Natural Wine Sales surge in France

Good news, but note that even some of this “natural” wine has pesticides in it.

The share of organically produced French wines rose from 2.6 percent in 2007 to 8.2 percent by the end of 2012. Despite this progress, France is still the third-highest user of pesticides in the world after the United States and Japan, and the highest user in Europe, applying 110,000 metric tons of pesticides per year.

Organic wine producers in the Burgundy region of France are facing prosecution for refusing to use pesticides. This move is perplexing given the Ministry of Agriculture’s support for the organic wine industry and growing public alarm over pesticides in French wine.

A study in February that found pesticide residues in 90 percent of the French wines tested created an uproar. Pesticide residues were even found in organic wines, indicating contamination from neighboring vineyards or other sources. French vines are susceptible to a contagious bacterial disease, flavescence dorée, transmitted by a leafhopper. Treatment with pesticides is required by French law in several winegrowing regions, including Burgundy.

One organic producer in Burgundy has now been charged with breaking the law for refusing to use Pyrevert, a pyrethrin pesticide. He says there is no evidence that his vines are infected, and argues that Pyrevert, a neurotoxin, is nonspecific to leafhoppers and kills beneficial insects as well. He faces six months of prison time and a fine of 30,000 euros, or about $41,000. Another organic grower was fined 1 euro after he agreed to use pesticides.

France has pledged, under the 2007 Grenelle law on the environment, to reduce its pesticide consumption by 50 percent by 2018. To help meet this goal, Stéphane Le Foll, the minister of agriculture, announced on Nov. 13 a new sustainable agriculture bill that is scheduled to be submitted to the French Assembly in January for debate. Considering organic producers who refuse pre-emptive use of pesticides as criminals will not help France’s transition to sustainable agricultural practices. The law requiring such use in Burgundy is not only bad policy, it is terrible publicity for French wine. The law should be changed, and the French Assembly should pass the new bill on sustainable agriculture this month.

But Bordeaux has greatly reduces its use of pesticides.

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“Reduce pesticide use by 50 percent.” That was the challenge thrown to Bordeaux wine producers by French president Nicolas Sarkozy in October 2007 during national consultations on environmental issues, reports French daily Le Figaro.
The producers were given 10 years to reach that objective but they have already exceeded it after just two harvests.
“We have reduced insecticide and herbicide use by 80 percent and we no longer have to treat vines against parasitic insects and mites,” announced Etienne Priou, the director of Château Beaumont, a major producer situated in Cussac-Fort-Médoc. He made his announcement during an organized visit by members of the Union of Industries for Plant Protection (UIPP) during which he also confirmed that neither the quality or quantity of the 700,000 bottles of Bordeaux which Château Beamont produces each year have suffered in any way.
Looking at Priou’s immaculate grapes makes it difficult to imagine the ravages that mildew and parasites like the fruit tree tordrix (Archips Podana) or Botrytis can cause. These three infernal imports from other parts of the world have caused much damage over the years.
Thierry Coulon, scientific director of the French Institute of vineyards and Wine (IFWW) says that “In the Bordeaux region, mildew is public enemy number one. If it attacks early, in spring, it can destroy entire harvests, as was the case in 2007.” To demonstrate his point he showed the visitors a shriveled vine stump which had fallen victim to mildew.
In order to protect his vineyards whilst at the same time reducing environmental impact to a minimum, Priou, along with a hundred other Bordeaux producers, decided to apply the principles of Integrated Farm Management which in his view represent a reasonable compromise between two extremes – all-chemical or all-bio.
The French version of the Integrated Farm Management concept was launched with the creation of a website forum dedicated to the development of agricultural practices which respect the environment and are economically viable.
Three basic principles underpin the concept: The use of biological and culture-based products in the fight against parasites, treating only if and when absolutely necessary, and accepting minor losses which do not incur significant negative economic consequences.
Priou and the other producers stepped up inspection rounds of their vineyards and, in the event that mildew was discovered in small quantities, it was treated immediately with natural products before it could spread. That tactic reduced mildew by 20 percent for mildew and even 30 percent for botrytis, which is particularly damaging to the taste of wine.
The fruit tree tordrix was tackled using pheromone traps which eliminated the need for chemical insecticides. Finally, ground fertilizer use was limited to a strict minimum due to the use of more detailed soil and leaf analyses.
There is not yet a general inclination to produce strictly bio wine in the Bordeaux region. Philip Blanc is the director of Château Beychevelle at Saint-Julien, and he has been carrying out trials of wine produced using strictly bio techniques for the last two years on a small section of his property.
He said that although last year “wasn’t too bad” this year has seen a serious outbreak of mildew which means that the bio section of his vineyards will produce 36 hectolitres per hectare. That translates into 35 pe cent less wine than the rest of the vineyards, upon which he has used an Integrated Farm Management program. The problem there is that the minimum profitable yield is 47 hectolitres per hectare.
So, although the Bordeaux region is not going to see mass-produced bio wine anytime soon, it can’t be denied that a lot of progress has been made in terms of the development of environmentally safer wine-producing techniques

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Oh, and Nicolas Sarkozy? He owes the wine producers of Bordeaux a generous round of drinks for their efforts.

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