Many wine producers in the Loire Valley in France have moved over to organic wine production in recent years. Organic wine production is sometimes known as biodynamic (in French ‘Biodynamie’). In France, production of this type of wine is often signified by use of the green ‘Agriculture Biologique’ logo.
Organic wine production means foregoing the use of any synthetic products or chemicals. Instead, natural methods are used to maintain the vines in rude health or to help prevent diseases. By using organic methods, bio-producers seek to re-invigorate the soil and restore its micro-biological balance through natural means. Often, repeated use of chemicals over many years means that the soil is left sterile and bereft of the natural micro-organisms that had existed side by side with vine production over thousands of years until the advent of synthetic agro-chemicals.
Wine producers adopting organic methods do not expect their grape production to match the levels of viticulteurs who use chemicals. Organic grape production often means that crop yields are less than half of those produced with the assistance of agro-chemicals but the compensating factor, bio-producers would argue, is that ultimately the quality of the organically produced wine is far superior to that of the mass-produced variety.
The principal difference between organic control of pests and diseases is that whereas chemicals have a systemic effect on the vine, invading the whole plant, ‘homemade’ natural preventatives might be regarded as homeopathic, coming in contact only with the exterior of the plant and by that means discouraging pests and helping to prevent diseases which might damage the vine or the grape. Such an approach means the organic producer has to have a degree of patience to allow the vines to build up natural resistance during which time fruit yields might well be disappointing.
Some chemical use is permitted. Few alternatives have been found to using copper which is a well known preventative and cure for one of the most common vine problems of mildew. An examination of the chemical composition of commercial gardening products to combat mildew on roses will almost always reveal that copper is a constituent part. The problem in using copper based compounds is that they tend to obliterate the very micro-organisms in the soil which organic wine producers seek to encourage. Some producers, whilst not entirely eliminating the use of copper, have been able to significantly reduce the proportions used by deploying silicon based compounds and natural remedies from complimentary plants as an alternative. In other words, by studying how a different plant may repel or fight against a particular pest or disease bio-producers can use that knowledge and apply it to finding alternative means of pest and disease control in the production of organic vines.
The organic producer will also pay particular attention to the type of dung which is used to improve and condition the soil around the vines. Dung or manure provides nutrition to the micro-organisms that live within the soil and encourages the soil, which may have been organically sterile for many years, to re-establish its own micro-environmental balance. Some types of dung encourage root development whilst others are good for ensuring the grapes develop to their maximum.
Indirectly, a greater number of organic producers means that wine production reduces its carbon footprint. As viticulteurs revert to using organic dung and more traditional natural preventatives and feeds such as Bordeaux mixture and nettles, so there is lesser use of the Earth’s finite resources and less energy is expended in the production of agro-chemicals.
The aim of the bio wine producer is not massive crop yields but ultimately to produce authentic high quality natural wines, truly reflecting their ‘terroir’. There are many ‘Agriculture Biologique’ in Pays de la Loire whether producing crisp sharp Muscadets, sumptuous Coteaux du Layon, exquisite Saumurs and many, many more. Wine producers take great pride in their product and delight in showing them off – take time and savour them!