Healthy soil means healthy grapes – and you know what that means…delicious wine.

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However, while we might enjoy a glass of wine with dinner very casually it is interesting to think of the science that allowed it to be brought to our very table.

In an effort to highlight why sustainability is so important in vineyards Barossa’s Next Crop leadership program participants developed a project to put soil health, moisture and microbial activity to the test.

Something so trivial as how “loose” soil is can make all the difference. In the past, this has been achieved using cultivation – but in an effort to promote sustainable vineyard management techniques, soil health is the secret.

What if I told you this secret can be best illustrated using a pair of cotton undies?

In this experiment, the garment was buried in the soil and once dug up the amount of deterioration was observed.

The results are simple to read with this DIY soil test – the more deteriorated the undies, the more fungi and microbes are present. These make the soil “looser” by creating pathways for water and nutrients to be absorbed by the vines.

Benefits from healthy soil and sustainable viticulture include:

  • Better water and nutrient infiltration (due to less compacted soil structure)
  • Use less water (because healthy soil holds up to 30% more moisture)
  • Soil organic carbon levels increase
  • Biodiversity, ie. more grasses and other plants in the vineyard = more beneficial insects which predate on vineyard pests such as light brown applemoth (therefore less need for chemicals to spray vineyard pests)
  • No cultivation = reduces erosion
  • No cultivation = less tractor use (reduces compaction of soil)
  • No cultivation = less diesel use (cuts emissions and saves $)
  • Ground cover in the mid-row cools the soil, and therefore the vine canopy, enabling wine grapes to ripen more slowly

What is so fascinating is how taking simple steps such as mid-row planting, applying composted mulch and other organic matter to the soil has such a dramatic impact on vine health and longevity.

In conclusion, practices like these might be the secret for us to continue to enjoy a glass of our favourite Barossa wines – and pass on healthy vines so that future generations can enjoy them too.