22 Oct The quality of wine. Chapter XIX
Winter is over and I think it was a good one. There wasn’t any snow, but it was cold, which is very important for limiting the spread of pathogen agents for vines and olives, as well as those harmful to man.
We were able to hoe all the vines, olives and other crops in the garden, thus refining the soil and ridding it of weeds (couch grass, etc.), which cause a lot of damage to the existing plants. We managed to do all the other work in very good time; we manured in winter, pruned and disinfected after 8th February with the vines perfectly dormant.
Spring has arrived, even though the temperature is still low in the morning and evening. As usual, I saw the first signs of spring in the cellar, with the last vintage of wine, which has long finished malolactic fermentation and is the only the wine that is evolving and feels the spring. At the same time the garden has reawoken and the viburnum, hawthorn, Spiraea, Syringa (lilac), clematis, jasmine, prunus trees and many other plants are in blossom; it is like a symphony paying homage to the various instruments in an orchestra (I think Vivaldi is one of the most exciting composers). We are ready to sow melliferous plants under the 4 hectares of vineyards to increase the number of bees at Case Basse. We already have a lot of them in the 2-hectare garden that my wife, Graziella, looks after, but we would like more, not to make honey, but to give the bees the chance to live and reproduce (which I believe is of vital importance to the natural ecosystem) in an uncontaminated environment, where weedkillers, chemical and systemic fertilizers or other pollutants have never been used. To this end, beehives without frames are used; this is an experiment that will be the subject of studies over the years and will increase the symbiosis and naturalness of the vineyard, woods, garden and olive grove environments within the Soldera Case Basse system, with the aim of obtaining constant excellence over time. We are well aware that all of this can only be achieved if the soil and climate are suitable for enhancing the quality of the plants we want to grow; without these requirements, you cannot obtain products of excellence, but only low-quality products that do not feel the effects of climate, soil, naturalness, diversity, health, man’s skill, knowledge, culture, studies and scientific research that all have a great effect on this.
A product that can be easily copied and is always the same is bound to be a low-quality product and lacking the indispensable requirements for a high-value product: rarity, uniqueness, diversity, typicity and recognisability.
It is essential that the universities follow, control and certify all the significant stages of the process; man cannot give his best without continually increasing his knowledge and this can only happen with controls (being controlled and continually measuring yourself against others is the best way to make fewer mistakes) and the comfort of having someone with a wider experience and knowledge and, above all, with a general knowledge of the problems facing vinegrowers every day. It is also important to be able to experiment and research with collaborators and tools that vinegrowers may not have access to.
In this context, I would like to thank my friend, Mario Fregoni, who had the wonderful idea of setting up an award for young researchers nearly 9 years ago, to complement university studies that we have always financed. In 2016 we celebrated the 7th anniversary, culminating on 8th March 2017 with the award ceremony for the winners held in Montecitorio’s Sala della Lupa (the room where our Constitution was signed). The president, Prof. Fregoni, awarded Graziella Roncaglioni Soldera a diploma of merit for ornamental biodiversity. I was pleased that the joint first prize was awarded to Dr Elena Piva and Dr Marco Bragolusi for their research “A non-targeted holistic approach to the characterization of wines” and to Dr Ginevra Marzucchi for her research entitled “Application of quantitative real-time PCR to assess the efficiency of a simplified DNA extraction protocol from wine”, on International Women’s Day (the date of the award ceremony was not foreseeable when the classification was decided), underlining the importance of women in studies and research in the wine field. I would also like to recall the great Aristophanes, who wrote the play Lysistrata (the Army Disbander), in 411 B.C., who convinced Greek women to go on a sex strike, forcing the men to end the extremely long Peloponnesian war which was killing off their husbands and sons, demonstrating that women had the power to change the politics of nations even in a period of servitude and total dependence on men.
On the subject of vine growing, Prof Mario Fregoni has published a very important article in the journal VQ: “The thinking heads of the vine” – The vine has two brains. Knowing and taming them is fundamental for obtaining quality results in viticulture. These two critical areas are at the two extremities of the plant: the vegetative and root apices. Moreover, the cells of these apices, which carry out meristematic functions (cell division, therefore growth), have recently been identified as stem cells, like human or animal ones. The two nerve centres are subjected to two opposite attractions: those of the vegetative apices of the shoots towards light (positive phototropism) and those of the root apices towards the earth’s centre (positive geotropism). Therefore, the sun, light and earth exercise an attraction that allows photosynthesis and water and mineral absorption. It follows that management of the canopy and root apparatus influences plant physiology and fruit quality.
For example, trimming the vegetative apices, which multiplies the thinking heads at the top (with the production of other apices), inasmuch as the vine cannot remain acephalous. But how do the opposite apices, at the roots, respond? They cannot be pruned and multiplied, however they can be encouraged by choosing soils that allow maximum root development (double that of the canopy), especially deep down, where water absorption is more constant and mineral absorption is different to that on the surface.
Surface growth of roots (wet, fertile, clayey and compact soils) is unnatural and goes against the geotropic tap-root angle. The rupestris, with a narrow geotropic angle, has been a great rootstock, able to give lots of mineral character to wines. The use of rootstocks with wide geotropic angles has been a mistake, caused by the need to adapt vines to unsuitable soils.
The selection of tap-rooted rootstocks could reverse the general tendency and give deeper roots. Surface roots encourage high shoot vigour and deep roots give moderate vigour and therefore quality. This basically means that the activity of the shoot apices depends on the structure and nature of the soil. Poor, stony, loose, deep soils that allow roots to develop a natural attraction towards the centre of the earth are ideal for obtaining a balance between the root apices and shoot apices. Balanced vineyards do not need much shoot thinning, especially vine topping, and their growth stops at veraison.
These considerations enable us to reaffirm that a suitable terroir is still an indispensable condition for obtaining quality. In this terroir, the climate (sun) and the soil are dominant factors in the mechanism that determines the genius loci, i.e. the nature of a place that creates the highest quality, based on the balance between the extreme thinking heads of the vine.
I believe that knowing the writer’s well-reasoned concepts is absolutely essential for every vine worker who wants to produce grapes suitable to be made into an excellent wine; I would also suggest buying the most important book on grape quality: “Viticoltura di qualità” (Quality Viticulture) by Prof. Mario Fregoni.
We can’t talk about quality without dealing with human health and therefore praising the “Mediterranean Diet”, a source of wellbeing. We must never forget that we are what we eat and drink and that inflammation, illness and various ailments are due to stress and pollution, but above all what we eat and drink. But first of all it is necessary to know how natural and healthy the raw materials are which are used to make the food and drinks we consume; there are raw materials rich in antioxidant substances but if these raw materials are grown with pesticides, weedkillers and pollutants what effect do they have on the product we eat?
This is one of the themes we are carrying forward with research and specific studies.
What do you think?
P.S.: excuse my continual quotes but the ceremony of 8th March 2017 in Rome was really exciting for me.