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Conventional, reasoned and organic farming ...

There are many different terms in the world of wine to describe the methods of growing grapes and produce the wines, and obviously it is difficult to understand things without any thorough enough study of the subject.

At one end of the scale is the kind of wine you find in a supermarket : conventional wines mass produced and chemically manipulated to give a safe, standard and predictable result.

At the other end of the scale is natural wine.

 

LET START FROM THE BEGINNING...

... What the so-called conventional agriculture/viticulture is ?

This is a mode of culture that appeared at the early 50s and is still today the most implemented around the world. After the second world war, supply agriculture was the way found by the largest chemical companies to reduce down the huge amount of chemicals used previously to produce both the explosives (nitrate) and toxic gas (pesticid and fongicid). It naturally wide spread in parallel with the intensification of agricultural machinery to meet the growing need of the consumer society. First of all this is an intensive mode of agriculture where the phytosanitary treatments, to protect the cultures from the diseases and harmful organisms, are carried out using chemicals, more or less harmful for the man and his environment.

For the conventional viticulture especially, it really expand massively throughout the wine estate from the late seventies.

One of the major consequences of this kind of viticulture is the progressive intoxication and sterilization of soil and subsoil. We know that soil especially, is a complex and living ecosystem that works with bacteria, fungi and micro fauna. The massive use of powerful chemical fungicides, insecticides and herbicides lead to destroy this eco-system strongly and durably, and accelerates soil erosion. To continue to produce in quantity, it is thus necessary to use fertilizers (chemical) in doses that can be very important. 

When the soil is poor, it no longer produces the organic matter necessary for the good health of plants. Hence for the vines, it’s not only difficult to produce healthy grapes, but quality grapes as well. At the end of the day, the wine is a mixology of unhealthy grape juice and chemical ingredients.

Most European wines are categorised by place of origin and most of New World wines by grape variety. Both of these things are important in determining the taste and quality of the wine. But more important than either is how it is made. Often for conventional wines, differences of place and of grape variety are secondary because these differences are damaged or destroyed by the industrial grape farming and winemaking techniques. They are "sacrificed" in favour of predictability and volume of production. Mass produced wine is bland and not very interesting, regardless of where it's from and regardless of the grape variety from which it is made.

To mention about conventional viticulture :

  • Intensive machinery  >  the largest single vineyard estates in the world are up to hundreds hectares of planted vines
  • Preventive and systematic use of chemical treatments within the vineyard
  • Over 60 different mineral and chemical additives that include as well a couple of treatments, are authorised to produce wine
  • For conventional wine making process are authorised chaptalisation (addition of sugar), pasteurisation, tartaric stabilisation, addition of exogenous enzyme, exogenous malolactic bacteria co-inoculation, tannin or wood chips addition to adjust the taste, etc. ...
  • Yeasts used to initiate the fermentation are always exogenous and allow very easily to modify the taste of the wine if intended to do so by the wine makers

 

“REASONED AGRICULTURE”, FIRST IMPORTANT STEP TO A SUSTAINABLE WAY OF FARMING

“Agriculture raisonnée” or “Reasoned agriculture” aims to encourage farmers to minimize the use of pesticides, by treating the risk of disease or damage not systematically, but only when necessary. With this approach, conventional viticulture is asked “to reason”, in order to better integrate the use of pesticides, as well as that of fertilizers.   

The French decree on "reasoned farming qualification" No. 2002-631 of 25 April 2002, gives the definition as followed: "Reasoned agriculture corresponds to a holistic approach to the farm/estate management that aims, beyond the only compliance to regulations, to strengthen the positive impacts of agricultural practices on the environment and to reduce their negative effects, without jeopardizing the economic profitability. The reasoned production methods can facilitate the control of health risks and contribute to the improvement of animal welfare as well. It contributes in addition to the improvement of the working conditions ". Qualified farms benefit from the Terravitis or HVE accreditation.

To mention:

  • To date, many wine growers have adopted this way of farming, especially those who refuse to use of the “Bouillie bordelaise (Copper sulphate)” as pesticide which is authorised for the organic farming (wide spectrum pesticide, toxic for the soil when use massively). They use instead narrow spectrum chemical pesticide in addition to a way of farming very close to the organic one

 

  

            


ORGANIC WINE

EU regulation (2012)

Have a look at this "Conventional vs Organic/Biodynamic viticulture"

Organic wines are made according to EU organic winemaking standards from grapes that have been grown according to the principles of organic farming.

Since February 2012, the regulation has sat up some new additional specific rules especially about the wine making process. Indeed, the oenological practises are now framed: the yeast for the fermentation must be organically sourced and the sulphite input limit is more restrictive than for conventional wines.

The organic grower concentrates more on trying to grow a healthy vine, able to withstand pests and feed itself naturally, than on sheltering the vine from anything that might harm it. Care for the soil is really a key element of organic viticulture which encourages the use of natural composts and excludes the use of chemical fertilisers and systemic chemicals sprays, including pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. Organic standards also encourage the highest levels of wildlife conservation.

Developing a healthy soil and a balanced ecosystem within the vineyard is obviously a lot of hard work. However a major part of the winegrowers even avoid the use of any machinery to be sure that grapes won’t be damaged at every step before the wine making process.

To mention :

  • Around 40 different additives / inputs that include as well a couple of treatments are still authorised to produce the organic wine in compliance with EU regulation.
  • As the EU regulation is not enough restrictive, you can find some mass produced organic wines, those you will find in the supermarket, and alongside much more qualitative organic wines produced from small estates very often family run, with a wise and limited use of oenologic inputs during the wine making process (i.e. those you will find on nfizz wines website)
  • Only the use of « bouillie bordelaise » (mixture of copper sulphate and lime) as pesticide and fungicide is authorised by the EU organic farming regulation. The limit of use is 6kg per hectare per year. At this quantity, it is significantly toxic for the soil, hence the wise winegrowers reduce its use as low as reasonably possible (less than 1kg).
  • As the « Controlled Designation of Origin » (AOC in French) regulator could impose the winegrowers to use preventively chemical pesticides, some of them decided to produce their wines as “Vin de France” (VdF) or IGP without any relation to the AOC administration (Protected designation of origin).

 

     

 

The Organic charte “Nature & Progrès” 

Founded in 1964 in response to the industrialization of agriculture, “Nature & Progrès” still militates today for the development of organic farming - not in the sense of the European regulation but as a real social alternative - for a human-sized economy and for a societal dynamic participatory and horizontal. The associative project of Nature & Progrès is developed in its charter.

« Nature & Progrès » is an association of consumer, Farmer and winegrowers. It recommends for example that the grapes should be harvested by hand, and fermentation should be initiated using the indigenous yeast of the grapes. The chaptalisation (adding some sugar to raise the alcohol degre) is restricted to 1% only.

In addition, the use of sulphite is much more restrictive than the organic EU regulation.

 

“INTEGRATED VITICULTURE”, “SUSTAINABLE VITICULTURE”

Sustainability refers to a range of practices that are not only ecologically sound, but also economically viable and socially responsible. (Sustainable farmers may farm largely organically or biodynamically but have flexibility to choose what works best for their individual property; they may also focus on energy and water conservation, use of renewable resources and other issues.) Some third-party agencies offer sustainability certifications, and many regional industry associations are working on developing clearer standards.

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