Biodynamic Producer Cops A Spray

A biodynamic French vigneron in Burgundy is being sued by the authorities for failing to spray non-approved chemicals on his vineyard. He could go to jail if convicted.

The spray is an insecticide designed to kill a leaf-hopping insect which spreads a serious fungal disease called flavescence dorée*. Winemaker Emmanuel Giboulot has incurred the wrath of the authorities and other grapegrowers who see him as irresponsible for not helping control the disease’s spread. Giboulot says to spray the approved insecticide would mean forfeiting his biodynamic certification, which is of 18 years’ standing. He’s been organic since 1985.

Many fellow vignerons have supported Giboulot’s stand and petitions are circulating. So it was with great interest that I read a comment from fellow Burgundy winemaker Olivier Leflaive emailed by the French wine communications agency Vitabella.

The headline was “An organic product more harmful than the chemical treatment! What would you do in our place?” – Leflaive.

The full text follows. It is a bit technical, but this is a complex subject.

“Our grands crus are cultivated biodynamically, our premiers crus and villages organically, and we use sustainable practices for our less prestigious appellations (generic and aligoté). Let’s say we work in a reasonable way. But we also buy grapes from growers who are not organic in order to make wines that are not labeled ‘organic’. So, you may ask, what is the conclusion of all this? It is quite simple: at Olivier Leflaive, we do not have absolute certainties! The only philosophy we follow is our desire to respect the environment as much as possible. First, you should know that the ‘organic way’ and the ‘sustainable way’ share six common practices:

1) Plough to avoid herbicides

2) Fertilizer compost

3) Not preventive but curative (except copper and sulfur)

4) Treatment with sulfur against powdery mildew

5) A minimal processing of copper against mildew (harmful)

6) Prophylactic control (lightening of the vegetation)

In case of violent attack, whatever the mode of treatment is, no option can be ruled out, as long as we obviously choose the least polluting solution. We are above all pragmatic and refuse blind fundamentalism because we consider that there is already enough of it in this world! A striking example? The fight against the grapevine flavescence dorée, a scourge that is accelerating in the vineyards and against which we now have two options:

1) The first one, accepted by the biological approach: a product (pyrethrin) based on the same molecule as sarin (a deadly gas) which eliminates the grapevine flavescence dorée but also kills any auxiliary fauna (bees and typhlodrome, a predatory mite).

2) the second one, a chemical product (pyrevert) but selective as it does not attack the auxiliary fauna.

In this case, you understand the ‘organic’ product is more harmful than the chemical treatment! So what should you do? What would you do in our place? 100% organic or sustainable? With no absolute certainty, we decided to be reasonable in order to make the great wines you know”.

*Flavescence dorée, known in Australia as grapevine yellows, is a phytoplasma disease which restricts yields and can eventually kill vines. It is a big problem in France and Richard Smart has said it could eventually prove more destructive worldwide than phylloxera. 

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