December 31, 2020

Biochar: the Vineyard's Next Big Thing

You haven't heard of biochar? You're not alone.

A lot of viticulturists are talking about biochar these days but most people haven’t a clue what it even is.

Biochar is a soil amendment that is gaining popularity in agriculture, though it remains on the cutting edge in viticulture. It's essentially pulverized charcoal. It has the ability to build organic matter in poor or depleted soils, boost microbial populations and lower a vineyard's need for nutrient and water inputs – allowing for less human intervention, as well as lowering both grower's cost of production and carbon footprint. This means healthier soils, healthier vines, healthier environment, and happier grower.

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Biochar's benefits are many:

  • It improves the soil's ability to hold water and makes it less acidic.
  • It provides a welcoming habitat for microbes, which support plant growth.
  • It holds onto fertilizer and releases it over time, decreasing the need for repeat applications of fertilizer, which cuts labor and supply costs.
  • Reduced nitrogen runoff
  • Possible nitrous oxide emissions reduction
  • Improved soil fertility through increased cation-exchange capacity
  • Moderation of soil acidity
  • Better water retention
  • Increased number of beneficial soil microbes


Biochar is also being examined for its ability to sequester carbon in soils for long periods of time, which could be a key factor in reducing greenhouse gases.

As plants and other organic materials decompose, they naturally release the amount of carbon that was captured throughout their lifetime in the form of CO2 emissions. While the pyrolysis of biomass to create biochar also releases CO2 emissions, it generally only releases half the amount of carbon that would otherwise have been released through natural decomposition. During pyrolysis, the carbon remaining in the biochar is converted to a more stable form, allowing it to be “locked up” and stored in soil, though more research is needed to determine for how long.

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