Wine has become a huge business in California; it’s one of the state economy’s biggest contributors, in fact. However, the soils that make up the fertile grape-growing region that produces the ever-popular Chardonnay are undergoing some changes that may threaten the future of this industry if action isn’t taken soon.

Soil health is a thing

Soil has, for many decades now, been seen as a dead substance, it’s simply the setting, or the support structure, for whatever is growing in it. This couldn’t be further from the truth, though, as soil is actually a dynamic ecosystem in its own right and its balance and vitality needs to be examined and maintained at all costs.

A combination of climate change, intensive farming and new farming methods, including artificial pesticides, fertilizers and mechanical plows, have all led to the depletion of the soil in California.

A key indicator of this depletion is in the drop in the number of worms in the soils of the state. Earthworms have long been hailed as the farmer’s best friend, because they not only burrow through and aerate the soil, but by eating and excreting smaller animals into the soil, they continually enrich it with essential compounds. This so-called vermicompost effectively recharges the soil, making it ready for another growing season, and if there are fewer worms doing this, then there’ll be lower nutrient levels.

Not only do worms create vermicompost, but their presence also stirs up the soil, creating extra drainage so that rainwater can escape without dragging the vital nitrogen, potassium and phosphate compounds out with it.

What’s the solution?

First of all, the soils in a vineyard should be examined and analysed and if there are few organic compounds in it, as well as few living creatures (worms included), then there’s something going wrong. Even the tiny creatures in soil have a role, eating even smaller creatures, living, dying and decaying, all of which feeds the soil.

If the soil is becoming effectively sterile, then the vineyard must rethink its production methods. The organic and natural wine movements could save the day here, with their emphases on hand-weeding, natural fertilizers and low pesticide use.

Previously bulk wineries in California didn’t want to spend money on researching and looking after their soils, but it’s now a real priority.

All together now! Save the earthworm!


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