It’s actually a very simple concept and it has been employed since Roman times: Cover crop, also known as green manure and silly ploughing.
In the era following the Second World War, most commercial grape growers used herbicides to remove any vegetation between the rows of their vineyards.
The idea was that the vegetation “competed” with the vines for water and nutrients. Part of the reasoning was that growers wanted their plants to be as productive as possible. The goal was to produce as much wine as possible.
But after decades of treating the soil with chemicals, the soil’s “health” began to decline. The problem was that the herbicides didn’t just kill the “weeds” that grew between the rows. They also killed all the microbial life in the soil — the hummus or life as biodynamic growers would call it.
As a result, growers needed to add more synthetic products to the soil — potassium, especially — to make it productive.
But as organic, i.e., chemical-free, growing practices began to become more popular, growers started to turn to cover crops (like the ones you see in the image above) to replenish the bacteria and nitrogen that the soil needs to be naturally productive.
At a certain point, Luca and his vineyard team will mow the grasses and till them back into the soil. As a result, they will naturally encourage and facilitate the development of bacteria and microbial life.
It doesn’t happen over night: It actually takes a number of vintages to achieve the desired goals. But in the end, we — and many like the Ferraro family — have found that the vineyards are healthier, more productive, and the wines taste even better.