The Green Movement: Organic, Biodynamic, and Sustainable Viticulture…too often it’s about bragging rights
By John ~ December 19th, 2008.
Having spent over thirty years of my adult life intimately involved in agriculture, I understand from hands-on experience that the vineyard should not be a chemical plant. Good soil should not be over-fertilized, and vines should not be bombarded with fungicides, herbicides, and pesticides. I also believe that the smaller the carbon footprint the better all the way through the process until the consumer gets the bottle of wine home to drink.
By the same token, I see a disturbing trend where the Green Movement is used primarily as a marketing tool, implying falsely, I believe, that organic or biodynamically-grown grapes are inherently capable of producing better wine. I’ve seen no evidence that is true. To clear up some of the confusion and misunderstanding, let’s define the basic terms and then talk about protecting the environment in a way that also gives the producer the best chance of success over the long term.
- Organic Viticulture—It eliminates the use of synthetic products that create toxins in an attempt to build soil, protect the environment, and protect the health of the vineyard employees.
- Biodynamic Viticulture—It utilizes the same basic principles as organic farming, but then incorporates religious-like practices such as the alignment of planets, phases of the moon, and special preparations such as crushed quartz crystals.
- Sustainable Viticulture—It has the same goals as organic or biodynamic viticulture with one big difference: It incorporates the “scientific method” into the formula.
As I visit wineries all over the world, tour their vineyards, and talk to winemakers, I have come to several conclusions. First of all, I believe that organic farming is the ideal in the mind of most serious winemakers. However, there are years when circumstances might make that impractical. For example, if a fungus that does not respond to an organic treatment threatens your vineyard, what do you do? Or what if prudent pest management necessitates a one-time rifle shot approach that would not qualify the operation as certified organic? Second, if you are really trying to do the best job, there are times when you might need to honestly analyze the tradeoffs. For example, if you mulch-under your vines instead of using herbicides, how much more diesel fuel do you use? And third, touting yourself as certified organic or biodynamic can tie your hands when the unusual occurs and may end up costing a winemaker more than he has gained, in dollars, reputation, and possibly even the loss of a healthy vineyard.
Therefore, I have concluded that an honest use of sustainable viticultural practices is probably the best of the three, utilizing the least amount of intervention possible while managing in a way that sustains the long-term health of the vineyards as well as the economic viability of the operation. Combined with softer winemaking practices, sustainable viticulture gives us the best shot at producing great wine over the long haul.
What do you think?
Filed under: General Wine Information, Vineyards