venerdì 7 febbraio 2014

Stop poisoning vineyards

The grape varieties we grow, like most vegetable species, have the fundamental ability of plants to adapt to various changes and adversities: a very important patrimony of the dynamics of survival. The vines receive a continued ‘domestication’ through a series of interventions like clonal selection, harsh pruning, contained farming, intense fruiting and defence against some diseases. These activities can weaken the plant’s system and quickly create a ‘biological fragility’ that is more evident in clonal selection. Therefore a plant that should live, with significant production, for at least 100 years stops much sooner (at 25… 30 years) - this is what we have seen in the last two/three decades. In many historical regions, in the last 20 years at least, phytoplasma diseases have increased the risks of vineyard success, causing significant economic damages and, above, all, are without clear solutions.
White Moscato vineyards in the fall (Valle Belbo - Piedmont, Italy)
This subject has been approached with dangerous and unsuccessful superficiality. In essence, we lay all responsibility for the disease at the feet of an insect, and a mandatory control law was introduced with criminal penalties for defaulters.

For more than 15 years, I have on different occasions, verbally and in writing, dissociated myself totally from this infamous slavery to “our daily poison”, which still exists in the world of viticulture and after much patience, I repeat it once more, because time will tell (for more information, read this article in Italian). 
In Italy, Piedmont paid the price dearly. After a deluge of imposed insecticides, the problem, rather than be contained, has expanded and almost no one ‘dares’ to admit it! A technical failure, but above all, an environmental disaster with dramatic effects on the ecosystem and on the health of vintners and anyone passing through the wine growing areas, including tourists.

So let us try to understand better and reason. Phytoplasmas are prokaryotic organisms present throughout the plant world. In the case of the vine, there are at least two types, ‘legno nero’ (grapevine yellows), which is very common, and flavescence, which is rarer. We should therefore not generalise and use the term flavescence (or is it necessary to prop up an unjust law and related contributions… and business opportunities?) It’s possible to recover diseased plants with professional pruning as much research indicates. And those plants that ‘danced’ with the pathogen and recovered, transmit tolerance to their progeny, that is, the cuttings taken from those buds are more resistant. Whereas the more ‘fragile’ vineyards are those made up of highly selected materials that have received heat therapy - they don’t have defences any more and succumb more easily.

Phytoplasmas are a system issue that involves genetic aspects of the grape varieties (every variety has different tolerances: Arneis, Barbera, Dolcetto, Grignolino, Muscat, Nebbiolo...), soil quality (why is the problem more common in Roero? Why does the frequency of symptoms change as the soil changes on the same row with different calcium carbonate content?), cultivation techniques (there are clear differences between completed pruning, plant and soil care), propagating materials (weaker choices), and professionalism and skill, which are precious assets.

It’s more than a duty for anyone of good will, but above all for the authorities in the health sector to contribute to restoring order to such a dramatic story for wine territories, territories that should be bearers of beauty and not of poison and anxiety.

It’s important to remember the beautiful words of St Francis of Assisi: “Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible”.

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