Agroforestry pioneers Benoit and Delphine Vinet are Vitisphere readers’ personalities of the year

Tuesday January 19 2021 by Vitisphere

 After planting their first trees in 2008, they launched their holistic approach in 2014 and feel it is within everyone’s reach. After planting their first trees in 2008, they launched their holistic approach in 2014 and feel it is within everyone’s reach. - Photo credit : Philippe Laurençon (domaine Emile Grelier)

The Bordeaux winegrowing couple was acclaimed by our readers for the 2020 top 20 in wine. They have run Domaine Emilie Grelier (18 hectares of certified organic vines in Lapouyade, Gironde) for twenty years. With Benoît Vinet in the vineyard and Delphine Vinet on the marketing side, they have become a benchmark for agroforestry.

Agroforestry seems to be the new buzzword in the wine industry. How do you define it on your farm?

Delphine Vinet: We don't talk about “farming” – we take an approach that is different to this ambiguous term. We call ourselves “peasant winegrowers”. When we started out, agroforestry was not fashionable. By planting 570 trees and 1,200 metres of hedges (half of them planted), we introduced agroforestry because Benoît wanted to remedy the issue of growing vines as a monoculture.

Benoit Vinet: There are several definitions of agroforestry. My personal definition involves trees and hedges, which should not be overlooked. Hedges are the ‘skin’ of a plot of land, and trees are its heart. Trees created the soil and part of our atmosphere and they are the pillars that have been left aside when in fact they can offer a solution for the future.

 

What are the tangible effects of agroforestry?

Delphine Vinet: Trees can create a microclimate, boosting life in the soil, breaking the prevailing winds, giving vineyard workers a boost – the landscape becomes less monotonous and the atmosphere is different – and creating landforms in the vineyard, which beneficial fauna needs to be able to hunt, such as bats for grape worms.

Benoit Vinet: The impact is significant on soil microbiology, as minerals and hydrology rise up towards the surface because water enters and rises to the surface more easily. Agroforestry promotes a quantum leap forward – soil life is huge. We gave up ploughing years ago, we've even stopped mowing between the vine rows. Normally the soil should never see the sun, like in a forest. We occasionally scrape the soil for sowing.

 

The appearance of unploughed and unmown vines may seem ‘dirty’ to some winegrowers, reflecting a desire to control vineyards and keep them ‘clean’…

Delphine Vinet: What is a clean vineyard? What is a beautiful vineyard? When we see a vineyard that has been completely ploughed, we don't find it beautiful...

 

Some winegrowers believe that agroforestry is out of their reach, particularly from an economic and technical perspective. What challenges need to be overcome?

Benoit Vinet: There are several solutions [for rolling out agroforestry techniques on an estate]. We have incorporated trees into existing vine rows, but there is no obligation to do so. You can increase the space between the rows [at planting time] to include trees. Large estates (and small ones!) are now wondering about agroforestry and at least want to introduce experiments to see its impact. When you start, you realise that it is not insurmountable and that it can be economically worthwhile.

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