SOMM Journal, Spain, Sustainability, Terroir, Wine, winegrowing
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The dark matter of dirt

With millions of unknown species existing in a ton of soil, biologist Edward Osborne Wilson has called bacteria “the dark matter of the biological world.” While our knowledge of the roles known bacteria play in the vineyard enables us to make delicious wine, the unknown far exceeds the understood when it comes to analyzing these soil microbiomes.

According to biochemist Paco Cifuentes, who has compared studies from hundreds of vineyards, there’s a distinct kingdom of organisms found only in soils farmed sustainably with organic fertilizers. When evaluating the health of a vineyard, the presence of these organisms becomes a marker for sustainability and diversity. “In a conventionally-farmed vineyard, you’ll find on average 500–700 different types of microorganisms,” says Cifuentes. “In sites that are farmed sustainably, we find anywhere from 1,000–1,200 microorganisms, the majority of which are bacteria.”

This promotes an environment of checks and balances where beneficial organisms can effectively suppress harmful organisms and help prevent disease. That vast array of potentially present microorganisms includes “a dozen or so very distinctive organisms that never show up in sites that are farmed conventionally,” Cifuentes adds, but the role they play in the flavor and quality of finished wine is a puzzle that’s slowly being pieced together.

Cifuentes imports a portfolio of organic and Biodynamic wines from several Spanish regions under the banner Whole Wine Trade, and says he sees less skepticism among producers there who want to understand their soils the same way they understand their grape varieties and rootstocks. “There’s a mentality of growing both grapes and microbes in the vineyard, and an awareness that keeping the soil healthy is important part of the job,” Cifuentes explains. This approach marks the distinction between winemakers who want the same organoleptic characteristics from every vintage—and are, in effect, making wine in the winery—from those whose goal is to “remove the noise from the wine” and express both vintage and terroir. Read the entire article here — DarkMatterofDirt


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  2. Rich Reader says

    We might be able to grapple with the nuances of clones, soil types, micro climates, canopy management, cultivation techniques, fermentation techniques, yeast strains, cooperage, and growing conditions. Getting comfy with the complexity of the bionomes is a whole different kind of toe jam.


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