Read this Decanter article: http://www.decanter.com/news/wine-news/587372/bordeaux-s-vignobles-ducourt-plants-disease-resistant-vineyard?utm_source=Eloqua&utm_medium=email&utm_content=news+alert+link+12082014&utm_campaign=Newsletter-12082014
This is an important piece of news. As we struggle all over the world with the need for increased agricultural production, we are also facing a determined onslaught by unscientific and ahistoric “back-to-the-past” fundamentalists who wish to ban all pesticides etc. while at the same time banning genetically modified organisms. I am certain this is an untenable position in the long run, but in the short to medium term their influence is great, and has already set the world back decades in the development of sustainable methods for nourishing the world in a clean and safe manner.
The vine is a notoriously heavily-sprayed crop, whether the sprays are “conventional”, organic or biodynamic. Vitis vinifera, such as we use it in the vineyards of the world today, is to a large extent (and with large variations among varieties) a highly manipulated and very fragile being. It is of course a fallacy to say that just because a spraying agent is organic or biodynamic, it is intrinsically “natural” and therefore not harmful to the environment or people’s health. There certainly is a tendency for less spraying in organic and biodynamic and other “natural” practice, but a complete avoidance is extremely rare, and I would contend that some of the sprays used in biodynamic practice in particular are poorly understood in terms of their long-term effect on health and the environment.
If there is a need for avoiding or minimising spraying in vineyards – and I think there is – we need to grow intrinsically healthy, disease-resistant vine varieties. There is much research being done to achieve this, and this has brought about some very resistant and healthy varieties, many of them so-called inter-specific varieties. However, the issue is that these are new varieties. There are several problems with new varieities, chief among them that they do not taste like the varieties that are already known and loved. This gives problems with commercialisation, and also potentially with the perceived terroir expression of any given area in the longer term.
While I welcome Ducourt’s will to address several serious issues, as professed in the Decanter article, I have to deplore the fact that they feel the need to repeatedly stress that the varieties planted are conventional crossings bred specifically for health. While the new varieties may be excellent varieties, we have come to associate the great wines of Bordeaux with very specific varieties and their expression in that area. What if suddenly Bordeaux came to be made from very different varieties with a completely different expression, only in the name of vine health?
Surely, the proper way to go about this – not just in terms of health and environment sustainability, but also in terms of climate change robustness – would be to genetically modify existing varities to be much more robust, while maintaining their well-known and much-loved characteristics? This may be much easier said than done, but surely it is worth the effort. I am not so much a fool that I think that an area’s vinous expression, or the varieties grown in that area, remain immutable over time; that is demonstrably not the case. But to potentially resort to wholesale replacement of varieties that have been demonstrated to produce some of the best wines in the world would be commercial and cultural folly, and all that because caveman ignorance makes it politically impossible to use the best and safest method at arriving at solutions that would not entail such potentially devastating changes.
And no, we cannot in the longer run sustain the world – or, indeed, that small fraction of it that produces wine – with organic and biodynamic farming practices. Not in the face of the future onslaught by climate change and the inevitably much-stricter demands that will be placed on environmental factors and food safety as a result of an ever-increasing world populace.