One of the biggest decisions facing vineyards at the moment is the environmental impact of different viticultural farming practices. There are five main types of viticultural farming practices that a vineyard may choose to employ, along with pros and cons to each one. I’ve described the basic principles of each one below. Have a look and consider which one you might choose for your vineyard.
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 weeds and diseases, the harmful chemicals also kill off beneficial bacteria, microbes and insects. Personally, I think this is the least desirable choice considering the negative impact these chemicals will 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!
This viticultural method of farming is better for the environment, but honestly, it’s still not ideal. Pesticides are still permitted; however, more environmentally friendly practices are encouraged, such as collecting rainwater for irrigation, installing wind turbines for power, or composting the previous year’s prunings. Additionally, creating wildlife havens within the vineyard such as planting insect-friendly crop cover, installing bee hives or bird houses or setting aside pieces of land that are designated wild-life preserves all help with the sustainability of a vineyard. Despite the allure, this method still is rather unregulated and not necessarily effective enough.
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 organically certified 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 farm sustainably with the intention of working towards organic certification. This is especially true if a grower recently acquired a conventionally or sustainably farmed vineyard and plans to improve farming practices to be more environmentally friendly.
Biodynamic 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 fertiliser 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.
Currently, natural viticulture and winemaking are growing in popularity. Most proponents favour 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…drum roll please…biodynamic!
I love biodynamics because it embodies the premise that everything in our environment positively or negatively 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 grapes, 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 of a financial commitment, but the results are worth it. Just ensure that you also employ a fantastic winemaker!!!
To be honest, if a vineyard isn’t at least using sustainable farming practices, then they really aren’t setting a good example. The main reason some vineyards choose to stay conventional is cost related. However as consumers, we can make the biggest impact by simply choosing not to buy from these producers. Knowing that my glass of wine was created using responsibly sourced grapes enables me to savour and enjoy it just that little bit more!