What is Regenerative Viticulture?
You may have heard of the newest buzzword in the wine business: Regenerative Viticulture. In a space already filled to the brim with certifications, like ‘biodynamic’, and loftier claims like ‘natural’, what makes unique?
Regenerative Viticulture aims to build on the principles of organic farming. Under EU law, organic viticulture prohibits the use of artificial fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides. Of the approximately 300 pesticides allowed under EU law, only 20, which come from natural ingredients, are permitted for organic wines. Although these measures help to build healthy soil, very often they are not enough to maximise biodiversity and carbon sequestration and so in 2021, the Regenerative Viticulture Foundation was formed.
The activities that make up regenerative viticulture go beyond the duty to protect. The idea is to improve and enhance our ecosystem. Certain climates, like Champagne and Burgundy, are less suited to organic grape growing, however, applying the principles of regenerative viticulture can make an enormous difference to soil quality.
In regenerative viticulture, everything begins with the soil. Over time, by applying certain regenerative methods, the vine itself will require less intervention and the aim is for vineyards to be truly self-sustaining. One example of a regenerative method is to avoid tillage, the agricultural process by which soil is broken down soil by digging and mowing to break up weeds. One downside to this is that the soil loses its water holding capacity. In some vineyards, this necessitates the need for irrigation, a step which could be avoided in a more sustainable vineyard. Regenerative viticulture recommends using animals like sheep to remove weeds naturally, a shared principle of biodynamic viticulture.
Grape growers who apply the regenerative methods will learn how to work to the individual needs of their vineyard. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach but rather a “toolbox” that offers tailored solutions according to individual circumstances and even takes into account, weather variation. The specific needs of a vineyard owner in Chablis will be significantly different from those of a grower in central Australia but both can dip into the regenerative “toolbox” for methods to improve soil health.
Regenerative viticulture as a movement is very much still in the early stages. Building out a comprehensive “toolbox” requires thorough research and development, along with education and training. Due to the emphasis on the individual circumstances of each practitioner, certification is not the priority, for now, which could lead to misuse of the term among producers and potential customer disengagement. Nevertheless, the framework is built on good intentions and it marks an encouraging and exciting development in the ongoing effort to improve the wine industry’s green credentials and hopefully, certification will follow down the line.
Many of the producers that we represent at Classic Drinks, already incorporate various techniques of Regenerative Viticulture. Mourgues du Grès, Château Puynard and Huia Estate, to name a few, focus on practices like agroforestry, soil regeneration and the use of animals in the vineyard, and the results speak for themselves!