What is sustainable grape growing?
When looking online your bound to see labels attached to buying wines like ‘organic’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘biodynamic’ agriculture. But what exactly do these terms mean when cultivating grapes? Do they really make a difference to the environment and the wine we are drinking?
There has always been lots of media coverage and views on the effects of agricultural farming and the impact it has to biodiversity and soil health. You may not always think of intensive agriculture when it comes to wine or even how the grapes have been farmed. A lot of vineyards are monocultures so rely on the constant spraying of chemical pesticides and herbicides to prevent the spread of diseases. This is known as the conventional method and how many wines are produced. However, this consent spraying leads to poor disease resistance in vines, resulting in a never-ending cycle of needing to use more and at higher dosages. Like all areas of farming there is pressure on the wine industry to be more sustainable. There is now a range of methods used throughout the world to make the process of growing vines more ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘greener’. Here are three farming methods that you often see within the wine world.
- Sustainable – Unlike conventional vineyards that spray regularly, sustainable farming techniques aim to fix issues before they happen resulting in the need for less. Along with this, a winery will engage in a range of methods like energy conservation, wildlife preservation, recycling, fair wages and rainwater collection. There is currently a mix of sustainable certifications that differ around the world like CCSW In California. The Bee Tree Vineyard in the UK also experiments with a range of conscious vineyard methods to find out new ways on becoming more sustainable.
- Organic – In the vineyard organic farming avoids a range of synthetic pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizers. Instead, they favour naturally derived sprays like the Bordeaux mix (Copper Sulphate + Calcium Hydroxide) that helps prevent diseases like mildew. They aim to maintain soil health through natural materials like cover crops and compost. Also, they look at the bigger picture to protect the surrounding environment by limiting monoculture and using natural predators to control pests. Ecocert is the biggest certification body in France and the Soil Association is the largest in the UK.
- Biodynamic – Based on the work by Rudolph Steiner it goes beyond organic farming where the vineyard is treated as one living eco-system. It is the only form of agriculture that puts in more than it takes out of the environment. Practices like pruning and harvest are matched to the lunar cycle and take on an added spiritual approach that you do not see in other methods. Materials are produced on the estate and herbal teas are sprayed to prevent disease and nourish the soil. There is little science based evidence on the spiritual side of Biodynamic farming so far. However, there are many dedicated followers around the world like Weingut Schmelzer and Krásná Hora, as well as official certifications like Demeter and Biodyvin.
It is a proven fact that sustainable agriculture has a positive effect on the environment. A Meta-analysis of data over 30 years from regions that practice organic farming showed an increased species richness by around 30%. The EU are the top producers of organic wines accounting for 90%, with vineyards such as Yves Duport and Olga Raffault championing organic agriculture as well as being officially certified. The constant use of chemicals on vines is something that we might not consider when picking our wine off the shelf. However, the impact of chemical over-use causes many environmental issues with problems like surface run off into water ways and polluting habitats. There are many studies that have investigated agriculture chemicals found in wine. These reports often show that constant spraying in the vineyard causes pesticide residue to stay on grapes even after harvest. Another survey carried out in Switzerland showed that; out of 176 conventionally produced wine samples tested, 95% contained some degree of pesticide residue. It is not only consumers who have causes to be concerned about, workers who continually handle these chemicals can often suffer short and long-term health issues. Agriculture is a truly diverse area with many views and studies into the impact of chemical use in vineyards. Even the smallest of changes like spraying less, alongside a range of sustainable techniques will have a positive impact on the environmental, human, and animal health.
Here at Le Social we believe in consciously made wine that reflects a sense of place and combines all aspects of sustainability. We believe that wine should be alive and produced alongside the environment not against it. These wines promote conversation, show individuality, and leave you feeling good!
By buying consciously you are encouraging change and championing sustainable farming within the wine industry. We very much agree with a quality over quantity mindset. Yes, your bottle of wine might cost a little more than the conventionally made bottle on the shelf. But, with the world’s population getting bigger and temperatures rising year on year, the need for sustainability becomes even more vital in providing a future for the wine industry. Selecting wines that are making these choices offer many benefits and is helping towards the support of fair wages, healthy working environments, recycling, encouraging biodiversity, soil fertility (I could go on!) and producing wines that say and taste In our opinion, so much more. It is this ethos that we stand by here and why we choose to work alongside a range of amazing growers, producers and suppliers that share the same views when selecting our wines.
-Isabella Legeron, (2019). Natural Wine, Cico Books.
-OVI, (2019) Statistical Report on World Vitiviniculture
-Agriculture and Environmental Biotechnology, (2018) Plant organic farming research –current status and opportunities for future development, Vol 32.
-Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson (2019). World Atlas of Wine, 8th edition, Mitchell Beazley