The elements that determine the qualities of the grape are, fundamentally, the vine, the soil in which it is grown and the climate. If we act on the soil and the vine in the right way and are able to control the effects that the weather has on both, we will have a better chance of achieving a quality harvest.
To achieve this, it is essential to study in depth each plot until you understand it, know how each element behaves, determine the strengths and weaknesses, know which pests are especially sensitive, at what time of year they are most vulnerable, what is the rate of each one, if they are colder, more humid or less ventilated … All this information is the basis on which it is established what specific care we must provide to each one to obtain quality grapes in profitable quantity.
The only feature that the parcels of A Cova´s riverbanks have in common with each other is that each one of them is different from the others. More than 15 vine varieties, among different clones of the same variety, centennial strains and foreign varieties, grown on granite, shale and slate soils and dotted with fragments of quartz, clay, boulders and sabrego (decomposed granite), cover the slopes that reach a 40% slope to save 300 meters of unevenness and with all possible orientations due to the angle opened by the meander.
Each plot is a world that, based on observation and analysis, we are deciphering over the years. The objective, as we said, is to understand how the elements present during cultivation affect the qualities of the grape and the properties of the wine. What makes a year drier? And the volume of the harvest? What contributions does each of them need to recover from one campaign and prepare for the next? What variety of vine is best suited for each location? How do the qualities of the grape vary when some of the factors involved vary? Analyzing and contrasting these data allows us to find the best versions of each plot, the versions that we want to turn into wine, and know what conditions we have to promote in the vineyard to achieve it.
Everything we do in the vineyard leaves some kind of mark on it, both in the characteristics of the wines and in the environment. That is why our agricultural techniques are based on sustainability and respect for the environment and during the last 20 years we have been progressively introducing the principles of organic viticulture and integral agriculture in our crops. This is how we managed in 2010 to become the third winery in Galicia to be bottled with the EU organic product certification. And so we have also managed to produce increasingly natural and genuine wines while taking care of the vineyards that give them to us. It's a fair change.
The work carried out throughout the year, the specific techniques used in each case, the preventive methods, the soil treatments … Each and every one of the interventions carried out on crops is established based on two primary purposes: first, putting the necessary measures to ensure that, at least under “normal” conditions, the harvest is assured and secondly, to ensure that the essence of the vine is transmitted to the grape so that it can be bottled.
Climate is the only one of all the elements present in crops on which we cannot intervene directly. Its influence is decisive for both the quantity and the quality of the harvest, so its importance when deciding the intervention strategies on the vineyards is great.
The high humidity of Galicia is the staple food of many of the most dangerous enemies for the harvest. In addition to accelerating the spread of all kinds of pests and diseases, it is a paradise for fungi such as mildew, black rot, powdery mildew or botrytis, known and feared by all Galician winemakers. The presence in crops of these pathogens can seriously damage production (and even destroy it completely) and cause irreparable damage to plantations.
It is essential to be meticulous with basic tasks such as trimming the vegetation cover when necessary or properly cleaning the utensils used in the work in order to avoid the spread of possible diseases, in addition to avoiding as much as possible the mechanization of the work to reduce as much as possible effects of pollution on the ground.
In winter, work is carried out to prepare the vines for sprouting that will take place in spring.
Choosing the proper pruning techniques and knowing how to adapt each one to the needs of the vineyards is another key point. In addition to the variety of vine in question, it is necessary to take into account the orientation of the vineyard, the hours of sunshine it receives and the height at which it is located, if the soil is fertile or poor, the age of the vines … An excess of foliage or an inadequate orientation of the branches will cause the plant to be more vulnerable to many diseases, in addition to also affecting the qualities of the grape.
The soil, the food base of the vines throughout the year, must be in optimum condition in spring. After the harvest, its level of nutrients and pH are analyzed, and it is decided if it is necessary to intervene and in what way.
The fertilization (or not) of the vineyards is a delicate aspect and in which special care must be taken, since an excess of fertility can lead to the plant matter growing out of control and attracting unwanted visitors. The preference of most varieties for mineral and sandy soils, gives us an idea that it is better to fall short than to go too far. Ideally, the soil is fed back from the plant matter that it itself generates throughout the year. When this is not enough, we turn to the vermicompost that we have been making for several years with the remains of bagasse from the winery's harvest.
Also during the winter, holes are made that will house new plants in spring, which will remain open for months to help the soil renewal, provide oxygen and prevent the appearance of dangerous fungi.
All these seasonal maintenance work strengthen the vines and their immediate surroundings so that, harvest after harvest, they can overcome the obstacles that will be encountered until harvest. In addition, they help the vineyards to stay in good condition and young for longer, that is, to better bear the weight of the years.
But when it comes to care, it is never enough, so we apply the best preventive method we have found in the vineyards to avoid seeing the worst side of nature: to make it become our ally. Experience has taught us that with the right tools it is capable of generating and maintaining a balanced ecosystem and biodiversity that serves as a natural protection against harmful elements.
The main objective of this strategy is to attract the natural predators of pests to our crops and facilitate their sustenance and permanence in the environment. For this, we try to ensure that the plant cover of the vineyards has the appropriate plant species, preferably indigenous, and that they are maintained throughout the seasons, we provide spaces for them to breed and we facilitate their work to the extent of our possibilities.
Using this work methodology for years, we have managed to achieve the soil-plant-climate balance we were talking about at the beginning, the main tool to be able to make quality natural wines and to continue making them for a long time.