water, as long as they are sited appropriately in the environment (as ours is) where the irrigation is not necessary. Even with respect to our garden spaces and to our green roof we chose to use native species with very limited water requirements: olive trees and other species from the Mediterranean scrub ecosystem. Winemaking operations, on the other hand, require a high consumption of water, particularly for washing equipment and general cleanliness. We therefore designed a rainwater capture and recycling system that allowed us to reduce this consumption. The quality of our local water tables, on the other hand, is preserved by the practice of integrated viticulture, which involves constant monitoring and analysis of the status of environmental water resource. Finally, we also have in the cellar a wastewater purifier.
Energy efficiency
Another cardinal principle of sustainability is energy conservation, that we have reduced to the essentials by creating an underground cellar, where we need no air condition. It maintains, in a natural way, temperatures and humidity suitable for wine. Other areas of intervention concern the creation of well-designed light wells, to illuminate the most experienced working areas with sunlight (where it is possible), the reduction of work in the vineyard thanks to integrated viticulture, the low use of technology in the cellar, use of low energy-use machinery and lighting fixtures with low energy consumption.
The principle of bio-architecture, which inspired our winecellar, brings together various cardinal tenets of sustainability. Since it is underground, the cellar is totally respectful of the landscape. Being underground means not having to rely on energy inputs for conditioning thermally a large part of our internal spaces; in fact, it enjoys an appropriate temperature and humidity all year round. Natural lighting of work-intensive spaces is achieved through carefully-designed light wells. Next to the cellar is a rainwater capture and recycling system that conserves water resources. Finally, wastewater is purified by a biodigestion system.
Economic and social sustainability
An activity is sustainable if it can be self-sufficient, guaranteeing an income, that is, to those involved in it, without excessive production costs. Sustainable agriculture does not abstract from the social aspects of an activity, which are, for example, its relationship with the growing area, with those who live and work there, with the cultural assets that are handed down and disseminated. It places great importance on respect for workers’ rights and health—safety on the job, personal respect, and professional training.