The ideal grapevine root extends downward more than outward. It reaches deep into the soil, pulling up water and nutrients that feed its grapes.
Natural Roots Vs. Conventional Roots
Mauro Montanaro and Daniele Tuccori spend their days running Agricola Calafata, a small vineyard in Tuscany. From relatively few grapes, they produce a range of wines that are known for their playfulness and complexity. Calafata was born out of Mauro and Daniele’s desire to rehabilitate the land. They wanted to breathe new life into a region that has been dominated for years by monocropping and other damaging farming practices.
Unlike most of the neighboring vineyards, Calafata is entirely biodynamic. Mauro and Daniele quickly discovered that strong plants lead to strong land. They committed to a philosophy of Natural Wine: biodynamic growth, no pesticides or fertilizers on grapes, native yeast fermentation, and minimal intervention.
After nearly a decade, Mauro and Daniele’s experiment in rehabilitation is working. On the surface, the Calafata vineyard looks much like those around it. But beneath the surface, thanks to years of Natural growing practices and careful encouragement, the roots of its grapevines are quite different. Any winegrower is intimately familiar with a vineyard’s root system. You have to plant grapevines carefully to allow each vine’s roots enough room to grow. The ideal grapevine root extends downward more than outward. It reaches deep into the soil, pulling up water and nutrients that feed its grapes.
A well-tended grapevine can send roots as deep as fifteen feet underground. Many winemakers pursue this exact structure; they insist that the deeper the root goes, the stronger the sense of terroir in the wine. It’s as if the roots are extracting the essence of the land itself, imparting its unique feeling and flavor into the grapes — and, eventually, the wine that’s made from them.
Deep roots also protect the land around them. They add structure to the soil, anchoring it so that heavy rain doesn’t wash everything away. They’re also more resilient to pests, most of which can’t burrow underground far enough to do serious damage. Perhaps most importantly, the roots decompose and rebuild themselves deep underground, creating a nutrient cycle that supports other life and invites biodiversity. But growing strong, deep roots takes time. The vines don’t yield as many grapes for the first few years because they’re putting more of their energy toward growing roots, not grapes.
For that reason, many modern winemakers avoid organic practices. Instead of waiting for their vines to develop at Nature’s pace, they use fertilizer injections, heavy irrigation, pesticides, and other interventions to increase their grape yield. The resulting grapevines look the same above ground, but the roots show the difference. With constant fertilizing, watering, and pesticide application, they never have reason to burrow deep into the earth. Instead, they sit on the top of the soil, maximizing their surface area to soak up what their winegrower gave them. They become dependent on these interventions to survive. They’re easy to uproot — during any growing season, a strong rain could wash them away — and the wines made from their grapes often taste equally shallow, unless they’re enhanced with additives.
Like all worthwhile things in life, Natural Wine takes time. It comes from grapes grown with patience and care, on vines that have been allowed to root deep into the land. It comes in smaller yields and it changes each year, according to the whims of Nature. But the time and care and patience are worth it in the end. Well made Natural Wines are among the finest in the world — and they all start from the root up.