What has vine pruning got to do with sustainability? A lot, says Marco Simonit

By Hanna Halmari

Marco Simonit of Simonit&Sirch, on sustainable pruning

Sustainablewine.co.uk’s Agatha Pereira recently met up with Marco Simonit of Simonit&Sirch, a consulting and training company in vine pruning and training. Here’s a transcript of the conversation they had. Some of the responses we’ve included come from a translator, as responses were in a mix of English and Italian.

AP: Marco, tell us how did you start working with vines and what you do today?

MS: I come from a family of farmers. I have always been interested in everything involving natural plants and animals. In 1988, I started to work for a regional farmers organization in Collio region, which is Friuli, northeast of Italy, where I was born.

This was where I first met vines and my passion began. Before, in my family we don’t have a lot of vines, but a lot of cows and horses. The day I ‘met’ the vines, I thought a lot about the morphology of the vine, how they are trained, the domestication. I thought about the relationship between man and vine. This is strange, but this was my first question to myself when I started, back in 1988.

AP: How do you define sustainability for the wine industry today?

MS: It’s a complex question.

Sustainability means understanding complexity, understanding change. Learning the things of nature, and also taking away the obsession of controlling everything. It’s about being flexible as well as being sustainable. It’s about abandoning that idea of controlling everything.

Do you understand when you stand today with live plants, live animals? Man is changing because it’s life. I think sustainability is about understanding biodiversity, and staying with the changes. Don’t have a rigid approach, don’t have an approach that looks for control, but an approach which is dynamic, in line with the situation because conditions in the vineyard are changing day by day. We must respect biodiversity.

I like the holistic approach. If you observe and that you understand that day after day and you take your time, or observe, then you build your experience, this is the holistic approach. It is not a science but is it holistic? The observation day by day, year after year.

If you understand the vine is alive. Is it an individual? Is it like a man, like an animal? In the industrial approach, mechanical approach, all we have in the industrial wineries is strict control over the development of the vines.

AP: Which in your view are the most important vineyard techniques viticulturists can use to tackle or mitigate climate change effects in the coming years?

MS: Another complex question, because when you are in a particular ecosystem you are in that place, in that particular area in the world, with a lot of variations. You don’t have to try to change your ecosystem, but you have to understand and respect the ecosystem.

For example, in some places like, Australia or also California or other countries, water is an important issue. We need to think about to build strong vines and develop of the root stocks in the soil, respect the morphology and the biodiversity of the soils, but also build strong vines.

For adapting to climate change what is needed is to build strong root stocks, strong trunks, arms, allow ramification to take place. We need to build live roots, because inside the live root, you have nutrient storage. Vines in this case can have drought resistance.

The pruning is one of the mostly important issues for building strong vines. We don’t want to build dead wood and increase the risks of pathology and disease, we need to build live wood and roots.

If you don’t respect this, you increase the risk for the vines to lost their heritage and increase the risk of disease. You increase the risk of not having good production year after year. You don’t have the good identity of the grapes.

Because the grapes, when you have the vines that stay in this soil for many years, you have more possibilities than ever to identity the best grapes. This character of the grapes is then possible to find inside the vines afterwards. I think this is very important for reducing the risks and helping the vines resist climate change, because that change is so stressful.

Sudden changes, extreme change of temperature or fluctuation of climate, to manage against this, you need to build strong vines. After that it’s done pretty much with pruning. Good technical pruning is one of the big issues for build strong vines and the longevity of vines.

AP: How well do we understand vines today compared with the recent past and how much more is there to learn about how healthy vines function?

MS: Scientists today know so much more than in the past. We have a lot of information, but I think we need to put that in the hands of the winemakers, and the growers of the grapes.

It’s not enough to have a lot of scientific knowledge. Is it important? Sure. But I think we need to teach and coach more and spend and invest more time for the knowledge of the people who work in the fields. Everywhere in the world, in Africa, Australia, US, Europe, everywhere, we need to invest for teach and coach people who work in the fields.

AP: Do labels and certification matter to you? Do you think they make a difference?

MS: This is a really good question for pruning. In the US, for example, people ask us because there’s certification for organic and biodynamic, water friendly, fish friendly and many other areas. For pruning, no, but why not? If you don’t prune well, you don’t respect your vines. I think maybe the day is not so far away when the pruning certificate may be alongside the others.

Simonit&Sirch and Plumpton College have joined forces to create the first “Vine Pruning School by Simonit&Sirch, Respecting the Sap Flow” in UK, starting on Monday, January 13th 2020.

This is a unique opportunity to learn the basis of a method that is applied in some of the most important vineyards in the world, with a particular focus for UK viticultural requirements.

Participants will be supplied with their own copy of the award winning Simonit&Sirch Manual of Guyot Pruning, recently translated and published into English.

Limited places are available, to apply online on Plumpton College website, follow the link here.