Argentine Winemakers Put Water Resources And Soil Health As Top Priorities

Food & Drink

Argentina is one of the fastest-growing New World wine exporters, an exciting region of diverse terroirs and highly dedicated producers. Most of the country’s vineyards surround the foothills of the Andes Mountains, extending into a range of environments including cooler southern latitudes, high-altitude sites, arid plains, and newly explored Atlantic vineyards. 

Most of the moisture supplying Argentine vineyards originates high in the Andes Mountains in the form of glaciers and melting snowfall. Many growers have noticed what seems to be a climatic change in the amount of moisture available in groundwater and for agricultural purposes. Water conservation measures are constant priorities. 

“Water is the main resource that we need to protect,” says Anne Bousquet, president of Domaine Bousquet in Gualtallary, Uco Valley, which is located in the Mendoza region. She says that water has become a limited resource, and working with restrictions means leaning on new innovations. “Water preservation is a pressing issue that we are tackling through sustainable technologies, like drip irrigation and high performance water treatment plants which reuse water from the winemaking process.”

Domaine Bousquet has utilized organic and regenerative farming since its vineyards were planted in 1999. “This allows us to preserve the quality, health and biodiversity of our soils and their ecosystems, which subsequently can absorb greater quantities of CO2 than conventionally farmed soils,” says Bousquet.

VinoDinámicos is a group of organic and biodynamic wine producers in Argentina. Mauricio Castro, of the certification body LETIS and coordinator of the VinoDinámicos group, says the collective have observed a significant decrease in snowfall over the past ten years. “The wine industry will have no choice but to improve its use of water by trying to replace flood irrigation with drip irrigation,” says Castro. He says that water consumption habits must improve, and that the water channel route between the Andes Mountains to the estates must be properly maintained. 

Juan Pablo Murgia is the winemaker at Grupo Avinea, a collection of wine brands with vineyards in Mendoza and Chubut — 355 hectares are certified organic with more in conversion. The vineyards he works with are irrigated with water from hydrological systems that depend on winter snowfall in the Andes Mountains. “Snow melts during summer feed freshwater to the rivers, and the underground aquifers,” says Murgia. “Climate change is showing a direct impact in this process, reducing the snow to a historic low, generating a long-lasting drought in the region.” His team has implemented a water-efficient drip irrigation system and monitors weather, soil, and plant parameters to optimize watering schedules.

Technology is also at use at Durigutti Family Winemakers, a family-owned company with estate vineyards and sourcing partners around Argentina. Carina Valicati is the marketing and communications director there, and she labels the misuse of water resources as “irrecoverable”.

“In our farms, and specially in Finca Victoria in Las Compuertas, where we are certified as an organic vineyard and winery, we monitor climate tendencies and how this affects soil drying,” says Valicati. Monitoring is done on a weekly basis throughout the year. The vineyard team relies on aerial and satellite images and measurements in the fields to be able to develop a record of soil conservation and irrigation efficiency. “We believe that the disponibility of accurate data is the way for a correct evaluation,” says Valicati.

“Another major challenge is to conserve soil biodiversity,” says Murgia. “Our organic practices allow our vineyards to produce healthy soil in which microfauna contribute to regulate the dynamics of soil organic matter, and soil carbon sequestration contributes to the nutrient cycling.” He shares that vineyards surrounded by biodiverse soil have greater resilience to pests and diseases.

Valicati and the team at Durigutti echo concern for rich organic matter and soil fertility, which are necessary not only for a quality wine but for cultivation of any agricultural crop. “The soils that lose their fertility begin a process of desertification that demands enormous amounts of energy to be able to reverse it.” She says that irrigation can prevent this, but that process must be feasible based on the amount of water that is available.

“Sustainability in wine production falls primarily on the pillars of soil fertility conservation and in the efficient use of water for irrigation,” says Valicati. “We understand that these factors condition the present and the future of our activity.”

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