Like most people today, you probably care deeply about how your food is grown. If you can afford it, you may buy organically grown fruits and vegetables, but do you know what’s involved in keeping plants organic? If you’ve ever known a farmer—of even a small plot—who tried to grow organically, you know how hard it is to keep soil healthy and what a raging, frustrating, ongoing battle it is to keep the bugs, the subterranean creatures and the above-ground animals from ravaging your crops before it’s time to harvest them.
In vineyards around the world, winemakers fight the same battles on a daily basis. Jean-Claude Mas, winemaker and owner of Domaines Paul Mas wineries, who brought samples of many of his luxury-for-value French wines to Chicago recently, subscribes to a sustainable-growth program called Terra Vitis that was created in 1998 and is certified by the French Ministry of Agriculture. “It is the stamp,” he said, “of French vinegrower-winemakers who respect nature and apply sustainable agriculture.” Below is a simplified description of the program and a few ways his wineries practice it.
- Respect the environment.
- Preserve our terroirs.
- Safeguard our soils and respect their ecosystems by:
- Promoting biodiversity throughout the vineyard, and
- Preventing soil compaction and making use of available mineral and organic resources from our vineyards.
- Reduce the use of chemicals (herbicides) in the vineyards.
- Meet consumer expectations.
- Inoculate the soils with selected endomycorrhizal fungi (to help vine roots absorb nutrients more effectively).
- Bring biological enrichments to increase the microbial biomass of soils. For example, in our Les Tannes vineyard we are introducing certain selected bacteria that act as biological activators. That is, they make possible the mineralization of organic fertilizers and increase the bio-availability of critical plant nutrients.
- Practice deep plows to decompact the soils and encourage roots to grow and other life to develop and be active in the soil.
- Use lighter machinery to avoid excessive compaction of the soils. As an example, we bought a Kubota tractor—1000 kg lighter than its equivalent from Fendt or New Holland.
- Use phytosanitary products that are more respectful of the environment, usually consisting of plant decoctions like these:
- Anti-mildew: We use horsetail decoction as an elicitor—that is, it significantly increases the width of the cell walls, which makes the plant more resistant to plagues.
- Herbicides: We use a decoction of fern that works well as a repellent.
- Use existing phytosanitary products and use them in a reasoned way. The timing of the application and the dosage are very important. We have been able to reduce the dosage to one third while maintaining total efficiency.
Really makes you think about what goes on behind the scenes to produce that luscious glass of wine you’re drinking with dinner, doesn’t it?