After three intense years at La Maliosa, I’ve had, thanks to the goals shared with Antonella Manuli, the opportunity of a stimulating reinterpretation of my knowledge and scientific agronomic experience that I never thought I could still undertake.
After the usual initial approach based on my training and prolonged experience, I slowly matured, on-site, an application that I would not have expected to be so multifaceted. Upon arriving, I was struck by an environmental landscape “from the past”: the woods, the presence of wild animals, limited cultivated spaces and special situations, such as land arising from an agriculture that dates back to Roman times and even prior, to the Etruscans. It’s clear that against this background, the farm choice could only be to respect, protect and promote the extraordinary ancient heritage of the area, a rare example of farming and viticultural archaeology. We also felt it was a homage to the history while facing a viticulture that these days is conceived and realised more and more like any other large agro-industrial cultivation. The locations of La Maliosa, however, required us to produce “preciousness”.
Since ancient times, animals have played a vital role in agriculture as a business tool, reproduction, supply and production of manure, fertilisers that allowed for the cultivation of many terrains and abundant harvests. Agriculture developed through good crop rotations and the alternation between ‘improving’ manure-loving crops, and ‘harnessing’ crops, those that have less need of fertiliser. Manure, when used well, works mainly on soil structure and the ready availability of nitrogen, giving vigour to crops. In the vineyards too, these effects are evident in the vegetative vigour, in considerable production (bunches and large berries), in increased sensitivity to disease and the lower quality of the wine. Today we can say that manure is no longer carefully used and most farms use it without straw, which leads to the production of sewage stored in smelly pools.
After repeated evaluations, La Maliosa decided that the best choice for the vineyard were the places with the greatest and unique ability to make wine. That meant poor soils with plenty of stones, favourable sun exposure and great scenic values. The possibility of having, within the farm, practically every necessary resource led me to mature the “totally vegetal” project in order to achieve maximum benefit in the production of the vineyards and olive groves. This had also an economically optimal significance by using simple and renewable resources. The energy balance of these strategies is enormously more positive when compared to interventions with organic animal material (manure and similar) for which there must be an investment and an extremely expensive production cycle that is not only wasteful but also less effective.
We have experienced that, in such environments, it’s not land reclamation of the soil that brings important benefits, nor the realisation of sowing or the use of animal compost of various nature but its surface coverage with vegetables (hay, straw, waste and foliage). The results have been spectacular: reactivated biological life, improved availability of water and nutrients and products in tune with their location.
No need for unnecessary energy input: the goal is reached in the extent to which it brings us closer to the ‘soil of the underbrush’, true fertility in its fullest expression for effective and renewable resources on site.
Returning to the vineyard, we also have to think of it as a ‘woody’ mass with some differences: more limited production and release of plant residues (leaves, branches) on the ground, more capacity to accommodate many herbaceous species for a biomass of certain value. For these reasons, it is often important to make more vegetal material available to defend the soil from rain (to contain erosion and reserves) and excess sunlight (preserve the structure and water availability).
Naturally, plant mulch promotes a dynamic situation, always evolving and producing chain reactions on the biological life of the soil, which in turn results in positive effects for the plant and its fruit. In particular, there is always a gradual effect on vegetative growth, diseases are less frequent and less important, the bunches are more regular and the grapes more robust.
In time I would like La Maliosa’s wines to express more and more of the real ‘flavour’ of its natural and ancient locations and vines, also through the search for elegance and finesse. The natural variability in the seasonal pattern must be interpreted and accepted as a value, as a faithful witness of the historical period.
Of course, we get closer to this ambitious goal by knowing we are necessarily on a road that requires skill. Above all for the maximum naturality of production, and furthermore to be able to continue to preserve and improve the landscape and the quality of soil, which is never considered enough.
I believe that this extraordinary experience that I am leading can find space even in educational terms to stimulate the agronomic teaching towards better objectives for the quality of the product, a healthy environment and those who live and work there, the economy of the farm and its economic sustainability over time.