Does Organic Wine Make You Blind?


By Aymeric de Clouet

It is indeed legitimate to ask this question, that a hasty reading might incite to believe provocative.

I was recently in Champagne, where a highly esteemed winemaker of my acquaintance explained to me that he was converting to organic viticulture. Having no affirmative opinion on the issue, I listened to him explain us his choice for the planet, even more than for the quality of wine. Why not? Champagne has been the victim of many excesses in vine matters, as remember the older ones like me, with the urban garbage discharged into the chalky vineyard, which at the time was more blue than white.  

During our walk in the cellar, I noticed the presence of sugar (legally, one is in Champagne) used at several stages of the production. And our winemaker to exclaim: "I have to give it back to my supplier, it is a locally produced beet sugar!” Astonished by this sudden disgust, we asked of the reasons of this ire. "In the organic Charter, we must use organic sugar, and it comes from the cane produced in Brazil". Ah! So to protect the planet, you must buy sugar produced on another continent, which will make a thousand kilometers by truck, eight thousand by boat, and again two hundred in truck, and that comes from fields grown after the partial deforestation of the Amazon (not to mention that the South American organic rules are not quite ours)!

So I ask the question: does organic wine make them blind? Should we be so obtuse as to compel such absurdity  when winegrowers only seek to improve their environmental contribution? If the aim is to improve our impact on the planet, is it not better to envisage a charter of sustainable viticulture, which takes into account of all the elements around the plant? At the same time, toxic concentrations of copper sulphate will be avoided... which incite some winegrowers to leave the organic movement.

Vine is a complex ecosystem, where no one can escape to think globally, as shown in the premature mortality of vines planted twenty years ago. Organic vineyards do not seem to solve the problem, but chemistry is obviously just as helpless against wood diseases, which current spread seems more to come from the renouncement to sodium arsenite (because of its toxicity, not its effectiveness) and production methods of vine clones in the “nursery”.  Sustainable viticulture is not just a lesser use of synthetic products, but also an open mind on some products such as sugar that is not produced organically in Europe, and real studies on the plant material because, since the 1960s, emphasis was often placed on productive selection, or frost resistance, but probably not enough on other elements such as resistance to fungi, for example. Isn't a solution to return to an indigenous selection of the best feet of each vine?

If all the players in the wine sector, whether organic or not, do not start to think in terms of sustainability, it is to be feared that we no longer know in the future of the century-old vines as they still exist. And what wine can better represent its terroir, which is ultimately the objective of any honest winegrower, than a wine from octogenarians or centenary vineyards? It is time to agree on the players in the wine sector to finance new research programs, lest the plant material become really vegetative!

-  A study from INRA, the French research Institute, suggest that sugar, our good old daily sugar, would be an excellent agent for protecting the vine (and orchards) in foliar spraying infra-doses. It would be a true natural revolution and good for the environment, as soon as it is not imported from Brazil. 
- In addition to the plant material, the environment must also be taken into account: Global warming does not explain everything. Deforestation at the edge of the vineyards modifies the microclimate, and some are surprised that the old natural climate barriers no longer stop the hail storms... But they no longer exist! 
-There are many other topics of reflection to be dealt with around the wine, but like the changes in the driving of the vine, I think it is necessary to go in small steps.