Last November the first international conference of the Old Vine Conference was held in the Villa Bogdano 1880 winery in Lison di Portogruaro close to Venice-Italy. The Old Vine conference is an English non-profit association founded by the Masters of Wine Sarah Abbott and Alun Griffith with the aim of enhancing the ancient vineyards and the wines obtained from them.
The decision to make it in the cellar of Lison di Portogruaro owned by Domenico Veronese is not accidental, given that the 18 hectares of over 100-year-old historic vineyards of Villa Bogdano 1880 are probably the largest Italian extension present in a single estate. It is therefore natural that since last June the winery became part of the Old Vine Conference.
The conference saw speeches by Sarah Abbott, Professor Mario Fregoni, former professor at the Catholic University of Piacenza and Honorary President of the OIV and the Friulian agronomist Carlo Petrussi who demonstrated how the old vines are not to be considered a relic of the past but rather a fundamental element for the viticulture of the future.
Sarah Abbott underlined how the characteristics of ancient vines and their wines are not very present in the communication of wine, recalling how they represent a heritage on which to draw to face the challenges posed by climate change both in terms of genetics and cultivation techniques.
In fact, historic vines prove to be more resistant to increasingly extreme climatic conditions that more and more often are affecting the vintages, both because they are intrinsically more suited to the territories in which they live, and because they require cultivation with equally ancient techniques that strengthen their natural resistance.
In other words, the old vines allow for the preservation and transmission of greater genetic variability and greater agronomic variability, useful for responding to climate change.
Professor Fregoni began his speech by pointing out how the average life of vineyard plants continues to decrease, today it is around 15-20 years, and this represents above all an economic problem, considering the cost of a new plant.
Among the reasons for this shorter duration, he focused on the phenomena of rejection between the varieties of vitis vinifera, the only vitis cultivated specie, and American vine rootstocks resistant to phylloxera. This practice has established itself since the mid-1800s as the solution to the attack of phylloxera, an insect of North American origin which then spread to all wine-growing countries.
Currently grafting European varietals on American rootstock resistant to phylloxera, is universally adopted for all the vines grown worldwide.
However, Fregoni underlined how the vine grafted on American vine rootstock, in addition to having a shorter life, is also less resistant to drought. He therefore urged to experiment and evaluate other ways of fighting phylloxera (soil analysis, submerged irrigation, treatments with salicylic and jasmonic acid) in order to be able to cultivate the vine on an ungrafted foot.
From an oenological point of view, the advantage of old vines is that of concentrating sugar reserves in the roots, stem and branches. Reserves which are mobilized during the veraison phase in favor of the berries. These reserves allow to have grapes which then give wines of greater finesse and elegance.
Doctor Petrussi, on the other hand, highlighted how the shorter duration of the vineyard is linked to both economic-commercial choices, uprooting of vineyards that no longer respond to the company’s production strategies by variety by type of training, and agronomic choices, vineyards that reduce their capacity productive or die from aging.
From an agronomic point of view, the planting phase is particularly important. In fact, this is the moment in which the conditions are created for the growth of an extensive and deep root system that allows the vine to be strong and long-lived.
With the mechanical planting of the cuttings this hardly happens because the roots will follow the lateral and superficial furrow created by the machine.
The deepening and extension of the roots after the planting phase is also stimulated by the hoeing and tamping operations, a normal practice in traditional viticulture, but no longer necessary in the case of chemical weeding.
A vine with an extensive, deep and balanced root system nourishes the entire aerial part in a uniform manner, resulting in greater resistance to disease and a more homogeneous quality of the bunches. Obviously, a root system of this type also makes the plants much more resistant to drought, compared to vines with superficial and not very extensive roots.
In a certain sense, concluded Dr. Petrussi, the agronomic practices that have been established since the 1990s “plan” vineyards with a shorter life. Reproposing traditional vineyard cultivation techniques therefore has the aim not only of preserving the ancient vines, with the genetic variability they represent, but also of making the new plants more long-lived.
Anyone wishing to learn more about the contents of this very interesting conference will find the complete registration in the on-demand room of our Vinophila metaverse.