Why biodiversity means better terroir – Part 3: Charter for biodiversity in vineyards

Why biodiversity means better terroir – Part 3: Charter for biodiversity in vineyards 690 460 Sectormentor

This guest post by Hans-Peter Schmidt from the Ithaka Institute & Mythopia was originally posted on Raw Wine in 2013. Hans kindly gave us permission to share it in a three part series, and said  “A few of years have passed since I wrote this, but the battle for biodiversity & terroir is still on, nothing has changed.” We heartily agree!

Missed the other parts of this series? Read part 1 here, and part 2 here.

Charter for biodiversity in vineyards

The principal idea behind the new methods for quality-orientated winegrowing is to specifically encourage biodiversity. This however has little to do with that aesthetical image of a vineyard full of fragrant flowers and grasshoppers. Instead it is based on an understanding of a vineyard as an ecosystem, whose flexible balance is created by the complex interaction of many different species of flora and fauna. The presence of various types of butterflies, beetles, bees and birds is the most obvious sign of an intact ecosystem, and the intention of promoting biodiversity is to achieve a stable ecosystem and to increase the quality of the Terroir via the sustainable use of natural forces.

Biodiversity of the soil and soil cover

  1. Promoting biodiversity in the vineyard starts with the reactivation of the soil. For this purpose only bioactive manure is applied: compost, compost extracts, herb extracts, cover crops, biochar, mulch, MRF. The use of artificial fertilizers, fertilizer concentrates, and non-fermented slurry is not allowed. The application of non-composted animal manure should similarly be avoided.
  2. Planting a permanent cover crop containing leguminous plants between the vines, thereby guaranteeing the supply of nutrients to the vines without any need for additional artificial fertilizers. The cover crop with its wide variety of leguminous plants promotes a very high level of biological activity in the soil and improves the storage of water and nutrients as well as preventing erosion.
  3. A perennial cover crop. The goal is to achieve a cover crop rich in species with native flowers. At least 20% of the seed mixture for the cover crop should be composed of insect-attracting plants.  The goal is to be able to find at least 50 types of wild plants in the vineyard.

Vertical biodiversity

  1. Planting bushes at the end of the rows where they do not interfere with vineyard work. The criteria for choosing the bushes are based on their potential attractiveness for butterflies and other insects, their nesting possibilities, the symbiosis of their roots and the use of their fruits. Native species are to be planted.
  2. Planting hedges at regular intervals between the vines. Depending on local conditions, at least 2 x 20m of hedges per hectare are recommended. The hedges act as biodiversity hotspots and as aisles, ideal for interconnecting ecological areas.  As natural barriers between the rows they stop harmful fungi from spreading.
  3. Planting fruit trees to improve vertical diversity. Trees among low-growing plants and in little-structured cultivation areas are a great attraction for birds, insects and other groups of animals and encourage the re-population of natural habitats. The trees reach up into the aerial plankton and act as collectors of spores; allowing yeasts and other fungi to colonize the vineyard (diversity of natural yeasts for wine making and as competition for harmful fungi). At least one tree should be planted between the vines for each hectare of ground as well as several small trees on suitable NE-NW vineyard boundaries. The distance to the nearest tree should not be more than 50m from any point of the vineyard. Possible grape harvest losses can be compensated by the fruit harvested from the trees.

Structural biodiversity

  1. Ecological compensation areas rich in species (at least 50 m2 for every hectare) should be created as diversity hotspots both within the vineyard and on its edges, where aromatic herbs and wild flowers can grow. The distance to the nearest hotspot should not be more than 50m from any point of the vineyard.
  2. Creation of structural elements such as stones and piles of wood for reptiles and insects. Installation of artificial nests for wild bees, insects and birds. The artificial nests may be integrated in the staking poles. Perches for birds of prey for a are good for fighting rodents. Any sprayed pesticides must be made up of substances causing no harm to bees or insects (no chemical pesticides and no sulphur)

Crop biodiversity

  1. Cultivation of at least one secondary crop between the main crop. This can be a vegetable such as tomatoes or pumpkins, a fruit such as raspberries or strawberries, a winter cereal such as rye or barley, or aromatic herbs, planted or sown between the rows of vines. Also suitable are fruit bushes like chokeberry, sea buckthorn or sloe planted in lines between the vines, as are rows of fruit trees (vineyard peach, plum, almond, quince, etc.). Secondary cultures also include bees, sheep, chickens, fish and other small farm animals. The areas earmarked for secondary cultures must be large enough to ensure a proper economic return.

Genetic Diversity

  1. Instead of grubbing up old vineyards and replanting them from scratch, the old vines should be successively replaced, with the new vines selected by means of massale selection from the same vineyard and being grafted on to existing vines, thereby over time achieving a selection of varieties perfectly adapted to the Terroir. Such genetic diversity reduces the threat of infection by pests, increases hardiness and generally improves the quality of the wine

(1) Niggli C: Legume green cover in vineyards, Ithaka-Journal, 2009, p.269-290, http://www.ithaka-journal.net/leguminosebegrunung-im-weinberg-kurzform?lang=en,

(2) Charter for vineyards with high biodiversity – Ithaka-Journal, 2009, p.291-294, www.ithaka-journal.net

(3) Briemle G, Eickhoff G, Wolf R. 1991: Mindestpflege und Mindestnutzung unterschiedlicher Grünlandtypen aus landschaftsökologischer und landeskultureller Sicht (Minimum maintenance and minimum use of different grassland types from a landscape ecological and national cultural perspective) – Beiheft 60 der Veröff. Naturschutz Landschaftspflege, 160 S., Available from: LfU Karlsruhe.

(4) Flügel I: Gesunder Weinberg durch Begrünung: Erfolgsfaktoren für eine hohe Weinqualität in Weinanbau (Healthy vineyards through the use of cover crops: success factors for the production of high-quality wines), VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, Saarbrücken, 2007

At Sectormentor we want to support all vineyards with building biodiversity. Have you tried any of the suggestions in this series? How are you monitoring biodiversity? We’d love to hear from you: info@vidacycle.com