Vineyard close to us - grapes sold to one of the local sparkling wine producers in Saumur
The vine rules supreme and at the expense of all other vegetation that gets in its way in the vineyard. Weeds are generally kept under control using chemicals and cover crops between the rows are rarely found. Of course, at the same time, natural predators that would otherwise be found in the vineyard can also be obliterated so in many ways this increases the need for further treatments to be applied. Treatments are applied on a regular basis according to a spray calendar often with little regard to actual necessity. None of the growers that we deal with operate on this basis.
We deal with quite a few growers that operate a 'lutte raisonnée' policy. The literal translation is reasoned fight/struggle and it means that growers tolerate a limited amount of disease and/or problem within their vineyards as a totally normal state of affairs but when it becomes a real problem then they step in and take action which can mean using chemicals and pesticides. This threshhold is however for the individual grower to decide so the term covers a wide spectrum of what is and is not acceptable. For the majority of our growers, this is very close to organic viticulture but without the certification. You will often find grass, wild flowers or cover crops between the rows or they are cultivated to maintain soil structure. Sprays are kept to an absolute minimum and levels of Sulphur and Copper (used to fight against downy and powdery mildew) are applied with a light hand. Often many organic principals are embraced - but - the rules are not set in stone so this gives them a free hand in times of real problem.
The organic grower is just as interested in maintaining a healthy ecosystem around the vine and in the vineyard as maintaining healthy vines themselves. All chemicals and pesticides are banned with the exception of Sulphur and Copper (used as above) and the land has to undergo a period of conversion to achieve organic status if sprays containing chemicals and pesticides have been used previously. Care is taken to provide a hospitable environment for birds, bees and wildlife as well as the micro flora and fauna. Cover crops are often planted between the rows which can later be ploughed back into the soil providing natural green compost and organic compost may be applied by tractor or by horse. Natural predators play a part in controlling pests in the vineyard. Many of our growers have organic vineyards and their genuine passion shines through in the wines that they make. They generally add very small amounts of suplur during processing, leave the wines to finish their fermentations naturally and rarely add cultivated yeasts.
One of Nicholas Joly's (France's leading bio-dynamic exponent) vineyards at Chateau de la Roches aux Moines
An increasing number of our growers are both Organic and Biodynamic. The biodynamic movement was started by Rudolph Steiner in the 1920's and essentially believes that everything is influenced by the solar system, the stars and the cosmos. Viticultural practices in the vineyard are timed to coincide with the moon and there is a strong belief that certain days are better than others for roots, flowers, fruit and leaves. Homeopathic 'tisanes' are applied to the vineyard during the year and 'horn' manure is buried during the Autumn equinox and dug up and sprayed during the Spring equinox. You may be sceptical about the effectiveness of this approach - many are. All I can say is that those that embrace it seem to make fabulous wines so even if it is just a 'belief', if it leads to great wine and involves a totally natural, non interventionist approach to vinegrowing and winemaking - why not?