This post is inspired by the wake-up of spring and the joy of seeing those vineyards around us sprouting with their new life - the beginning of what will be the 2014 vintage.
Simultaneously this post is to express the sadness with which we watch some farmers still manage their vineyards with chemicals (often forced by low prices on wine market). So here's an awakening call to those of you who haven't noticed this before.
Vineyards are man-made and must be managed according to climate, soil, philosophy and ultimately (but often most importantly) economy. They can either be managed mechanically or chemically (or a mix of both). There are various degrees of managing a vineyard chemically, and we are talking everything from herbicides to fungicides and pesticides (either systemic or by contact). The latter escape the human eye, but the first is evident especially in spring when grass starts to grow alongside the vines. This is when the chemical treatments are evident to the eye.
There are mainly 2 kinds of herbicides:
1) that prevents greenery from germinating in the first place (in this case the vineyard looks dry - like e.g. in the first picture).
2) the second kind (and the most famous of which is Roundup by Monsanto) is active against developing weeds (the other 4 pics in "unhappy" vineyards) and then it looks like the greenery around the roots of the plants are simply dried out or burnt by the sun (which is obviously not the case in a cool & wet month like April).
The main reason for choosing herbicides and other chemical treatments in the vineyard is economical (sometimes also heavily influenced by climate). Basically, it would be fair to say that the cost is reduced 3 or 4 times compared to an organic vineyard.
It's also possible to use a device on a tractor to cut the grass in between the vines and to tilt the soil there, but it requires much work and sometimes a vine is accidentally cut. So to sum up, much much more work, but the result in the long run is a soil which is alive and full of essential microorganisms to the vine (amongst which yeasts that will transport food to the roots), and above the soil these different flowers and herbs may attract a diverse universe of insects that could have an impact on the balance of the vine.
Chemicals in vineyards are much reduced compared to a few decades ago, but we could still improve...
How can we as consumers improve the methods of agriculture:
1) know the producer you buy wine from and enquire about practices (sometimes marked as organic, but often times not because of bureaucratic obstacles)
2) if the wine is real cheap, so is the method for producing it
3) by drinking cheap wine you encourage pollution of the water, so take responsibility of a green Earth and drink better wines!
A friendly reminder: all the wines we offer from small wineries around Tuscany are made from happy vineyards: www.tuscany-in-a-bottle.com