It’s already the spring of 2022, the beginning of April. Temperatures are on the rise and the vegetative cycle of plants sees them come to life. This spells the time for planting in the vineyard. It is time for the planting of new vines, continuing the recovery of our heritage and the life of our locality (Fuentecén, Ribera del Duero Burgalesa). The work is carried out at this time of year to make the most of the spring rain. Also, the new plants start the vegetative cycle at the same time as their older siblings.
The aim of our new plantings is always to restock exceptional vineyards with original genetic material after they have become depleted. At Tres Piedras this means that our new plants come from cuttings from our oldest and most precious vinestock. For this we look for vineyard plots whose quality was held in universally high regard by the local elders back in the day. This involves years and years of working with farmers and winegrowers in our region, hours and hours of conversations, journeys, listening and understanding. The old-time winegrowers know where the grapes ripened best, and the areas least affected by frost.
Planting back in the day
From the 1920s to the 1950s planting was done in a series of grids, with the distance between plants varying over time: the planting grids began at 90 × 90 cm, from back before horses were used, since there was no room for even a mule; then they were extended to 1.30 × 1.30 m to allow access for the animals. The vines were also planted in triangles (“tresbolillo”), like the five pips on a dice cube, as this suited the terrain, and this was called “on the diagonal”. When tractors came into the picture, every second line of vines was torn up, leaving the outer grid frame at 2.40 m. Currently most of the planting is done in separate lines at between 2.80 and 3 metres to enable access for larger tractors. “This is how the width has changed since we were youngsters,” an 85-year-old in our area told us a few days ago.
30 cm holes were dug, removing the earth with a hoe and then replacing it. They were opened up again in winter for moisture and snow to enter, and planting took place in spring. The “marco real” form of grid also measured 1.75 × 1.75 m, so that it matched the area being worked rather than being on the diagonal (some were planted like this, but the grid layout increasingly took over).
The square “marco real” concept, which sounds so effective and seems to correspond to a generally accepted measure, is more about the reaffirmation of planting along a grid form than a measure as such. We have found variants of the grid of very different measurements, with hand tools being used for planting and cultivation.
Previous generations remember the existence of “blanket” planting, referring to those that did not adhere to a specific shape or alignment. These were on slopes and stony and rocky terrain where the space had been eked out, with the help of an iron bar, “forcing in the vine shoots”, since we are talking about ungrafted pre-phylloxera vines. This technique of non-aligned plants required cultivation by hand and spadework. Several of the winegrowers in our locality began working these vineyards with their parents, as these were grapevines from before the new plantings of the 1940s and 1950s.
These plantings had been made on semi-steep slopes and, when these became too steep, “tablas” (terraces) were built for the vines. This meant hewing stones from the rocky hillside to make the “tablas” that were fixed to walls made from the stones dug from the plot itself.
Growing almond trees on the borders helped mark out the plots and maximize the yields of each vineyard. Almond trees have a negative effect on the nearest vine plants because of their roots, but they also help maintain a much more vibrant insect ecosystem that benefits the plot as a whole. Peach trees were planted in among the vines because they had less effect on the vines themselves, and also added to the amount of fruit produced per square metre.
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