The Vinyes Domènech winery has successfully improved the health and functionality of their soil, based on the BeCrop diagnostic tool. Key indicators such as the presence of pathogenic elements, availability, and mobilization of nutrients, presence of phytohormones, adaptation to stress, and carbon sequestration, have improved significantly with the adaptation of agricultural practices from the first soil functionality analysis in 2017. In this article, we will provide details of this success story.
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Since 2002, when the Vinyes Domènech winery was founded in the southern part of the Catalan Priorat, the Domènech-Nogueroles family had a singular vision: their winemaking project would aim to preserve and enhance the estate's heritage while respecting the protected natural space in which it was immersed. Such a unique ecosystem -some one hundred hectares of forest on the property- deserved an intelligent integration with the processes carried out both in the vineyards and in the winery.
Good viticultural practices and integration within this landscape of high ecological value, have enabled Vinyes Domènech to improve the quality and health of the vineyards and to produce quality wines as a result. Proof of this came in the form of the "Qualified Estate Wine" recognition by Incavi and DO Montsant and the Vine-Grower Award by the same Designation of Origin conferred in 2019.
However, the journey was not easy. At Vinyes Domènech, they faced a variety of difficulties such as the presence of pathogenic fungi in the vine wood, the appearance of Blackfoot and Petri's disease, lack of vigor in the oldest existing vineyards, compact, shallow soils with little organic matter, and a lack of nutrient assimilation by the plants - nutrients that were present, but blocked, in the soil.
In its constant search for better, more sustainable solutions in its agricultural practices, Vinyes Domènech made the decision in 2017 to count on the services of Biome Makers to develop a detailed study of the functionality of the soil in one of its four terraces: the 28th. The objectives of this study were wide-ranging: to monitor the health of the soil, identify potential risks, help those responsible to measure the impact of the use of inputs and agricultural practices and improve them if necessary, and characterize the biological terroir of the plot (an aspect that is usually analyzed only with physical-chemical meters).
The study was carried out using BeCrop, the functional analysis tool based on the study of the soil microbiome and its interactions, whose indicators are biosustainability, soil health, and nutrition. By employing this diagnostic tool, Biome Makers was able to detect and confirm the presence of the following problems in the plot: a high concentration of pathogenic microorganisms which could generate disease risks, poor adaptability of the vines to stressful situations such as sudden changes or adverse weather, and low availability of soil nutrients for the plants.
Based on the exhaustive BeCrop analysis, a step-by-step guide was created to improve these conditions. First, incorporating beneficial compost in the soil at optimum maturity, which finds a balance with the microbial life already present in the plot and which does not exceed 70 ºC in its fermentation process to guarantee the life of the microorganisms. Secondly, reinforcement of budding vines with treatments against powdery mildew at the foliar level. And lastly, end the incorporation of pruning wood into the soil, a farming practice that had been used up until that point and which, consequently, caused wood disease.
In 2020, after three years of improved agricultural practices and based on soil functionality analyses, Vinyes Domènech decided to commission a second evaluation of plot 28 to measure its progress since the first analysis. The evolution of the 2017 and 2020 samplings yielded very interesting results. There was an increase in the functionality of the microbiome, i.e. the beneficial functions that microorganisms perform in the soil. Beneficial species in the fight against pathogens increased, which decreased the risk of diseases and increased the health of the bancal. Blackleg, Petri's disease, and powdery mildew, among others, disappeared. The availability of nutrients for the plants increased: phosphorus and potassium, previously blocked due to lack of solubilization, as well as magnesium, significantly increased their mobilization. The presence of phytohormones and stress adapters increased. Last but not least, the plot went from releasing carbon to sequestering it thanks to a better balance of metabolic pathways, making the vineyard a more sustainable space.
After the second analysis yielded such amazing results, it was possible to conclude that vine mortality is now much lower, micronutrient deficiencies have disappeared, and the soil is alive. The BeCrop soil functionality tests have been a key factor in guiding the various changes made at the Vinyes Domènech winery. The new agricultural practices have had a positive impact on the vineyard and helped them to implement a sustainable, regenerative system in line with Vinyes Domènech's philosophy of maintaining the balance between the ecosystem and the crop.