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Groszer Wein Umstellung auf Bio-Weinbau
Challenges encountered on the way to organic viticulture

Groszer Wein is going organic – that much has been settled! From the very beginning, it has been important to us to bring our wines into the bottle as faithfully and purely as possible. The conversion to organic viticulture is the next logical step on this path.

But the switch to pure organic farming is not going to be accomplished overnight, and it is connected to many target goals that we want to meet, without compromising the quality of our wines. Even now, before we sign the contract for this conversion next year or the year after that, we have already been intensively engaged in three areas that are directly or indirectly necessary for biological cultivation: 

 

Reconsider our plant protection methods

Crop protection is a critical issue in viticulture. While in conventional viticulture chemical-synthetic sprays are allowed, in organic viticulture one can work only with special sprays such as copper and sulphur. We now must adopt a fundamentally different attitude toward plant protection:

All our efforts are aimed at preventing disease from afflicting our vines, so that any infection, in the first place, would not become so severe that it must be treated with chemical or synthetic substances. To accomplish this, we are stepping up measures that make it more difficult to spread disease, along with adopting practises that support the vine’s natural resistance:

  • Instead of using insecticides, we encourage the growth of beneficial organisms in our vineyards, to keep vine pests in check naturally.
  • Instead of herbicides, we rely on mechanical cultivation. We utilise machines to cut through weeds and pull them out of the ground, so that they do not compete with the vine for water and nutrients.
  • In addition, we trim the foliage canopy on a regular basis, so that more wind and sun can reach the grapes; part of the time we pluck a handful of leaves from each vine manually and sometimes we perform the task with a machine. As a result, the vines are better ventilated and the grapes dry faster after rainfall. This hinders the spread of fungal diseases (because fungi need moisture to spread) and we can use less in the way of fungicides. In addition, this refocuses vital the energy of the vine from the growth of the leaves to the ripening of the clusters.

This year we have succeeded in refining our techniques for managing the foliage canopy. In addition, we are already spraying – as needed – with substances that are approved for organic viticulture: net sulphur, copper preparations and potassium bicarbonate. But this year we also reached the limit of our capabilities in this department: we need at least one additional tractor driver and one more sprayer, in order to protect all our vines within twenty-four hours. This is very important because the sprays permitted in organic viticulture only work on the surface or in the top layer of the plant – so the fungus needs to be attacked quickly so that it does not penetrate into the plant and spread.

 

Fewer motorised passages through the vineyard

Every trip through the vineyards with tractors or other machinery poses a challenge for the vines. Because the heavy equipment compacts the soil and this has a negative effect on basic fertility: fertile soil is washed away and valuable nutrients do not penetrate the ground; the porosity, water & oxygen that organisms in the soil require all become reduced as well.

There is still much work that is done by hand in our vineyards, but for some procedures, machines are simply necessary. In order to not compact the soil unduly, we combine several types of work  in each visit to the vines: as we trim the leaves, we also conduct necessary work on the shaft of the vine – two utensils, two procedures, and only one trip through in the vineyard! In addition, less CO2 is emitted by the machinery if we drive through the vineyard less frequently.

 

Greencover in all vineyards

Green surfaces in the vineyard are a given in organic viticulture – the soil must not remain ‘open’ for fear of erosion. Our vineyards have been planted with greencover for many years (mainly with grasses), but beginning this year we are paying special attention to which plants we select for the vegetation:

We have set out a special mix of plants that will have a positive effect on the health of the soil and fertility in general: deep-rooting species stabilise the structure of the soil. Legumes draw nitrogen from the air, eliminating any need for nitrogen-based fertilisers. In addition, we also ensure that flowers grow in the greenery, so that bees and other beneficial organisms can find enough flowers for nourishment.

Every couple months we mulch the vegetation to support the humus structure. While mulching we take care to mow the green lanes in a staggered fashion, so that the beneficial insects can move to other lanes.

 

What else we do to keep our vines naturally healthy:

We purposefully create and/or maintain areas of organic diversity areas such as rock piles, wild hedges or fruit trees, so that beneficial insects find additional habitat besides just the greencover – the more beneficial organisms living in the vineyard, the less pesticide one needs. For two years now, we have also been pruning our vines ‘gently’ using the Simonit & Sirch method. The basic principle of this system is that only the one- to two-year-old (maximum age) wood is cut, which makes the cut surfaces smaller and the vines less susceptible to wood diseases (fungal diseases such as Esca penetrate primarily through large wounds in the wood that do not heal for a long time).