Ithaka Institut

Charter for Biodiversity in Vineyards

The principle underlying the new methods for quality-orientated wine growing is based on specifically promoting biodiversity. Looked at from a superficial and aesthetical perspective, this is mirrored by the picture of a vineyard smelling of flowers and full of grasshoppers. Looked at more scientifically, the principle is based on an understanding of a vineyard as an ecosystem, whose flexible balance is formed by a complex network reflecting a high biological diversity.

The promotion of biodiversity is not the goal itself, but a way of turning a vineyard into a stable ecosystem, thereby enhancing the quality of the Terroir by means of the sustainable use of natural forces.

Biodiversity of the soil and the soil-cover

1. The encouragement of biodiversity in the vineyard starts with soil reactivation. Only bioactive manure is applied: compost, compost extracts, herb extracts, green fertilizer, biochar, mulch, MRF. The use of artificial manure, concentrated fertilizer, herbicides or liquid fertilizer is not allowed, and the application of non-composted animal manure should similarly be avoided.

2. A permanent crop of leguminous plants should be planted between the vines, creating a closed material cycle and guaranteeing a supply of nutrients to the vines without the need for any additional artificial fertilizers. Sowing of large variety of leguminous plants promotes a very high level of biological activity in the soil, improves water and nutrient retention and keeps erosion in check.

3. An all-year green cover crop will allow you to attain a plantation rich in native flower species. At least 20% of the seed mixture for the green cover crop should be composed of plants with flowers attracting insects. As a rule of the thumb, one should be able to find at least 50 different types of wild plants in the vineyard.

Vertical Biodiversity

4. Plant bushes at the end of the respective rows where they do not interfere with vineyard work. The criteria for selecting the bushes are based on their potential attractiveness for butterflies and other insects, their nesting possibilities, the symbiosis of their roots and the use of their fruits. Only native species are to be planted.

5. Plant hedges as an intermediate row between the vines. Depending on local conditions, there should be at least two 20m closed hedges per hectare. Hedges are great biodiversity hotspots and ideal for networking ecological areas. As natural barriers between the rows they stop the epidemic spread of harmful fungus.

6. Plant fruit trees to improve vertical diversity. Trees among low-growing plants and in poorly structured cultivation areas constitute an enormous attraction for birds, insects and animals and encourage the repopulation of the ecological habitat. Solitary trees are excellent at catching aeroplankton and also act as spore collectors. Yeasts and other fungi will spread from the tree to the vineyard (diversity of natural yeasts for winemaking and as competition for harmful fungus). At least one tree per hectare should be planted between the vines as well as several small trees on the boundaries facing NE-NW. The distance to the next tree should not exceed 50m at any point of the vineyard. Possible losses in the grape harvest can be compensated by the harvested fruit.

Structural Biodiversity

7. Create ecological compensation areas rich in species (at least two 20 m2 plots per hectare)
as diversity hotspots both within and on the edges of the vineyard, full of aromatic herbs and wild flowers (ruderal vegetation and flora). The distance to the nearest hotspot should not be more than 50m from any point of the vineyard.

8. Install structural elements such as stones and piles of wood for reptiles and insects, as well as man-made nests for wild bees, insects and birds. The latter can be attached to the staking posts. Perches for birds of prey can help keep rodents in check. Any pesticides sprayed must, therefore, be made up of substances harmless to bees and insects (no chemical pesticides and sulphur).

Crop and Cultural Diversity

9. Plant at least one secondary crop in the gaps between the main crop. This can consist of vegetables such as tomatoes or pumpkins, a fruit such as raspberries or strawberries, a winter cereal such as rye and barley, or aromatic herbs, planted or sown between the rows of vines. Also suitable are fruit bushes like chokeberry, sea buckthorn or sloe planted in lines between the vines, as are rows of fruit trees (vineyard peach, plum, almond, quince, etc.). Secondary culturs also include bees, sheep, chickens, fish and other small farm animals. The areas earmarked for secondary crops must be large enough to ensure a good economic return.

Genetic Diversity

10. Instead of grubbing up old vineyards and completely replanting them,  old vines should be replaced one for the other, selecting the new vines by means of massale selection in the same vineyard and grafting them onto existing vines, thereby achieving a multi-generation selection of varieties perfectly adapted to the Terroir. The genetic diversity thus obtained reduces pest attacks, increases hardiness to dominant environmental conditions and improves wine quality.