Gianmario Cerutti, class of 1972, is the agronomist and enologist at Coppo winery. Since he began working for us in 1997, he has been our vineyard specialist, caring for the vines with experience and passion together with our family, year after year. We asked him to talk about the winter season that we’ve experienced this year to understand the best vineyard practices in response to abnormally high winter temperatures, little precipitation, and the imminent spring.
Gianmario, with springtime at our doorstep, how would you describe the past winter season?
At first glance, this January was similar to 2013 with its abnormal temperatures, but the winter of 2015-2016 stands out for its unusual and prolonged bouts of warm weather we had—in addition to little amounts of precipitation beginning with the months right after harvest. We had practically no snow. In general, it was a very dry season. We hope to have adequate precipitation in March; the risk is that low winter water storage will not allow the vines to easily prepare for a dry spring or summer.
Will there be problems with drought in the vineyards?
I don’t think so. The deep water storage from 2014 and 2015 has been conserved, so we won’t have problems there. Plus, grapevines do not suffer too much from lack of water. They have roots that go deep, so there’s mostly risk with young plants. Now, a lot will depend on this spring’s weather.
Is frost a critical factor?
Until the vines bud, really, major changes in temperature do not harm them. Over the winter, the vine goes into “hibernation” and gathers its energy within itself, halting development and growth. I’ve seen vines survive freezing winters thanks to their winter hibernation. For now, the warmer weather has not yet anticipated the awakening of the vines, though if March continues to be this warm they will “wake up” early. So we have to hope that there won’t be any springtime frosts. And monitor for fungus growth and insects that might have availed themselves of the mild winter.
In what way?
The lack of snow and cold temperatures probably increased the insect population, which is usually cut down by the cold. There could be a greater amount of eggs or larva, which puts more pressure on the vines during the vegetative development period. Another problem is fungus. The warmth almost definitely favored the conservation of fungal spores over the winter. But all this is still just a hypothesis.
What countermeasures will you take?
Constant monitoring of the vineyards and detailed recording of all the parameters we observe. This is essential for immediate and efficient intervention with as little treatment as possible. We pay meticulous attention to the wellbeing of our vineyards at Coppo winery, in full respect of the environment.
Did the warm winter bring any advantages?
We were able to do some work early, like pruning and tying. Pruning helps us to establish the workload that the vegetation phase will have. And this is important work, because each vine must be eased into producing, and never forced to give more than it can. In the vineyards we have a motto, “Each according to their abilities, and to each according to their needs.” Tying attaches the fruiting cane to the support wires and favors a balanced budding, which helps the sap flow evenly and more actively to stimulate bud break after a few weeks. We can steal a metaphor from plumbers and compare every vine to a “living pipe.” To help the water flow smoothly and without any obstacles, we have to prune and tie properly and avoid constraints, constrictions, and overexertion. All of this facilitates the energy and work of the vine, drastically reducing emergency interventions that are stressful to the plant, grapes, and future wine.