The Organic Approach: Sustainable Agriculture
In 2009 we started out on a more respectful path, taking great strides towards organic agricolture.
Today we can finally talk about completely organic farming: we are certified BIO (the certifying body that monitors us is BIOAGRICERT).
Respect for the land is a fundamental concept for any farmer who knows that the others will continue the work after him that he himself has inherited from the previous generation.
In recent decades the direct contact between the farmer and the land has been loosened. This has been for many reasons but the biggest, I think, was the disruptive power of the chemical industry invading the countryside with salespeople in a white coats who dazed and disoriented us peasants.
It is now clear that the typicity of a wine, the taste given by the terrain, is the only thing that can bring the added value to the finish product. It is equally clear that the adding chemicals affects the taste,sometimes even for the better, but the taste remains modifies nonethless and therefore loses the primitive character given from the land, from the area, from the denomination.
It is for this reason that here at Capezzana we decided to return to the agricultural practices widely used only a few decades ago. It is not a return to prehistoric times but simply a shift in our awareness towards more "down to earth" principles.
An example of these reinstated farming practices is "green manure" (sovescio) that is, the seeding of legumes in alternate rows in our vineyards. Leguminous plants have fix natural nitrogen in the soil and provide organic material once the nitrogen fixing cycle is finished.
The practice of alternating cultivated and uncultivated rows allows us to use the uncultivated row for routine tasks such as copper planting, stone clearance and the collecting pruning waste amongst other things. Further, this mechanical work is being performed by tractors that weigh less and less in order to reduce as far as possible the compacting effect on the earth. Compacted earth loses the ability to take in oxygen and water, quicly becoming arid and lacking in microorganisms.
Green manure must be sown immediately after harvest to allow root development before the winter cold. It is only in this way that we can be sure of obtaining the rhizomes on the roots that host the nitrogen fixing bacteria. The rhizomes appear as growths, rounded bulges attached to the root system. The best time for cutting back the green manure is at the point of flowering. Any later and the legume may reabsorb the nitrogen itself in order to produce seed for its own reproduction.
So, no chemical fertilizers and no herbicides either. To replicate the function of the latter we have resumed the use of mechanised hoes i.e. a tool attached to the tractor that is directed in out of the vines (generally it is a small coulter but it can also be a blade). This is a precision job requiring patience. To avoid damage to the base of the vine it must be performed by careful operators with no fury! Certainly the results are not as a complete as when a poisonous weedkiller is used, but a bit of grass is acceptable and does no damage.
In 2009 we also starting paying great attention to reduce the pollution of the earth with plastic debris. It is common, particulary during pruning or when vines are being removed, to drop onto the ground the green plastic "agricultural ties" that tie the vine to the wire of the espalier. For the last two years, workers have been collecting this plastic debris into cloth bags. When the bag is full they empty the bag into a larger containers at the head of the vrow, and once the large container is full it is brought to the central building and added to the waste collection. The volume of plastic recovered is truly astonishing. By the end of the year we have removed kilos and kilos of indestructible plastic from our fertile land.
As far as the treatment of the vin foliage is concerned, this is carried out only with the use of soluble or powder-form sulphur or and copper sulphate. No synthetic product is used, not even insecticides unless they are organic and approved by the certifying body. Even then we consider the use of these approved insecticides dangerous because they are not selective and tend to also kill beneficial insects, those that are the natural predators of harmful ones, the worst of which is the grapevine moth. We are in fact convinced that the normal natural fight is sufficient to maintain an acceptable level of insect damage.
For the olive tree we only use copper and lime when a seriuos attack of the olive fruitfly has been detected. We constantly monitor the cycle of the fly, attaching fly traps to the olive trees and checking what is caught: depending on the number detected we decide whether to employ copper plating or not. In any case we no longer use the dangerous Rogor, the specific poison that many farmers, imprundently, continue to use.
As a final note, it can be said that this SIMPLE method of farming gives us less hassle and a quieter conscience. We may not be doing everything possible but we can be sure that we are not doing irreparable damage, and we are sure of leaving the land as we found it to those who follow. We can be sure of leaving land that remains fertile, not a barren mountain of poisoned plastic.
In this essay I have not spoken of "integrated control" (lotta integrata) because it is absurd and a lost cause to talk of "fighting" against or controlling nature. Nature is much too strong for us. Better to speak instead of "integrated respect".
Vittorio Contini Bonacossi