Friday, May 19, 2017

Gaja Winery agronomical practices aimed at promoting vineyard flexibility

The Gaja wine making process has been the same since 2000 but its agronomical processes have changed within that time frame to accommodate the unpredictability and warming associated with climate change. So said Sarah at the start of our tour and tasting at the Gaja Winery on May 15th of this year. In highlighting this unpredictability, Sarah pointed to the hail that the region experienced in April; hail that came after two weeks of warmth that had encouraged the growth of young, delicate leaves.

To combat this emergent new-normal, the estate has to be flexible in the vineyard. In the course of our conversation Sarah spelt out a number of practices that they have employed in pursuit of this flexibility.

Cover Crops
Grass planted between the rows and tailored to the resident soil. For example, if the soil is compact, cover crops with strong roots will be planted in an effort to open up the soil. One of the many benefits of cover crops is its nitrogen-fixation capability but if the need is to reduce nutrients in the soil, a different type of cover crop can be planted.

In a vintage like 2014, there was a need to reduce the humidity in the soil so the grass was cut three or four times a week in order to remove water. In 2015, a dry period, they did not cut the grass and the carpet of dry grass helped to keep the moisture in the soil.

Most Piemonte vineyard rows are oriented horizontally (Giropoggio), but, since the 1970s, Gaja vineyards have been oriented vertically. This orientation, according to Sarah, slows down sugar production but can contribute to soil erosion during periods of heavy rain. Cover crops are impoprtant in limiting this erosion.

Gaja has 96 ha of vineyards spread between Barbaresco and Barolo and applying the estate's agronomical principles consistently requires skilled, competent, and committed employees. Towards this end, Gaja provides housing to its employees in close proximity to their work locale. There are currently 85 employees living in 26 houses distributed across the Langhe holdings. The degree of skill and commitment is reflected in the fact that only eight Gaja employees are allowed to prune the vines; and five of them are second-generation. This degree of focus and specialization allows the estate to maintain high levels of quality over all its holdings for extensive periods of time.

Scion Selection
The average Gaja vine is between 50 and 55 years old. At the end of each growing season, vineyard employees will identify the vines which performed best that year. Cuttings will be taken from those vines and planted in the nursery. If there is a need to replace a damaged vine, one of these "superior-performing" cuttings will be deployed.

There is a concerted program to increase biodiversity in the vineyards. For example, there are 45 beehives scattered around the vineyards. These bees help with the pollination of the cover crops and thus aid in the advancement of the flora and fauna that they support. "The spic and span approach is not the best way to keep balance in the vineyard," Sarah said.

Sarah making one of her many points
Cypress trees are not native to Piemonte but there are in excess of 250 of them scattered across the Gaja vineyards. In addition to Angelo liking the shape of the trees, their compact structure affords protection for smaller birds from marauding larger predator birds. These smaller birds and bats are major consumers of insects.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

No comments:

Post a Comment