When the vineyard doesn’t make grapes
“Old vineyard makes good wine” says the proverb but only by following three main rules: replace failures, maintain the structure, renew the cordon
“The old vines do not make grapes” say many producers and so they uproot it. But it is a mistake. By doing so, they will never produce excellent wines and there is also a way to keep them well. The more the years pass, the more failures increase and the more problems arise related to viruses, damage caused by cultivation tools or neglect in maintaining structures, or errors in soil management. This is especially true for those who use chemicals that reduce the vitality of the earth or heavy tools that compact the soil and asphyxiate the roots. Practices that push the root system of the vines upwards also have similar effects, making them vulnerable to water stress.
MAINTENANCE AND RESTORATION OF THE OLD VINEYARDS
The maintenance and restoration of the old vineyards have been studied by Alberto Palliotti and Lucia Giordano, from the University of Perugia who have published an interesting article on VVQ Vigne, Vini e Qualità. Losing a bud per plant in a vineyard with a density of 5,000 vines means having 0,7 to 1,7 tons of grapes less. And that is a lot.
However, to produce excellent wines it is essential to have adult vineyards and therefore the problem of maintaining them over time must be taken very seriously. There are three interventions to be considered: replacement of dead plants, annual maintenance of the structures, rejuvenation.
REPLACEMENT OF LOSSES IN THE VINEYARD
I assure you it is a real battle. Convincing the grape growers to do the “complantation” requires a work of conviction similar to that of the ambassadors to the UN. For years, in Italy, the practice of replanting vineyards every 25 years had spread and it is difficult to convince those who work in the countryside that this practice is only suitable for vineyards that focus on quantity and not quality. The first mistake to avoid is to wait until there are many failures before intervening. In fact, the vines close to the dead one will colonize the land that it previously occupied. The dead, dying or just sick plant must be removed after the harvest (in order to limit contagions and easily identify it as long as it has leaves) by digging to remove most of its roots. The hole must remain open until spring when the new grafted vine or, better still, the larger grafted vine will be planted. And here is the second mistake: putting localized manure on the new plant. It will push the roots of the cuttings to feed on the surface without going downwards, becoming a weak subject and unable to resist water stress. Instead, it is right to protect the new vines with tubes. Obviously, in the event of a dry summer, the new vines must be watered, just like those of a new vineyard.
MAINTENANCE OF STRUCTURES
Poles, wires, vine bindings need to be restored every year. Avoid plastic ties that become polluting if they remain attached to the dry pruning and this is then burned.
RENEWAL OF THE VINES
The problem is particularly serious for those who make large cuts and winter pruning that produce necrosis in the trunk. The first and strongest advocates of the health of the woody part of the vine were Simonit and Sirch who reintroduced the old pruning systems by reducing cuts. Almost all of my grape growers have taken their courses. However, it remains necessary to periodically renew the cordon by preparing a sucker the previous year and working on a third of the vines until the vineyard is completely rejuvenated, without ever zeroing production. In Montalcino we are witnessing a generalized conversion of the spurred cordon-trained vineyards to Guyot. A passage that is extending the life of the Brunello vineyards by favouring an increase in the quality of the wines. I am doing it too and in fact I am breeding the new Sangiovese vineyards with Guyot.