Stefano di Blasi’s pursuit of sustainable agriculture
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When tackling carbon emissions in wine, it’s important to understand where those emissions actually occur.
Around a third of emissions come from bottling and packaging, a third from transportation, and a third from the winemaking process. It’s this latter third that Stefano is concentrating on, conducting research with the University of Florence in Italy.
“Chemical fertilizers and fossil fuels are responsible for a lot of emissions on a vineyard, but as well as tackling this, we want to look at the cycle of organic matter,” explains Stefano di Blasi, the impeccably dressed Italian responsible for some of the best-loved wines at Naked.
“For example, what’s the best way to recycle wood from pruning, and how can we improve and preserve the biodiversity of the soil.”
Many of the vineyards Stefano works with are dry farmed, not because water is scarce, but due to local regulations.
“Traditionally, water would be used to increase yield, and so in many appellations irrigation is actually forbidden,” continues Blasi. “Because irrigation is not allowed, we never have the choice, so we have practices that help to ensure water gets to the roots.”
In many areas, this will be done by small tillage – a disruption of the soil’s surface so water doesn’t pool and evaporate.
Some of the main benefits of effective dry farming is deeper root systems, healthier vines and more concentrated fruit.
“Dry-farmed vines are less affected by diseases and more resistant to biotic and abiotic stresses.” This method of farming is common throughout many European appellations and there is a concern that if irrigation was introduced, then the unique character and terroir or a regions’ grapes could be lost.
But amidst the virtues of dry-farming, there’s often still a reliance on modern farming practices that are detrimental to both the soils and the planet.
In most dry-farmed vineyards weeds need to be removed as they compete for water and nutrients in the soil – nourishment that winemakers and farmers would prefer went to their vines.
Herbicides are used on many estates throughout Europe, but even in organic vineyards weeds are sometimes removed mechanically, which can be quite aggressive on the soil.
However, Stefano has long been working with estates that are using alternative measures to manage the vineyard environment.
“One winery I’m working with is Casadei Suvereto in Tuscany. I’ll be making wine here for the next year and there are many sustainability methods at play. Animals like chickens and sheep have been brought in to keep on top of the weeds, but the added benefit is that their manure also helps to fertilize the soil too.”
At Casadei Suvereto, the soil between the rows is also plowed by horse, contributing to a system that no longer relies on fossil fuels and petrochemicals.
“It’s not a case of trying to farm like the middle ages,” says Blasi. “But four hundred years ago we had much more balance in our agriculture and modern farming practices have simply taken that balance away.”
Stefano’s new project on agroecology with the University of Florence will explore sustainability methods in viticulture and could demonstrate better ways of preserving and restoring vineyard ecosystems, while simultaneously slashing carbon emissions in wine production.
“We know very little about how to handle the CO2 emissions in the vineyard, but this research will help find solutions to the problem.”
Follow Stefano di Blasi at Naked Wines
Nick Baines is a food and travel writer based in London.
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