Birth and rebirth of a vineyard
Each year, when spring comes, it’s a bit as if the vineyard was born again after its winter sleep. We discussed this with Stefano Ruini, agronomist and oenologist at Tenuta Luce.
The birth of a vineyard is for sure not an act of impulse: it requires careful planning and great patience. After the vines are planted, it takes them a few years before they start their production. During this time, the vine grows, it adapts to the soil, to the microclimate of the vineyard. But even when the vineyard has reached the maturity that allows it to offer fruits of the best quality, there are changing variables.
The climate changes from one season to the other, and from one year to the other, which explains why the concept of vintage is crucial for wines. And a good agronomist must have the skills to understand these changes and look after the vineyard throughout the process. So, every spring, it’s a bit as if the vineyard was born again, after its winter sleep.
We spoke about this with Stefano Ruini. He’s the person who every year, for Tenuta Luce, looks after the birth of Luce, Lucente, Luce Brunello and now Lux Vitis too. We asked him to tell us about this constantly different cyclic nature that the vine experiences each year.
Vineyards, with their vegetative cycle starting in the spring, are an example of birth and rebirth. What are the most stimulating moments, in your opinion? What are the fears?
Everything changes, and every vintage is unique. Following its growth gives us some precious directions (phenology). Flowering is a particularly strategic moment as it influences the reproduction and the production of the plant. It’s a stressful moment, strongly influenced by weather conditions. It’s important to obtain healthy grapes and luckily the Mediterranean climate offers good conditions in terms of pathologic pressure. For instance, we don’t need to seek protection from insects, as the biodiversity is such that a natural balance will solve any problem. The most beautiful moment is when I taste the grapes because it’s the “highlight” of a season of work and most of all the true and unique connection with the quality and the potential the grapes will give to our wines.
Can we compare the role of a vigneron, as you prefer to define your role, with that of a midwife?
The French word “vigneron” includes both the role of the oenologist and the agronomist but most of all the agronomic work that takes place in the vineyard. Everything depends on respecting its natural balance. This balance can be naturally found in great “terroirs” (I’m not referring to “technologic” wines, which rely greatly on the corrective intervention of the oenologist), where we must avoid any element that may disturb the expression, the strength and the energy of a “terroir”, especially with synthetic chemicals (herbicides, fertilizers and antiparasitic products). In the end, if the grapes are in balance, because they were properly looked after during their development, there’s little work to be done in the cellar. There’s no need for a surgeon, you just need an expert and tender midwife.
Rebirth implies that you bring the experiences of a previous lifetime with you. Does this apply to vines as well?
Vines, being a perennial plant, have a memory. A vineyard planted in a bad way will affect decades of production: a season of bad decisions may ruin years of efforts and patient work. Think of how important good pruning is and how it can influence both this year’s production and the next.
Parents can be more or less anxious, more or less prone to control their children. How should the “ideal parent” of a vineyard behave?
Since you mention the example of a parent, I’d like to introduce the concept of responsibility. We must try to be aware of the actions and agricultural choices we make as “vignerons”. If a wine strikes us, it’s because it gives us an emotion, it is memorable; the truth is there are very few wines that go beyond the simple concept of quality. We should remember that until men intervene, there’s only nature with a hidden potential. It is men who, by planting a vineyard and revealing this potential, give birth to a “terroir”. There are very few great “terroirs” and they are always a reflection of something unique, typical, bound to a unique nature that gives a strong identity and, finally, an emotion.