Biodymamics key to climate change mitigation says Barolo producer

In a webinar last week for the launch of Ceretto’s 2016 expressions of Barolo and Barbaresco, the producer’s Gianluca Pica said that biodymamic vineyard practices were proving key to mitigating the impact of climate change in the Piedmont.

The striking Ceretto winery and estate in Barolo

Commenting on the impact of the farming approach, which employs a series of organic ‘preparations’ and does away with any synthetic inputs, he said that biodynamics leads to earlier and more even ripening in the grapes, which is a boon when temperatures are rising on average across this part of northern Italy.

“With biodynamics, we get more balanced grapes, they are not green and unprepared, which means we can have an early harvest, and have ripe grapes,” he said.

Commenting that it “starts from the soil”, he added that “other farming types give you quantity, but not the balance.”

Suggesting that conventional agricultural practices alter the natural balance in the vineyard, he said that biodynamics bring “the environment in to balance”, which extends to the grapes too.

With the Piedmont, including its prized regions of Barolo and Barbaresco, experiencing “African vintages such as 2003 or 2017” according to Federico Ceretto, the producer has observed the impact of very dry and extremely hot conditions on the Nebbiolo grapes grown in these areas.

“When it is really, really hot and super dry, then the production of the grape is changed completely, which includes the acidity, the pH and the phenolic maturation,” he recorded.

In such a scenario, producers are hoping that the berries can reach phenolic ripeness before grape sugars get too high, and natural acidities fall.

However, when there is excessive heat and drought, winemakers can face the difficulty of grapes with high sugar levels, low acidities (or high pHs), and green tannins – which would yield a wine that was unusually alcoholic, potentially short-lived, and astringent. 

Because Ceretto has observed gradual, even, and early-ripening bunches in its biodynamically-farmed vineyards, even in hot vintages, it means that it has managed to harvest berries before sugar levels rise sharply, or acidities fall away, and yet still have a wine with ripe tannins.

And this is why it believes that biodyanamic farming methods are one way to respond to the issue of warming growing seasons due to climate change.

However, should average temperatures continue to rise, Ceretto also observed that a response in the longer term could be to move to new areas for grape growing, preferably at higher altitudes in the larger Langhe area of the Piedmont.

And this, Ceretto admitted, does affect their decision as to where the producer should invest today.

Today, the vineyard of a Barolo cru costs €3-4 million per hectare, so this [climate change] is a big question for us… If I have €3-4m to invest in a vineyard today, I have the question, will this vineyard be a place [to grow great Nebbiolio] in another 50 years time? – and this is a discussion that is evident in the conzorzio,” he said, referring to the governing body for Barolo.

While he said that temperatures in the region have been “up and down” over the last 20 vintages, with little change overall, he also said that if you look back over a 100-year history for Barolo, then “there is big change”.

Meanwhile, referring to a sparkling wine project by Ceretto, he said that plantings in the 1990s of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at 250 metres above sea level – an altitude thought ideal for making traditional method fizz in the Piedmont – failed to produce grapes with high enough acidity levels to make such a wine style.

But, this century, having moved the plantation to a 500m site in Piedmont’s Alta Langa, Ceretto has “achieved good success”.

Using this development as an example of a changing climate, he said, “We have gone from 250m to 500m in 15 years to produce sparkling wine.”

Ceretto converted all its red wine producing vineyards to biodynamics in 2010

Ceretto released its 2016 vintage single vineyard Barolos in the UK last week.

Often referred to as the vintage of the decade in Piedmont, the release followed an online press masterclass with Federico Ceretto on 28 May.

Under Marcello and Bruno Ceretto, often called the ‘Barolo Brothers’, Ceretto was one of the first producers to focus on producing single vineyard Barolos and Barbarescos back in the 1960s.

This was revolutionary at a time when other producers were not convinced of the value of different terroirs for their wines.

Ceretto has been producing single vineyard wines ever since then.

The 2016 vintage has been widely acclaimed by producers and critics alike, providing an ideal growing season, which, according to Ceretto, resulted in some truly spectacular wines across the board, capturing all the quality and pedigree that we come to expect from Nebbiolo and great Barolos.

Federico Ceretto commented: “What is most evident about the 2016 Barolos is their exceptional balance and harmony. The 2016 single vineyard Ceretto wines are able to express the individual differences in terroir of the different Crus in the Ceretto estate, highlighting the subtle nuances of the Nebbiolo depending on where the grapes are grown.”

He continued, “The land is the soul of our wines. All of our single vineyard Nebbiolo is farmed in accordance with our own biodynamic protocol. We vinify each Cru in the same way, so any differences in the wines we can fully attribute to the differences in the terroir on which the vines grow.”

Alessandro Ceretto implemented this system in 2010 and all wines from the 2015 vintage onwards are sold with the organic certification.

The Ceretto 2016 vintage Barolos will be available through specialist fine wine merchants in the UK, including: Cru Wines, IG Wines, Berry Bros. & Rudd, BI, Uncorked.

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