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Understanding Vineyard Soils$
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Robert E. White

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199342068

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199342068.001.0001

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What Makes a Healthy Soil?

What Makes a Healthy Soil?

(p.1) 1 What Makes a Healthy Soil?
Understanding Vineyard Soils

Robert E. White

Oxford University Press

Soil scientists used to speak of soil quality, a concept expressing a soil’s “fitness for purpose.” The prime purpose was for agriculture and the production of food and fiber. However, to the general public soil quality is a rather abstract con­cept and in recent years the term has been replaced by soil health. A significant reason for this change is that health is a concept that resonates with people in a personal sense. This change is epitomized in the motto “healthy soil = healthy food = healthy people” on the website of the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania (http://rodaleinstitute.org/). One consequence of this change is an increasing focus on the state of the soil’s biology, or life in the soil, an emphasis that is expressed through the promotion of organic and biodynamic systems of farming. Viticulture and winemaking are at the forefront of this trend. For example, Jane Wilson (2008), a vigneron in the Mudgee region of New South Wales, is quoted as saying, “the only way to build soil and release a lot of the available minerals is by looking after the biology,” and Steve Wratten (2009), professor of ecology at Lincoln University in New Zealand has said, “Organic viticulture rocks! It’s the future, it really is.” This exuberance has been taken up by Organic Winegrowers New Zealand, founded only in 2007, who have set a goal of “20 by 2020,” that is, 20% of the country’s vineyards under certified organic management by the year 2020. The Cornell Soil Health Assessment provides a more balanced assessment of soil health (Gugino et al., 2009). The underlying concept is that soil health is an integral expression of a soil’s chemical, physical, and biological attributes, which determine how well a soil provides various ecosystem functions, including nutrient cycling, supporting biodiversity, storing and filtering water, and maintaining resilience in the face of disturbance, both natural and anthropogenic. Although originally developed for crop land in the northeast United States, the Cornell soil health approach is readily adapted to viticulture, as explained by Schindelbeck and van Es (2011), and which is currently being attempted in Australia (Oliver et al., 2013; Riches et al., 2013).

Keywords:   Beaujolais region, Chalk formation, Gamay, Heathcote region, King Valley region, Maule Valley, Podzol soil, Rapel Valley, Valais region, Willamette Valley

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