Markus Eitle from IMC Krems’ Institute for Tourism, Wine Business and Marketing is collaborating with four colleagues from the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture in Frankfurt, Germany, and the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna on a research project focused on site-appropriate greening as an alternative approach to tending the area directly surrounding the base of the grapevine.
These particular parts of the vineyard are highly sensitive, as they supply the vines with a substantial proportion of the nutrients and water they require. Mechanical and chemical methods are used in many vineyards in order to keep tall, competing weeds in the area around the vine stems under control, which in turn ensures ideal growing conditions for the vines. However, depending on the soil properties, these methods can reduce soil fertility and biodiversity in the long term, as well as resulting in increased labour and operating costs. Research into site-appropriate, soil-friendly greening alternatives is not only a point of interest for Austrian winemakers – it is also a key global factor in terms of achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Initial international research findings from greening trials have been promising in terms of their practical applicability and the revitalisation of soil life, but some of them involve introduced herbs and grasses that are less well adapted to local conditions.
Pilot study as preparatory step
The research project planned by IMC Krems and the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences will investigate greening of the soil directly around grapevines using local, low-growing herbs that are adapted to vineyard conditions in the lowlands and hills found on Lower Austria’s Pannonian Plain. A one-year pilot study conducted by IMC Krems in 2022 in cooperation with the Sepp Moser family vineyard and the Johann and Marlene estate tested a mixture of selected herb varieties, focusing on their appropriateness for specific sites and their impact on ground coverage when they were planted around vines. The experiment looked at a mixture of five herbs that were planted in springtime around vines growing in loamy and sandy loess soil in two vineyards in Rohrendorf near Krems, and on the Zöbinger Heiligenstein hill, where the sandy soil contains a mixture of loam and silt. In addition, varieties of strawberry were planted in Rohrendorf and grown from seed on the Heiligenstein. Growth rates and ground coverage were recorded and analysed towards the end of the growing period using a standardised method.
The initial results showed steady growth rates, with four of the five herbs well suited to conditions at both sites. The exception was thyme-leaved sandwort (Arenaria serpyllifolia), a partly annual plant, which grew poorly at both sites. A comparison of both vineyards showed that the silver cinquefoil and goldmoss stonecrop plants at the Rohrendorf site were relatively stronger, which could be due to the more nutrient-rich soil. White stonecrop and Breckland thyme (Thymus serpyllum) grew vigorously at both sites. Analysis of the degree of ground coverage revealed a rate of 12.25% in Rohrendorf and 3.68% on the Zöbinger Heiligenstein , in spite of the relatively dry weather during the trial period in 2022; the strawberry variety planted in Rohrendorf fared extremely well, with ground coverage reaching as much as 29.56%. The sowed strawberry variety performed poorly, though. As a result, in 2023 the research team will focus on optimising sowing processes in the areas around grapevines.
Based on the initial findings and the importance of this topic for sustainable, innovative winemaking, the project will be extended to other areas in Lower Austria, where research will focus on potential side effects of different forms of greening in terms of competition for water and nutrients, fruit quality, soil life and biodiversity over a longer period.
Markus Eitle, Institute of Tourism, Wine Business and Marketing, Department of Business, IMC University of Applied Sciences Krems; Marlene Milan, Department of Sustainable Farming Systems, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), Frankfurt; Sabine Plenk, Institute of Landscape Architecture, Department of Space, Landscape and Infrastructure, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna; Cornelia Amon and Albert Stöckl, Institute of Tourism, Wine Business and Marketing, Department of Business, IMC University of Applied Sciences Krems