Bordeaux winemakers want to give up chemicals to protect the environment

Bordeaux winemakers want to give up chemicals to protect the environment

Less chemical influences make the vine more robust and ensure that the terroir is better expressed in the aroma of the wine, according to experts. The French vineyards are also interested in new grape varieties that are heat and disease resistant. EURACTIV France reports.

For Farges, it has become his mission to adapt wine production to changing environmental conditions, whether due to climate change or increasing mistrust of pesticides.

And he's not alone. Although they don't talk about it, more and more vintners from excellent vintages, such as wines from the Entre-Deux-Mers region, are changing their practices to receive organic and biodynamic labels as well as so-called "High Environmental Value" certificates.

Finding a wine that best expresses the terroir is a constant concern in the region, where the roots of the vine are cut underground to force them to extract nutrients and water from the depths of the earth. This technique is also a response to global warming, which has advanced the average harvest date by about ten days since the 1980s.

“The rise in temperature affects our work. My grandfather and father tried very hard to increase the alcohol content of the wine by having vines with fewer grapes and bringing them closer to the ground. But I'm doing the opposite, ”said Saint Emilion winemaker Philippe Bardet, who recognizes that his wines have changed, but for the better.

And that's the paradox of the phenomenon. In the Bordeaux region, an additional degree and a little less water is good news, at least for now. This means that the heat waves of 2019 and the low rainfall are a quantitative problem. For some vineyards, the winemakers found that at the end of the harvest the grapes developed a thick skin but little juice.

"The problem of global warming in many regions is water shortage, but there is no shortage of it in Bordeaux," said François-Thomas Bon, an organic winemaker who found that the region did not need irrigation.

In addition, the moderate humidity this year limited mold infestation, a fungus that devastates the vine and requires multiple treatments when it occurs, including organic copper sulfate farming.

Although the La Grace Fonrazade vineyard comes from certified organic cultivation, Bon does not boast of it, since the Saint-Emilion designation of origin appears sufficient. However, he is committed to a global approach to ensure that his winery is less harmful to the environment. So far, he has recycled cardboard and wood from pallets, implemented a boiler that works with wine drives and measured the fuel and water consumption of his fields.

Now he is even trying to find solutions to recycle the wood from the indispensable oak barrels, the lifespan of which does not exceed six or seven years. "We are trying to develop straight barrels instead of round barrels to be able to recycle the boards ... But it is currently causing sealing problems," the winemaker admitted.

In the longer term, wine experts agree that Bordeaux wine is suffering from increasing climate change, which has helped to mobilize the profession. With hail, frost, heavy rain and drought, harvests are exposed to many risks.

"We have the painful impression of having a lot more frost in the spring," said Philippe Bardet. He is nevertheless “optimistic about the small climate change that has been observed over the past twenty years”.

Bardet's solution is to reduce the number of chemical additives so that his vines can become more resistant. The Bordelais winemaker was one of the first to campaign for the vine to be planted in order to better maintain water and nitrogen in the soil. Most of the vineyard is now covered with grass, which allows the grapes to withstand the heat better and use less fertilizer.

The agro-ecological approach is advancing, even if the Bordeaux region is getting closer and closer to the national average with a 10 percent share of the organic vines.

“In 2018 we had three times more water than in Burgundy! It is much more difficult to limit treatments in our region, ”says Pierre Lurton, who manages the Yquem estate in Sauternes, one of the first so-called“ Grand Cru ”that will soon be certified.

The mythical winery, bought by the LVMH group in 2004 after four centuries in the hands of the same family, the Lur Saluces, had already grown half of its vines organically, mainly for oenological purposes.

The sector is also experiencing global warming by testing new grape varieties. Since Bordeaux is already a mixture, the addition of plants used in Portugal such as Touriga Nacional or Marsellan could make it possible to preserve wines that are equivalent in taste within 20 years.

"If we continue to grow Merlot in 2050, we will have less character," warned Kees van Leeuwen, a researcher at the Institute of Wine and Viticulture. The center also explores other avenues: vines that result from the crossing of varieties that are resistant to the main vine diseases and classic varieties such as Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot that are most resistant to climate change.

This project is funded with support from the European Commission. The author is solely responsible for the content of this publication; the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. The author is solely responsible for the content of this publication (communication); the Commission is not responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.