The Vineyard against Climate Change
At Bodegas Alconde, two years ago we began our transition to Regenerative Viticulture, a process that promotes the fight against climate change through the recovery of agricultural soil. In short, it is about regenerating the soil by recovering the state it had before the arrival of intensive agriculture, in such a way that it resembles a forest as much as possible. Currently, 52 hectares of Bodegas Alconde’s vineyards are managed by this system, which has proven its effectiveness in slowing down and even reversing Climate Change.
To this end, Regenerative Viticulture seeks to recover the vineyard’s biodiversity and fertility through exclusively natural methods and processes. Instead of going against nature, it seeks to harness and enhance its mechanisms to achieve healthier and higher quality products, completely eliminating the use of chemical products, while helping to reverse desertification.
The soil is the main carbon reserve and if we are able to maintain its biodiversity, its microorganisms and its organic matter, we will contribute to recovering its fertility, at the same time as improving the quality of our foodstuffs.
At Bodegas Alconde the process begins with the planting of ground cover with different species adapted to the conditions of our soils. This will prepare the soil to encourage the reintroduction of native flora and fauna. Gradually, more elements of the wild flora and fauna are integrated so that our vineyards recover their natural biodiversity.
Explaining the processes
WHAT IS IT?
I am Marcos Gorricho, from Bodegas Alconde. We are in Lerín, in La Sarda, next to the Ega River. We are in a vineyard where we are practising regenerative viticulture. This is a type of viticulture in which we work especially on the life of the soil.
In this vineyard what we are doing is to leave a vegetation cover to provide nutrients to the soil, to have more water retention capacity and to favour the life of microorganisms in the soil.
This will give us a greater water retention capacity, more organic matter in the soil and much more carbon sequestration in the soil from the air.
We are doing this type of viticulture because regenerative agriculture is one of the few tools, probably the most powerful, to mitigate and even reverse climate change.
Through this type of viticulture, apart from giving life to the soil, what we are doing is capturing carbon from the air and depositing it in the soil.
Carbon gets a bad press, but in reality carbon is fundamental to life on the planet. All living things are carbon-based. The problem is that if carbon is in excess in the air it is harmful, but if it is where it needs to be, which is in the soil, it is very beneficial. It gives us fertility and gives us more life and more capacity to retain water in the soil.
Regenerative agriculture is based on encouraging soil life. Some of its most significant practices are not using chemical elements, which damage nature, and not ploughing the soil to encourage life.
HARM LESS OR CURE?
We have all heard about organic farming, organic products. This is a type of agriculture for which we are already in the process of certification, but it is basically about using less chemicals or using other certified products.
Regenerative viticulture goes much further. It's not about doing a little less damage, it's about healing. We try to give all the biodiversity, all the fertility to the soil so that the crop is sustained by this life.
We work in favour of nature. What we try to do is to have as many species as possible, as many insects as possible, as many herbs, as many plants and as many micro-organisms as possible in the soil, in order to produce a higher quality, healthier product that benefits the environment.
One of the fundamental practices of regenerative viticulture is not to plough the soil. When we plough the soil we are sending carbon into the atmosphere, so we are losing fertility and we are also favouring more erosion due to wind and rain. It is a vicious circle, so every time we plough we are damaging the soil.
In addition to not ploughing the soil, it is very important to plant a vegetation cover with species that favour native species. In this vineyard we can see that there is a cover of wild grasses. But the problem with these grasses is that they have been planted after years of ploughing and even chemical treatments. As a result, only the plants that are prepared for this will grow, and they will only occupy a very superficial layer of the soil because the lower part is compacted by the type of agriculture that has been done previously.
In order to recover these soils, what we are doing is different plantings in the vegetation cover, which favour the implantation of autochthonous species. These are multi-species sowings in which each plant has a function.
Mustard is a plant that grows very tall and also has a root that goes deep into the soil. The roots of mustard break up the most compacted parts of the soil, which allows the roots of other plants to grow as well. This also allows for greater water infiltration and oxygenation of the soil.
When the mustard finishes its cycle and dies, both the upper part and the root become organic matter that enriches the soil.
From the legume family we plant a mixture of yeros, titarros and vetches. These plants help to fix the nitrogen in the soil that the rest of the plants will feed on.
Oats are very interesting for soil recovery because their roots produce sugary exudates that feed the micro-organisms in the soil. In this way it provides a lot of life and favours its recovery.
Each of these species has its own function and all together they do a great job in the recovery of life. They all capture carbon from the air and sequester it in the soil. They also provide organic matter both on the surface, the part we can see, and in the subsoil, everything we can't see.
In regenerative agriculture we try to promote biodiversity. For us, it makes no sense for the vineyard or any other crop to be worked as a laboratory where we don't want anything to be there.
On the contrary, what we try to do is to have as many animal and plant species as possible, because when everything is aseptic, when we try to create a laboratory with plants, any pest, any insect, will become the master of the place.
On the other hand, if we manage to make the vineyard behave like a forest full of different plants, different insects and other animals, nothing can become a pest because there is competition between all living things.
Nothing can destroy everything, because all insects, all fungi, all beings have their predators and are part of cycles in which everything is perfectly balanced.
In traditional agriculture, we have always looked from the soil upwards. How the plant is doing, if it is growing, what diseases it may have, possible pests... But we have never taken too much account of what is going on underneath and we know that almost all the problems come from below, from the soil, and that what we see at the top, in the plants, are only symptoms. They are not really the problem. That's why regenerative agriculture focuses on improving the soil.
Soil has three main parts: organic matter, minerals and microorganisms. To put it casually, we could say that the organic matter is the home of the micro-organisms and the micro-organisms are what cook the minerals so that they can be fed to the plants.
The plant, no matter how much stone there is in the soil, cannot assimilate the mineral nutrients in the soil. It needs a process that is done by micro-organisms.
An example with chickpeas
To understand the importance of micro-organisms in the soil we have to think of minerals for plants as if we wanted to eat some dried chickpeas. They are food, but we need to cook them or we can't eat them. We can sit on a mountain of chickpeas, but if they are dry we can starve to death.
That's the important function that micro-organisms do.