- Life in the vineyard -

At the Domaine, we've always chosen to grow local wine. Indeed, the extraordinarily rich Bergheim gypsum marl produces intense, full-bodied wines that age well.

For the vine to reach its potential, it needs special care at every step of its growth. Only an extensive knowledge of the soil enables us to select the most appropriate measures at the most appropriate times of the year, throughout the life of the vine.

The Elements of Soil: a complex world

Soil is made up of elements that have always existed and that don't change clay and stones, for example. But it is also made up of living elements that evolve, grow and disappear, and here, we can have an impact.

First, there's clay. There are more than 400 types of clay. Each soil is composed of a few of these varieties. If the clay is of very high quality, it can store water and fertilising elements, and provide the plant with them all year long. This type of clay makes the best soil.

Then, the erosion of rocks contributes larger components - silt, sand and stones of varying sizes and quantities. These elements, along with clay, determine the characteristics of the soil. Finally, soil contains water from rain, melted snow and underground streams that sometimes spring up as sources. Excess water has to be drained from the soil when it threatens to smother the roots, whereas evaporation has to be limited in the summer to ensure that the vines have sufficient water to mature.

The Life of Soil: a Multitude of Living Organisms

The living things in soil are essential to the vine. First, bacteria feed on vegetal waste leaves that fall in the autumn, vine shoots and roots, as well as dead grass. Soil also contains fungi, called mycorhiza, which are essential to the vines. The mycelium of this fungus explores the soil and assimilates the soil's phosphorous, which it gives to the vine in exchange for sugar from the roots of the vines. This indispensable symbiotic relationship shows us that solidarity in the living world is an important process in life. Secondly, earthworms create tunnels, which allow the soil to breathe. Finally, various wild plants grow in vine soil, providing shelter to a numerous population of insects, butterflies and bees.

To provide the best conditions for the vines to grow, we need to understand all of the relationships between the various elements.

Working the Soil: a Constantly Improving Tradition

OPPOSITE: A HORSE PLOUGHING THE SOIL IN THE DOMAINE S OLDEST VINE PARCEL

For each soil and each season, winegrowers adopt the best ploughing technique to help the vines develop in harmony with their surroundings.In winter, the soil is turned with a spade. In this way, the cold and freezing process breaks up the soil that hardened over the summer, thereby preparing it for young roots to grow in the spring.At the beginning of spring, the soil is aired to stimulate bacterial life and hasten the decomposition of the last dead leaves and roots.

 

If natural grass starts to compete with the vine, a multi-toothed- or bladed- machine is used to remove it.

At the end of summer, the grass is allowed to grow, creating a flowery, scented carpet during grape harvest.

 

FERTILISATION WITH ORGANIC MATTER: a group effort.

Each year, a few parcels are selected and fertilised with natural compost, composed of manure, straw, old vine shoots and grape pomace. This mass of organic matter, which undergoes direct, bulk fermentation, provides the soil with the best humus - a measure of the soil's health, fertility and resistance to erosion.

This natural technique requires quality equipment and a degree of organisation. Several years ago, an Alsatian association, VIGNES VIVANTES (Living Vines), was created for winegrowers using this technique. Neighbouring villages produce compost together, to meet the needs of each member. Regular meetings take place right in the vineyards to exchange ideas on the best ways to treat the different soils. Lastly, a technician and an independent laboratory conduct extensive analyses of the soils and compile the results, thereby providing a solid scientific database.

BIODYNAMICS, OPTING FOR ADVANCED TECHNIQUES

Most of the Alsatian winegrowers practicing organic viniculture have chosen a technique that combines extensive knowledge of traditions with a modern, scientific approach, called BIODYNAMICS.

This technique eliminates all chemical products from every stage of the vine-growing process. The soil is renewed regularly by adding appropriate amounts of organic matter as well as natural preparations based on plant and animal substances. Homeopathic doses of silica, which helps plants assimilate sunlight, are given to the vines to favour growth. The vine, thus brought into harmony with its environment, takes firm root in the soil and fully incorporates all the characteristics of the soil. Moreover, a more regular growth rate allows the particular qualities of each vintage to flourish. Lastly, winegrowers can explore influences that subtly affect the quality of their wines, such as cosmic rhythms, landscapes and the benefits of associating certain plants.

GROWING VINES NEED CONSTANT CARE

The vines start growing at the beginning of April, as soon as it is warm enough. Many buds appear desirable buds selected during pruning as well as undesirable buds that appear mainly on the old vine stock. The latter have to be removed to allow the vine to breathe and to ensure that only the desired number of grapes is produced. In keeping with its nature, the vine then tries to conquer the sky, striving to climb as high as possible towards the light. Its shoots are attached to trellising to help the vine grow. In the middle of summer, unwanted shoots are cut to limit its growth. Cared for at every moment, the vine thrives, and the sun's light and heat ripen its grapes.

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