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Why caring for the environment can help make better wine

IMGP7344-001 Unfortunately, vineyards have a history of not being terribly environmentally friendly. The reason? Because there are a number of pests and diseases specific to vines that can wipe out the entire crop, so winegrowers are forced to intervene. The main trouble comes from mildews, caused by fungi, and insect pests, but weeds are also a problem. And until recently, chemical solutions were seen as the answer, so vineyards were sprayed at regular intervals with a mixture of herbicides, fungicides and pesticides. The result was that the vineyards looked very tidy, with vines growing in neat rows and bare earth between, but environmentally, it was a disaster. Of late, though, attitudes have changed. Enlightened winegrowers have thought twice about the amount of spraying they do. Could it be making things worse, as well as causing environmental issues? They have realized that the life in the soil matters: lifeless, sterile soils don't work as well, and ever more chemical fertilizer is needed because the natural nutrient cycling has failed. And with regard to pests, they have realized that introducing areas of biodiversity into the vineyard (in what otherwise is a monoculture), and allowing plants to grow between the rows, creates an ecosystem that is more in balance, and pests are less of a problem. The clever use of biological solutions, such as introducing beneficial insects into the vineyard, also helps reduce inputs. The good news is that these more environmentally conscious management techniques can also help to make better wine. A living soil seems to help vines grow crops of grapes with more intensity and personality, resulting in wines with more personality. Not everyone is managing their vineyards in this sort of sustainable fashion, but increasing numbers of growers are, and it's catching on more widely. This has to be a good thing.

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