On May 16th, the third edition of the Regenerative Viticulture Symposium was held in Falset, Catalunya in the town’s old castle. For those who couldn’t attend in person, they filmed it and it can be streamed in full.
Established in 2021, this association was formed as a forum to exchange ideas and present a new manner to working vineyards. Similar to, yet quite different from organic or biodynamic farming, one of the key premises to regenerative viticulture (and agricultural practices at large) is to, “shift is the carbon cycle and how it can be used to regenerate soils, prevent erosion, encourage biodiversity, and combat climate change.”
It should come as little surprise that, given the last item in that list, this association has been spearheaded by the Torres winery. I say that as they’re also jointly-responsible for starting the International Wineries for Climate Action and have been a core part of not only getting a conversation started on these matters but also leading the way in making changes at their wineries to reduce environmental impact.
While the first two symposiums took place in Vilafranca del Penedès (Torres’ base), this was the first edition to take place in a new location and, as told to me by a Torres representative, “The idea moving forward is to have the symposium in a different location each year as we have members across Spain.” This is an important item to note in that Torres isn’t going this alone and there are over 45 members currently signed up to the association with those in the Priorat region being: Clos Mogador, Vinyes Domènech, Bell Cros, Cims de Porrera, Prior Terrae, and of course, Torres Priorat.
The format of the symposium was a series of talks by people well-versed in this manner of agriculture which works to close the loop and have a self-sustaining environment for whatever crop you’re farming. A key in this is breaking from the cycle of killing off various components of your land and attempting to supplant them via artificial means whether that be pesticides, herbicides, industrial fertilizer, plowing, and a great many other detrimental aspects of “modern” agriculture.
I realize that this all sounds like some kind of “hippie bullshit” as everyone alive today has grown up in an environment wherein if you have a problem in something plant-based, you go out and buy some kind of solution for it. It makes a convoluted (yet arrogant) sense to think that somehow our findings through science and chemistry have somehow bested what nature has created over millions of years. But, what really put it into perspective was when speaker, Jeff Lowenfels commented, “Who fertilizes the Redwoods or sprays them with ‘icides? Yet they grow to over 375 feet tall and live for more than 500 years!” That’s pretty hard to argue with.
In general, much of what was talked about was far above my pay grade as I’m not someone who works in any form of agriculture.
Despite this, it was probably Dr. Elaine Ingham’s talk that I could relate to the most as she opened and set the foundation for much of what followed from the others. She’s American and founded the Soil Food Web School. One of her main statements was that for the longest time, people didn’t think that the soil actually did anything in farming when in fact we’ve found out that it’s really responsible for everything. If you disrupt any part of it, you throw the entire system out of balance. To truly fix this, have to work to pull it back into balance and in doing so, you will reduce your amount of work as well as costs in farming.
But it was one aspect of her talk that really stuck with me in that she said if you manage your soil correctly, you’ll never see the detrimental nematodes in your soil. This was interesting as for years I’ve heard viticulturists say that if you have almond trees around a vineyard, you can’t tear them out and better hope they don’t die or the nematodes in the almond tree roots will go to the vines and kill them. Unsurprisingly, Ingham made me realize that the problem isn’t in nematodes but the fact that they’ve arisen due to the creation of anaerobic soil brought on by using pesticides, herbicides, and heavy tilling over the years.
While French biologists, Lydia and Claude Bourguignon hit on similar topics, they really emphasized the need for root health and the fact that we’re seeing so much erosion in vineyards due to the soil not being healthy and in turn the roots and humus having no structure to brace against when it rains. This is an important aspect of Climate Change that people don’t often think about as in addition to heat increasing overall, the weather is getting more extreme and I’ve seen firsthand how much soil we’re losing to the sea when it rains heavily.
As one can readily see via these talks and the four others that followed, it was an incredibly-engaging discussion on a myriad of topics. But, everything focused on the core theme that “modern” agriculture has in fact been extremely wrong in its approach for decades and it’s plain to see for anyone that this is in effect a dead end.
I can only assume that the packed conference of people attending from wineries I know took a great deal away from this and will hopefully apply it.
I’d also like to thank Torres for creating this organization as one needs to keep in mind that they’re a private, family-owned company who will sell their wines no matter what. Spending money on these various projects means that it’s less money they make. Suffice to say, they don’t need to be doing this, but are putting the effort in to make it happen regardless and given their size, producing millions of bottles a year, every little change does have some effect.
Going forward, winery director, Miquel Torres Maczassek said that they’re working with the French equivalent organization to create an “alliance” and eventually a certification program. More than the rather banal standards for “organic” or the hard to justify applications to some parts of biodynamic, it’s quite easy to see that regenerative farming is not terribly complex to understand nor implement, but is a way forward for our planet.