I’ve often wondered why I’m so drawn to viticulture and wines. Probably, I think it stems from my instinctive nature to want to care for things. As a mother, raising five children, I constantly see how much love, attention, dedication and nurturing they require and I actually think that growing grapes is a similar process, without the verbal altercations mind you!
You get what you give. If you select the best possible growing conditions for your grapes, then you won’t be disappointed with the results. However, one of the key components in this process is which type of viticultural program you choose to implement in your vineyard. The choices are as follows;
- Conventional – Basically, this method of farming allows the use of pesticides within the vineyard to kill vineyard pests such as weeds and undesirable vineyard diseases. However, while killing the weeks and diseases, the harmful chemicals also kill off beneficial bacteria, microbes and insects. Personally, I think this is the worst choice considering the negative impact these chemicals have on the environment. Also, you have to be mindful that these harmful chemicals also seep into the grapes. Toxic wine can’t be that appealing!
- Sustainable – This method of farming is better for the environment but honestly, it’s still not great. Pesticides are still allowed with this method; however, more environmentally practices are encouraged such as using collected rainwater for irrigation, installing a wind turbine for power, or composting the previous year’s vines and reusing them in the vineyard. Additionally, more efforts might be made to attract wildlife and helpful insects such as having bee hives or bird houses. Despite the allure, this method is unregulated and quite ineffective.
- Organic – This has been the buzzword for years! Everyone wants to buy organic, grow organic and basically embody everything organic. Organic viticulture involves farming in a manner that uses natural chemicals (rather than synthetic ones) and processes to promote and maintain the overall health of the vineyard with a specific focus on soil health. In order to earn an official ‘organic’ title as a grower, the soil must be tested and free of chemicals. This often takes several years. Often a grower may initially be a sustainable vineyard because they are working on the organic certification, especially if they recently took over the vineyard and other, less environmentally friendly practices, were being employed.
- Biodynamic – This method of viticulture focuses not simply on the health of the vineyard as an isolated entity, but rather, it assume the viewpoint that everything in the environment impacts each other. Without this focus on the bigger picture, the vineyard cannot truly be considered healthy. In addition to this, considering lunar cycles, implementing specific biodynamic vineyard soil preparations and using livestock as pest control and fertilizer are some of the key elements associated with biodynamic viticulture. I have written another post about biodynamics, if you want to gain more insight into this fascinating area.
- Natural – Currently, natural viticulture and wines are gaining in popularity. Most naturalists favor methods that involve as little human intervention in the viticultural and winemaking processes as possible. For example, a spray program may or may not be used on vines. Basic vineyard practices such as trellising may or may not be implemented. The list goes on. Natural viticulture involves so many methods and interpretations that some people believe it needs to be regulated in order to more clearly define what ‘natural’ viticulture actually entails.
Which type of viticulture would I choose if I were to start a vineyard? My answer, biodynamic! I love the biodynamic ideology because it reminds me that everything in our environment negatively or positively impacts each other. A vineyard’s environmental impact doesn’t simply stop at the fence! In order to be truly conscientious when it comes to growing grapevines, you must consider the environment as a whole. Additionally, I’m always impressed with biodynamic wines. Most of the ones I’ve had, are fantastic. Some of the most valued wines in the world are sourced from biodynamically grown grapes (eg: Domaine LeRoy). Biodynamic viticulture requires a bit more expenditures but the results are worth it. Just ensure that you also employ a fantastic winemaker!!!
To be honest, if a vineyard now isn’t farming at least organically, then they should be looking to change their methods. Probably, the main reason some vineyards choose to stay conventional or sustainable is cost related. However as consumers, we can make the biggest impact by simply choosing not to buy from these producers. I think that my carbon footprint is also associated with the products I choose to buy. Knowing that my glass of wine was created using responsibly sourced grapes enables me to savour and enjoy it just that little bit more!