‘Do nothing agriculture’

An extreme parcel of natural winemaking

This plot is an experiment, says Jerome Bourgeois-Diaz. We will try to do no ploughing here. Instead. we’ve laid down a paillage – a layer of wood fragments – over the vines which will feed the structure and balance of the soil, decomposing into a rich humus over several years, without having to disturb it. Because – soil doesn’t need intervention to work. This is at the root of Fukuoka‘s thinking, a system otherwise known as ‘do nothing agriculture’. Here, the best soil is an undisturbed virgin soil, a deeply mysterious system of naturally occurring, symbiotic layers, tilled at a micro-organic level by earthworms. Self-cultivating.

The moment we start to work this soil, we disrupt its organic composition, and undo what system has established itself there. There’s the thinking at as soon as the soil is exposed to light, it’s goodness is lost – and if you are constantly plowing, then more and more soil is being unearthed. After 5 years – all of your soil is topsoil. All ploughing, according to Fukuoka, is intervention – so where does that leave a minimal interventionist, or zerozero winemaker?

Do nothing agriculture is at the extreme point of natural winemaking. And not ploughing is tough. But think how increasingly, winemakers are taking machinery out of their vineyards. Increasingly, horses – gentler hooves, less compacting of the soil, lesser intervention – are returning to the rows. Increasingly, too, those rows are being ploughed less and less – as winemakers balance the ploughing positives with the ploughing negatives and arrive at their own manageable ratio.

There’s no right answer. But there should always be questions. And curious farmers and winemakers surely make the wines- or in Jerome’s case, zero dosage, biodynamic, austere and glacial terroir champagnes –  that keep our palates alive.