Every winter, among the many tasks in the vineyard, plots are replanted where the fallowing has already finished. The change this year is that the new vines look different. Instead of forming a grid, the vines follow sinuous lines, as in a Japanese garden.

Keyline planting

While the effect might look beautiful from a bird’s eye view, the reason for this trial is far from aesthetic. It is much more fundamental. We are seeking water efficiency. Episodes of drought and heat spikes, among other climate change challenges, are a major test for all winegrowers. At Gramona, in order to continue working the land and making our sparkling wines for many years to come, we are striving to try out all terroir viticulture practices that could favour the development of the best grapes, even in adverse weather conditions. For this reason, our vineyard team researches and experiments with different techniques to increase the resilience of our vines.

For the new planting, a wide selection of plants from our estate is made.  These are historical varieties from the Penedès, to which goblet pruning will be applied when the time comes. Keyline design offers a way of distributing the plants on the land which increases the benefits of the rain and reinvests water resources for the good of the land. In short, it multiplies each drop of water received. It also incorporates islands of complementary vegetation, with shrubs that welcome birds and other small animals.  This increases the biodiversity, life and energy of our landscape.

Prolonging spring, advancing autumn

In vineyards designed with this system, when it rains, the soil of the estate is consistently rehydrated and the water cycle is slowed down. Torrential floods are minimised and no longer wash fertile soil towards the sea. This prevents erosion, lengthens wet periods and encourages better and longer-lasting biological activity. This greater activity, including microbiological activity, increases the availability of nutrients for the vines. Indeed, it exponentially enhances all four ecosystem processes – the water cycle, nutrient cycle, biodiversity and energy flow. For this reason, keyline design is said to prolong spring and advance autumn. What it does is literally reduce the negative effects of summer, the driest, hottest and harshest season. The benefits of this system can be seen immediately and will multiply over the years. It is a long-term approach, the effects of which can be felt from the very first moment.

Ancestral practices, technological tools

Traditionally, in order to decide how to lay out a new plot particularly in areas with steep slopes, a horse without reins dragging a disc plough was allowed to walk over the chosen land. The animal instinctively kept to the same level and the plough marked the line of planting that was most even with respect to the slope of the land. Keyline design takes this ancestral teaching and joins it with soil analysis techniques, conductivity, precision topography with orthophoto imaging, runoff analysis, a selection of singular cartographic elements, and so on. The sketches are shared with our viticulture team to determine the planting framework. Then, with the help of a small tractor equipped with precision farming GPS, the planting is done.

Today, there are still few wineries that work with this keyline planting design. However, if more and more winegrowers, more and more farmers, join in with these practices, we will be able to ensure that the rains are not so far apart in time and that they are less torrential. The water cycle will be stabilised and we will regain a more dependable rainfall, a more reliable climate. In this way, the water will filter through the ground cover, returning the water table to an optimum level and increasing the availability of nutrients for plants, both cultivated and wild. At Gramona, we are determined to continue testing and adopting tools to shape the future, inseparable from our land.

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