As much as we can care for them, even vines have their own lifecycles that at a certain point come to an end. For the winemaker, sooner or later the day comes when they must think about rejuvenating the vineyard. After the harvest, they must prepare for an uprooting, cutting all the branches, removing wires and poles and finally the vines. It’s a job that no one ever does willingly, but luckily it is almost always the beginning of a new adventure.
The first thing to do is arrange for the cleaning of new grounds, if they are uncultivated. Or, after having done all the necessary procedures, you can start with the soil movement needed for the preparation of a new vineyard: drainage systems, which must carry away stagnant water capable of causing landslides; the bringing of good soil back to the surface, because when the surface levels it causes tuff rocks to emerge, stunting the growth of the vines; trenching with the plow or excavator that replaced the oxen and hand-made tools. It is wonderful to watch the future taking shape.
The vineyard is almost a labyrinth to which we must give an orientation that allows us to simultaneously make the most of the land surface, to exit via paths and headlands, to not create difficulties in working the land along the rows, and to not arrange the rows on a slope but to follow as much as possible the level curves to keep the soil in place when it rains. Better to keep the soil from falling, because here we have a saying, that no one has yet succeeded in making the earth go uphill.
The satellites that direct us from above are helpful, but in the end it is always the presence of man in the field – his eye, the way he is used to driving a tractor and moving around the vineyard – that make the difference. Geometry and mathematics do their part because there are always straight lines, but the earth has its own shape and rules, and sometimes a curved row, like they used to make, can prove to be more rational than lines and squares.
FRANCO SCHELLINO AZIENDA ANNA MARIA ABBONA
The moment in which a new vineyard is planted has within it an immense strength and energy, but one must be able to imagine the future. The land is bare, and you hold out a metal rod marked with the distance at which the vines are planted, 70 or 80 centimeters. The rod is placed between one peg and the next, which were planted during the tracing process to mark the stakes that will go there. Then with the “fork,” the vines, with shortened roots, are pushed deep into the earth, making sure there are no gaps around the roots. When everything is finished, only footprints and the tips of the cuttings are visible.
Luigi Einaudi left us with an extremely accurate analysis of the cost of renewing a vineyard and of its average age, considering the old plants and the ones that replaced those lacking. At that time, the trenching and the new planting were extremely costly, and the goal was to prolong the life of the vineyard as much as possible by replacing vines that failed to grow. Even today, replacing failed plants remains an essential practice. The new plants need to be looked after because it isn’t easy for them to make their way among the roots of the surrounding plants growing underground.
MARIANO E RENZO SARDO CASCINA COSTABELLA
The pruning of small vines in their first years takes place in the late spring when the risk of early budding has passed and there is less of a concern about frost on the pruning cuts. Raising a plant takes years of work and a willingness to kneel in the dirt. The first few prunings need to hold the plant back; so that it can grow vigorously, the vine needs to push and never pull from the budding tip.
GIANFRANCO CARAGLIO AZIENDA CARAGLIO
A new vine needs to be tended with care. One of its fiercest enemies is the weed that takes food, water, and light from the new plant as it buds and begins to grow. It is essential in the first few years to never neglect the hoeing process. Later, when the plant is grown, you can use a tractor to break up the soil, but in the beginning the work must be done only by hand. The most adept use two strikes of the hoe and never make the soil fall, they simply turn it over in its place. The crust on the surface breaks and the heat enters, reaching the roots that lengthen and gain space and strength.
OSVALDO BARBERIS AZIENDA BARBERIS
The arrival in Europe of the phylloxera made it necessary to graft European grape vines onto American rootstock. The reproduction of the grafted vines is entrusted to nurseries, which have almost entirely replaced the practice of grafting in the vineyard, in which the bud of the chosen variety was directly grafted onto the American vine already planted previously. The cutting is now raised in a nursery from which it is uprooted for the subsequent re-planting in the vineyard.
The old massal selection process was done directly by the farmers in the vineyard, on the basis of free and individual choices - in which the buds were chosen after one could observe the behavior of the individual plants - giving life to a very diverse population. This has been replaced by clonal selection, in which very few individual plants are reproduced, creating vineyards that are more uniform in behavior, but perhaps with some variability in the complexity of the wines. Even though the clonal selection has several advantages in terms of the health of the selected material, we are slowly beginning to consider the variability and resistance that a massal selection can offer, and some nurseries have begun to put massal selections in their catalogues.
There could also be a long discussion about the choice of rootstock and the compatibility of some of them with dolcetto. Suffice it to say that traditionally, dolcetto was considered to match well with 420A, 161.49, and rupestris du lot. Currently, there are eight clones available for dolcetto: CN 69 (1980), CVT CN 22 and AL 275 (1990), CVT 8 and 237 (2001), CVT 167 (2005), AL DO 67, and R 3.