Biological Terroir –Why it Matters & How to Improve it

In fine wine, flavor reigns supreme.  The single most important factor is quality of the grapes, which is a function of their terroir.  The skill of the vineyard manager and the winemaker are important, but the vineyard’s terroir – the minerals in the soil, the amount and angle of the sunlight, the amount of water have always been critical to thinking about wine.  Recently, the most forward thinking vineyard managers have begun focusing on the estate’s  biological terroir.

Wolfgang Hasselmann (Upsplash)

These are not new ideas.  In 2006, Dr. Elaine Ingham and Carol Ann Rollins published Adding Biology – in Soil and Hydroponic Systems  which described the experience of Cline Vineyard a few years earlier. Applying a full range of indigenous soil microbes, Cline Vineyards increase production in each of two years.  The second year was tough for the region due to the weather.  The 400 acres of treated vines saw a 30% increase from the prior year, and the 476 acres untreated saw a significant decline in production.

Cline used 15 gallons of Actively Aerated Compost Tea (AACT) per acre.  In the first year, they poured (by hand) one cup of AACT at the base of each vine.  The second year, they used a 55 gallon drum, with a PVC  pipe that had holes to deliver the liquid to the vines.

The area we’ve been treating with the [AACT] … for the past 2 years, tonnage is up by 30% this year, where the other areas not treated are seeing tonnage down by 30%

Ross Hotchkinson, Cline Vineyard Manager , as quoted in Adding Biology – in Soil and Hydroponic Systems (2006)

SymSoil believes there is a better way:

  • Compost Extract, can be made in 60 to 90 minutes, as opposed to 18 to 30 hours for AACT has the same effect.  It converts Robust Compost (compost with the complete soil microbe biome) into a liquid which can be delivered to the vines.
    • One Cubic Foot of Robust Compost can be converted into 250 gallons of either  Compost Extract or AACT. (With 27 cubic feet in a cubic yard, one cubic yard can be turned into over 6,5000 gallons).
    • More information on Compost Extracts vs. Actively Aerated Compost Teas (AACT) can be found here.
  • Irrigation system – As long as the irrigation system has a pressure under 80 psi, and the nozzle is 40 microns or more, the biology can be delivered without harm.  (Of course, if pesticides or other chemicals have been used for fertigation, these need to be well flushed out, as these will kill the biology.  Similarly, an atomizer for a foliar spray will crush the biology, but slower delivery foliar sprays work really well.
  • Since you cannot overdo the application of biology, we recommend 15 gallons per acre in the spring, in the summer and after harvest, for a total of 45 to 50 gallons per acre. 

Even better, when vines are planted, putting a shovel full of SymSoil®  V50 (half fungal infused biochar and half robust compost) under the new  roots of the new vine, provides them the benefits of growing through the biochar.  The extrudates in the rhizosphere (the sugars and carbohydrates extruded by the plant roots to stimulate microbial growth in nearby) will improve the health and vitality of the plant and, when the plant bears the grapes, they will be more flavorful. Complex biology in the soil, results in complex enzymes, amino acids, and better nutrient cycling, which  improves the complexity of the flavor profile.

One Cubic yard of SymSoil®  V50 is enough for about 200 vines.  The research from Hans-Peter Schmidt on vineyards in Switzerland, Germany, France and Italy, based only upon biochar has conclusively shown improvement in production and quality of wine grapes.  Along with improved grape vine health, Schmidt found  higher anthocyanin, higher amino-N and lower acid value.  He attributed this to a shift  in plant nutrient uptakes to their particular optimum ranges.

Humanity’s understanding of the soil microbe biome, and its interaction with plants has continued to evolve and change.  Now, we know that grape vines desire a fungal dominant soil, with a Fungal to Bacteria ratio of 1.6.  If this is a new concept, we recommend reading this article: The Right Microbe Biome Balance for Your Crop on Medium.

SymSoil’s focus is on improving sustainable farming, increasing productivity of vineyards, farms and victory gardens and reducing costs for regenerative or biological farmers. In that context, the single measure which seems to give the most information about the health and fertility of the soil is the Fungal to Bacteria Biomass ratio, or the F:B ratio. There is now a DIY tool that can give you that assessment in minutes. You can learn more here: Soil Health — F:B Ratio Analysis.

This article give you some guidance, as well as insights into the right ratio for your crops (grapes or others) and the pros and cons of DIY analysis, versus an analysis by the SymSoil Lab . For a full list of our lab services, visit SymSoil here https://symsoil.myshopify.com/collections/soil-lab-tests 

Call To Action

Become an Early Adopter:  We are beginning our first field trials shortly in the Suisun Valley AVA.  We are hoping to prove that like Cline Vineyard’s experience, Merry Edward’s vineyard’s experience was not a fluke.  Of course, her flavor profiles are fantastic, but when she planted, her soil had a fungal dominant soil due to the proximity and close relationship with another startup twenty years ago, Gourmet Mushroom.  We are currently working with Ryan Pierce, a vineyard consultant in Napa and Solano Counties.

Hire SymSoil to make robust compost or Biochar on your farm:  We offer on-farm composting of your agricultural waste and can teach your team to do “conservation burns”.  That is, agricultural burns that reduce CO2 emissions by 50% and reduce ash particulate (smoke) by 95%.

About SymSoil Inc

SymSoil is a leader in development of biological soil amendments for agriculture that restores the microbes that provide the right food to the plant roots, improving plant health, and making food more nutrient dense and flavorful, the way nature intended. SymSoil has products and services for growers using regenerative agriculture methodologies which improve profitability. Its flagship product, SymSoil® RC (Robust Compost) is a complex community of soil microbes, which includes in excess of 1,000 species, covering broad biodiversity of bacteria, fungi, amoebae, and other protozoa, beneficial nematodes and microarthropods. SymSoil was named one of 2019’s AgTech Companies to Watch. Accredited Investors can learn more about SymSoil as an impact investment here.

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