Our experiment in EXTREME PROVIGNAGE – New Syrah Block Take 2

layeringexampleSashi has long talked about the legendary practice of Provignage employed in ancient, pre-phyloxera Burgundy and Champagne. Accounts of the practice date back to Roman times. Vignerons planted one cutting, and layered the vine time and time again until one vine, one being, connected by a maze of buried shoots, took up an entire vineyard block, possibly the size of a hectare, perhaps even larger.
I can’t deny the coolness factor of the concept. How neat would it be to make a hundred cases of wine all from a single plant? But Sashi theorizes there are other benefits as well, both immediate and long term.
This one vine would have roots of varying age because layering takes so many years. Year one begins with one plant, and with only one shoot buried per vine, it takes a couple years for the exponential increases in vines to take off. Each new vine technically has an independent root system, but it is left connected by the buried shoot to the older generation. The second generation layered to create a larger ring of vines until many generations and years later; the interconnected vine reaches a total of a couple thousand above-ground plants.
CornasBlock1At this point, the original planting might be fifteen years old, and its well-established roots behave maturely, bringing in nutrients from deep in the soil. Because the vine now has been layered so many times, while the original roots are mature, the vine also has brand new, aggressively growing root systems on the perimeter. Sashi believes that the immediate benefit of keeping the vine intact as one, is that there is a balance of old and young roots. The presence of the old roots governs the entire plant, and from the memory of dry-farmed seasons past, dictates a conservative yield, even while the new roots are striving for growth and ambitiously gunning for a big crop. In other words, the parents and grandparents make sure the young generation behaves responsibly and maturely. The product is an even amount of vigor, yield, and ripeness, despite the fact that the majority of vines are brand new.
As things tend to happen here at Stolpman, Ruben listens to Sashi’s theories and then one morning, we show up to the vineyard – and voila – there are Sashi’s theories in practice. Of course, Ruben has plenty of his own theories, but he doesn’t share them with us until we show up to the vineyard and ask him things like, “why is the block 3 Grenache trained quadralaterally and why do the posts now resemble sailing ship masts?” And that’s how we learn of Ruben’s theories, once they’re already in practice!
CornasBlock2In the case of EXTREME PROVIGNAGE, I immediately saw the implementation of Sashi’s theory when I saw Ruben’s newly planted 50 cuttings of Syrah. Ruben planted all but one of the cuttings in two rows about 100 feet apart. He staked out a third row right down the middle of the plot. There is only one stick planted in this middle row. The healthiest, most handsome stick out of the 50 will become generation one, the founding father, of the new super vine. This one stick, in fifteen years, will cover the entire hillside.
With all of those connected root systems, the vine will be able to withstand climatic extremes. The plant will be strong enough to ripen a crop every year despite cold, wind, and clouds. For the long-term, the super vine, this experiment in EXTREME PROVIGNAGE, will produce wines of the highest quality despite challenging vintages.
On top of uniform quality over the years; the wine, coming from only one vine, will have the purest fruit profile imaginable: one singular voice.