Aim: To evaluate the relationship between carbon isotope ratio (δ13C) and wine grape viticultural and oenological performance in organic farming.
Methods and results: The study was carried out for four years in the Chianti Classico wine production district (Central Italy), on five non irrigated vineyards conducted in organic farming. The reference variety was Sangiovese. Eleven sites were chosen for vine monitoring and grape sampling. The performance parameters were alcohol and must sugar content, sugar accumulation rate, mean berry weight, and extractable polyphenols. δ13C, stem water potential, and soil water availability were also monitored. Finally, soil nitrogen as well as yeast available nitrogen in the must were measured. δ13C was directly related to stem water potential and soil water deficit, and indicated a range of water stress conditions from none and moderate to strong. However, its relationship with viticultural and oenological results was contrary to expectation, that is, performance linearly increased along with soil moisture. On the other hand, the worst performance was obtained where both water and nitrogen were more limiting.
Conclusions: The unexpected relationship between δ13C and Sangiovese performance was caused by low nitrogen availability. The studied sites all had low-fertility soils with poor or very poor nitrogen content. Therefore, in the plots where soil humidity was relatively higher, nitrogen plant uptake was favoured, and Sangiovese performance improved. Macronutrient being the main limiting factor, the performance was not lower in the plots where soil water availability was relatively larger. Therefore, the best viticultural result was obtained with no water stress conditions, at low rather than at intermediate δ13C values.
Significance and impact of the study: Water nutrition is crucial for wine grape performance. δ13C is a method used to assess vine water status during the growing season and to estimate vine performance. A good performance is expected at moderate stress and intermediate δ13C values. A better knowledge of the interaction between water and nutrient scarcity is needed, as it can affect the use of δ13C to predict vine performance.
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