To spray or not to spray, that is the question.
The fear of losing your crop to an infestation can be a powerful motivator to protect your vines with synthetic chemicals. Wine makers and grape growers face a difficult decision when deciding how to address the risk.
Most artisan winemakers and grape growers choose not to spray. As difficult as the decision may be, however, sometimes it is necessary in order to save the vintage and, for some, to save their businesses. Because of the size of their vineyards, large-scale industrial producers often have no other option but to use synthetic herbicides and pesticides. It is considerably easier for small-scale growers to manage sustainable practices.
Fortunately, alternatives to using synthetic herbicides and pesticides are plentiful. Planting cover crops assists in weed control and creates habitat for beneficial critters that prey on bugs. Building nesting boxes for owls, hawks and other birds of prey controls gophers and moles, while songbirds and bats mitigate bug infestations. It is common knowledge that a healthy living soil full of microbial life will yield great fruits for all growers.
In vineyards and wineries, sustainability has several meanings and varying degrees. For some, it means maintaining ecologically sound practices in conjunction with an economic and social responsibility to their communities. Often, these wineries are using organic or even biodynamic farming techniques but have opted to forgo expensive government certifications.
For wines, the term “organic” can be broken down into two categories – those made with organic grapes and those that are organic. Wines made with organic grapes do not contain any synthetic additives and must have sulfites below 150 ppm. Organic wines are made from organically grown grapes, do not contain added sulfites in the form of sulphur dioxide, or S02, and have naturally occurring sulfites below 10 ppm. Sulfites in non-organic wine can be upwards of 350 ppm.
Why are there limits on sulfites? A small number of people (studies estimate about 2 percent) are allergic to sulfites and experience symptoms such as itching, hives and difficulty breathing. Others may be sensitive to sulfites and choose to limit the amount they consume.
Why use sulphur dioxide? Sulphur dioxide is a preservative gas used in winemaking to keep the wine fresh and to stabilize the color of white wine. Without it, white wine will turn brown, and who wants to drink a brown pinot grigio?
Biodynamic wines are a step beyond organic and are among the most exciting. This method of agriculture creates an essentially self-sustaining ecosystem that considers lunar and astrological cycles and uses no chemical additives, no yeast additives and no acid modifications. Biodynamic winemaking and viticulture creates a true representation of native yeast and the land from which the wine came. Biodynamic wines must contain less than 100 ppm sulphur dioxide.
As for the common perception that organic wines are not good, fear not – it simply isn’t true. Some of the most famous, delicious and rare wines are farmed in this fashion. True, there are some awful organic wines just as there are some awful non-organic wines. For those who are worried about price, you need not be concerned. There is an abundance of sustainable, organic and biodynamic wines starting at just $10.
Alan Cuenca is an accredited oenophile and owner of Put a Cork in It, a Durango wine store. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.