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Hype over biodynamics reaching ludicrous levels, says viticulturist

Published:  06 September, 2018

The furore surrounding organic and biodynamic viticulture has reached “ludicrous levels,” according to leading consultant Dr Richard Smart.

The wine press was partly responsible for creating this “ridiculous hype,” Smart told Harpers, adding the obvious corollary was an increasing 'panic' about the use of fungicides in vineyard management and sulphur dioxide in winemaking.

“I wish journalists would stop talking-up organic and biodynamic wines without solid evidence to back up their claims,” he said.

“There is no hard evidence that organic or biodynamic viticulture improves the quality of the wine, or the health of the vine. It's trendy for some producers to shout about their organic credentials, of course, but the reality is that organic viticulture still permits the use of copper in the vineyard - hardly the most 'natural' of substances.”

Yet the inimitable viticulturist added that he understood the current hype over organic and biodynamic methods, citing a burgeoning consumer interest that certain producers were keen to capitalize on.

In addition, concerns over the health and social impacts of the use of chemicals in viticulture has led to several high-profile news stories, and a lawsuit from the daughter of a vine grower, James-Bernard Murat, who died from cancer linked to his use of pesticides over a 40 year period.

“A key challenge facing growers today is to be able to produce grapes and make wine in a more environmentally friendly and organic way, as our consumers are asking us to do this,” agreed winemaker Laurent Delaunay, of Abbots & Delaunay.

However, the pernicious effects of climate change are ensuring that human-intervention, and the use of fungicides are becoming increasingly necessary in certain regions.

According to some Bordeaux Chateaux, unprecedented attacks of downy mildew made the 2018 growing season “a major headache,” with a resulting dramatic reduction in yield.

But in a timely development, the French government recently authorized the introduction of four new hybrid varieties into French viticulture.

The varieties - Floreal, Vidoc, Voltis and Artaban — were developed by crossing the genes of the European Vitis Vinifera with America species of vine, designed to be resistant to downy and powdery mildew.

Nevertheless, current AOC laws forbid the use of hybrids, although the Vin de France category would permit growers to experiment with these new varieties, should they wish.