Sustainable Viticulture

Some growers, especially those in marginal climates such as Chablis and Champagne, opt for a vineyard spraying regime that does include chemicals but, rather than following a set pattern of, for example, fortnightly sprayings, they significantly reduce the amount required by monitoring the health of the vines and the weather. Basically it gives growers an escape route to spray if they really feel they have to but it recognises that they are making sustained efforts to improve the environment. We call this sustainable viticulture. Variations on the same theme are called 'lutte raisonnée', 'lutte intégrée', Integrated Pest Management, Integrated Production.

Some people may think that this is just a half-way house from growers who are not wholly committed to preserving the environment, but when you meet and listen to some of the people, they make some interesting points. Take Emmanuel Fourny of Champagne Veuve Fourny. They experimented with biodynamics on two parcels in 1995-7. Mildew became such a problem they had to spray copper sulphate every five days and they still lost half the harvest.

Copper is allowed in organic and biodynamic viticulture because it is 'elemental' and the vine needs trace amounts. However it does not degrade in the soil and residues can build up if several treatments are applied, eventually stunting vine growth. So Emmanuel would prefer to use a low residue, non-toxic, modern synthetic product to reduce dependence on copper sprays.

In the meantime, Emmanuel uses organic fertiliser, lets the grass grow between the vines and uses pheromones to prevent female moths from laying eggs on the grapes (the caterpillars make a hole in the grapeskin where rot can enter) rather than insecticides. His long term aim is to be chemical free by 2010 by increasing the inherent health of the vine and using training methods to space out and aerate the bunches better to prevent mildew spreading.

We think producers like Veuve Fourny have the right intentions and are making local decisions to maintain quality and a sustainable business whilst working towards a long term goal. And wine is after all a long term product. There may be a crop once a year, but vines are planted to last 50 years or more and converting 'conventional' vineyards to organic or biodynamic production needs to be done gradually. So where we believe that there is a genuine environmental vision, then we will include their wines.