It’s been a 10-year journey for Rivetto, which is to date the only estate in the prestigious Barolo and Barbaresco regions of Piedmont to achieve biodynamic status at Demeter, one of the largest certification bodies.
Rivetto’s entire, 100,000-bottle annual production will be certified biodynamic, starting with its 2019 vintage wines.
Other Barolo and Barbaresco producers have adopted biodynamic methods without pursuing certification. Most notably, Ceretto farms all 160 hectares of its vineyards this way.
Rivetto’s journey into biodynamics
Originally founded in 1902, Rivetto was established in its current location between Sinio and the Barolo commune of Serralunga d’Alba in 1938.
Enrico Rivetto, the fourth generation of the family, joined the property full-time in 1999 and started converting to organic viticulture in 2009. He received certification in 2016, but wanted to go further.
‘Biodynamic should be the norm for an agricultural property’
‘Organic isn’t complete as it only governs the things you aren’t allowed to use,’ Rivetto told Decanter.com, referring to the proscription of synthetic fertilisers, fungicides, herbicides and pesticides.
Little by little, he added elements of biodynamic practices. He planted ancient strains of corn and wheat, aromatic herbs and perennial flowers along with 550 trees to create a biodiverse environment.
‘Biodynamics is a complete self-sustaining agricultural system,’ Rivetto said. ‘Biodynamic should be the norm for an agricultural property.’
Beyond the health of the soil, it reinforces the vines’ defence system with natural sprays and follows nature’s cycles, he said.
Cultivating something other than vines in a zone where one hectare costs upwards of €1.2 million was a mental challenge for Rivetto.
The biggest and final hurdle was introducing animals. ‘I was concerned because I’d never had animals on the estate.’
Rivetto chose donkeys, deeming them the easiest to tend. They now provide manure for home-made compost. But animals take up space. ‘In a zone where most of the land is dedicated to vines, nobody wants to give up vineyards for this,’ he said.
In total, Rivetto sacrificed 1.2ha of vines leaving 15ha in production.
Most of the 35ha property is enclosed by forest, providing a natural border with neighbouring vineyards.
However, Rivetto’s prized 0.5ha plot in the cru of Briccolina abuts vineyards which are not farmed organically. The team had to remove 50 vines in order to plant a protective perimeter of lavender, bushes and trees.
The ongoing practical challenge will be battling downy mildew, a recurring threat in Barolo, especially in humid or rainy years.
While preventative sprays based on copper sulphate are permitted in biodynamic viticulture, Demeter limits this to a maximum of three kilograms per hectare.
‘That is very little,’ said Rivetto. He is trialling Propolis and other natural substances to augment protection, but is not yet sure how effective these actually are.
As a result, he said he has been obliged to get to know his vineyards better, identifying problem areas for powdery mildew and reducing treatments in less susceptible pockets.
‘There is no stricter certification than Demeter,’ said Rivetto, who admitted he typically isn’t a fan of certification.
Going through the process was a question of rigour and authentication. ‘I don’t know that this will help me sell more wine but it is a demonstration that if you work hard you can achieve significant results.’