Great discussion on disgorgement last week - thank you Jeremy Eubanks, Joshua Carlsen, and Dustin Chabert for your input!
This week: Sustainable viticulture
What are some of the various methods of sustainable viticulture and how do they compare to one another?
Sustainable viticulture emphasizes strong healthy environmental practices in the vineyard keeping the most appropriate economic and social choices in mind. Practices vary depending on the location of the vineyard on the globe, however some methods include vineyard floor managment including cover crops and water use, canopy managment, pesticide storage, soil and tissue sampling, mulching for water retention, researching and implementing the safest ways to spot treat with non chemicals, increase air flow, weed managment allowing sheep to graze, preventing winter damage and utilizing irrigation techniques while preserving and keeping cost down. Sustainable viticulature's focus is to maintain the health of the vineyard by minimizing practices that might be damaging or wasteful to the economy and environment. Different assessments are required depending on the concerns in any particular region.
I'd add water recycling (this may be the most important, but expensive thing a winery can do- water use in a winery is off the charts sometimes- related just as much to enology as viticulture) , clean energy (solar and wind, for example), safety (killing people doesn't really sustain the future a business, and people die in wineries and vineyards every year), mitigating runoff (even chemical free wineries can have effects on watersheds), and the often ignored social sustainability (fair trade, migrant workers, healthcare for vineyard workers, immigration reform, gypsy wine in Burgundy, etc...), and economic sustainability (how expensive can Napa and Burg Grand Cru vineyards get?).
Even seemingly sustainable practices really need to be looked at. For example, spraying copper is not sustainable in all places! Copper deficient soil in parts of Australia can take all you want to give it, but biodynamic vineyards in Bordeaux are eventually going to reach toxic levels.
The main models of sustainable agriculture fall under the larger umbrella of "sustainable," or "raisonnée," organic, and biodynamic. Darla and Jeremy have already covered the lion's share of what covers the world of sustainable agriculture, but another key factor in sustainable agriculture is the mindset that many winemakers employ of doing what needs to be done in order to protect the crop and harvest given the circumstances of the vintage--being more pragmatic than dogmatic in one's approach. The definition and requirements to achieve certification for organic viticulture varies based on country of origin and/or appellation, but generally forbids the use of synthetic pesticides, certain methods of filtration, and limits the use of sulfur during the winemaking process. Organic certifications, however, do not always take into account what must be done in the vineyard, but what must not, so although it carries a certain commercial appeal, it doesn't necessarily mean that the wine is necessarily more sustainable than one coming from a "raisonnée" mindset. Biodynamic viticulture takes the tenets of sustainable farming, organic viticulture, and a sprinkle of hocus-pocus to achieve the most pure land east manipulated wine of all. Pioneered by Rudolf Steiner in 1924 and championed now (most notably) by Nicolas Joly, the viticultural system employs tenets of organic viticulture in addition to natural soil treatments including cow horns, manure, dandelion, stinging nettles, yarrow root, and others, works strongly in accordance with the cycles of the moon, and encourages biodiversity in the vineyard in terms of crops & livestock. Additionally, biodynamic viticulture heavily eschews the use sulfur, mechanical harvesting, and the use of deodorant by it's most staunch advocates. While there are many world-class wines that are produced biodynamically, the movement is most often associated with the natural-wine movement. The Demeter Biodynamic Trade Association certifies biodynamic farms and vineyards internationally.