Sustainable viticulture: from soil to wine. Interview with the founder of Tailor’d Wine Design

Enhancement of the terroir and biodiversity in the vineyard, with a reduced environmental impact? Tailor’d Wine Design manages to give a positive answer to this issue. After recent confirmations, which recognize in Covid-19 pandemic nature’s response to the humanity mistreatment, it’s no longer possible for winemakers not to choose sustainability in the vineyard and in the cellar. We have already covered the subject here.

For many wineries in Italy, luckily, it is an already explored field but that always needs new and better solutions, for the others, which have not been converted yet, there is a long way to go, but it is now the only one.

So I decided to go deeper to get to know one of those advisoring companies able to support agronomists, in sustaining the terroir, strengthening biodiversity in the vineyard and ensuring the sustainability of wine production. Here is the interview with Taylor Hohman, co-founder of Tailor’d Wine Design, among the very first in Italy to offer natural products for the most sustainable management of the vineyard.

How was Taylor'd wine design born and what is your mission?

To make a long story as short as possible, before moving to Italy, I worked in a craft brewery in Kentucky. I worked in every aspect of the brewery; brewing beer, performing lab analyses, representing the brand at special events, etc. I loved every bit of the business. After moving to Italy, naturally, I developed an equal passion for wine and was seeking a way into the industry. Through a series of timely meetings, I managed to get my hands on some innovative agricultural technologies from the American company that supplied our brewery in Kentucky with its brewing yeast.

I called around to various wineries I knew and managed to get a meeting with their consultant agronomist, Marco Pierucci of AgronominVigna. We met in a vineyard in Montalcino, where we discovered that we both lived in Arezzo. He established the first trials all around Italy, which produced very positive results. Marco is a very well-known and respected agronomist specializing in viticulture, so I gave him the freedom to blend and experiment with the different products based on his vast experience.

After 3 years and many, many trials, we decided to found Tailor’d Wine Design. The idea was to create a line of products specifically for the cultivation of wine grapes. Products that are simple to use and offer wine makers the possibility to reduce their environmental impact while improving wine quality and brand value.

What does your consulting involve?

The 90% of our work, as in all quality winemaking, occurs in the vineyard. We collaborate closely with the wineries agronomists in the use of our products throughout the growing period, from the initial budding through the harvest. Improving soil health, supporting the vines’ natural defense mechanisms, and enhancing grape quality are all part of our mission, both in conventional and organic agriculture. The product usage is flexible, so we can plan with the agronomists a precise protocol to respond to their vineyards’ specific challenges, with particular regard to challenges related to climate change

TWD's products are designed to grow wine grapes in a more sustainable way, let's better illustrate us why and at what stage of the vine cycle, they should be used.

As I mentioned before, simplicity is one of our core values. We have just four products. They are all liquid sprays, all registered for use in organic agriculture, contain no copper, and the generic dosage is 1 liter per hectare. The base elements of the products are polysaccharides extracted from the cell wall of a proprietary strain of saccharomyces cerevisiae, so they are 100% natural. One product is a soil treatment that favors the development of positive soil microbes. Two products provide nutrition to the vines’ self-defense mechanisms, allowing the plants to better resist pathogens. The final product feeds the vines photosynthetic mechanisms, optimizing the photosynthetic activity of the vine to improve grape maturation and coloration. The products all offer clear benefits to growers individually, but there is a brilliant synergy between them as well. Through years of trials all over Italy, we have developed a series of simple protocols that take advantage of these synergies to optimize winemakers’ usage of the products.

In your customers winery, what changes have been observed after your consultancy? Can you give us some examples of real cases?

Aside from the results we expect to see from the products individual functions, there are plenty of valuable intangibles that wineries discover along the way. The owner of Livernano, Radda in Chianti, after they had been using our soil treatment for a few years, told me she had never seen some many poppies spontaneously growing between the rows. Pietranova, Bolgheri, went from 3 harvests to just 1, saving the winery time and money. The agronomist of Masseria Altemura, Salento, told me where he uses our products, he irrigates 40% less. These are just some of the testimonies we hear from wineries, along with general satisfaction with the product quality.

Does the use of TWD products have a direct impact also in the cellar and therefore on the quality of the wine? What's it about?

Using our natural products, which are also free from heavy metals such as copper, has a much lower impact on the ambient microflora; they literally sustain and support the winery’s terroir. Superior coloration and denser grape skins result in a must that requires little to no correction from the enologist. The rapport between the various anthocyanins favors wines of superior stability and longevity. One of the best experiences we had was at Castello di Gabbiano, Greve in Chianti, one of our top clients. They did microvinifications from two plots one the same hillside, one treated with our products and one using their standard, Integrated Pest Management protocols. We did a blind tasting of the wines together with the enologist and the agronomist, and the superiority of the wines treated with the Tailor’d Wine Design protocol was abundantly clear. The enologist told us that the plots they treated with our products would be used for their Chianti Classico Riserva and Cru wines, the other wines would go in their entry-level chianti. It was a very rewarding experience!

The blends can be used on any type of vineyard, is there any particular requirement, or a method to follow?

Yes, both organic and conventional wineries use our products with great success! The mode of use and application rates are very simple, and we have established protocols that address various challenges we have experienced working throughout Italy. It really depends on the needs of the growers which products/protocols they use, but we are of course always available to help calibrate the usage to offer the greatest benefit possibile.

Unlike many companies in the sector, you are specialized in working alongside wineries to reduce the environmental impact of their productions, but for those wineries that also grow olives, what is your proposal?

As you are certainly aware, many wineries also have olive trees around their vineyards to produce olive oil to use for hospitality purposes. Many of our clients have just sprayed any leftover product on their trees and the results have been overwhelmingly positive. In particular, our product for photosynthesis boosts the quality and quantity of yield in olive oil.

What would you recommend to a winery that wants to reduce its environmental impact?

Get in contact with us, of course!

But in addition to that, I firmly believe there has never been a better opportunity for wineries to distinguish themselves to consumers. Wine lovers are excited to experience new grape varietals, inspired by undiscovered wine regions, and willing to seek out wines from growers that offer clarity and transparency regarding their agricultural practices. Regardless of whether the winery is registered in organic agriculture or not, communicating openly and honestly with consumers about investments made in vineyards to reduce the use of pesticides and heavy metals, conserve water, support biodiversity, etc. will allow wineries stand out from the crowd in an increasingly competitive global market.  

Thank you very much Taylor for the interview, and congratulations on what you are doing, I hope that more and more winemakers embrace sustainable solutions, to produce more environmentally friendly wines and a true expression of variety and territory.
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