Le lutte raisonnee vs Bio vs Biodynamique

I had a conversation with a very passionate Denis Bachelet about this a couple of days ago.

As a preface, Denis makes some of the best wines in Burgundy. He uses La lutte raisonnée as a philosophy. He only sprays when it is required and no more. He uses very careful viticultural techniques to get the best results he can.

In 2008, there was SO much mildew that many had to spray with chemicals to keep things from spreading like wildfire. Those in biodynamic can only use copper which Denis said is now starting to really collect in the soil.

He asked me is this a good thing? I had to say I don’t think so.

He also asked whether it is better to do one spraying or eight with the tractors being used for each increasing the “carbon footprint”.

I had to say one.

The question here is…

Is Bio or Biodynamic a better technique for protecting the land for the future? After talking with Denis, I am not sure.

What do you think?

I couldn’t possibly have an opinion on that from here in the (212) area code… I figure every vigneron should just do what he feels is best, and let the wines speak for themselves and history be the judge.

Don:

Bachelet’s comments are pretty much spot on.
When taken as a whole, there is no guarantee that any given BDer or organic grower is farming more responsibly (from an ecological perspective) than one who believes in and works with bare minimums.

Having said this, there are a couple of points to make…
-The use of copper is something that can be over-stated. There is no mistaking that it is a toxic heavy metal. And there is no mistaking that excessive use of copper in the vineyards (typically through the application of Bordeaux mixture against things like powdery mildew) can cause a serious and detrimental build-up in soils. Jeffords’ The New France (if memory serves) has a picture of a well known St. Emilion property where copper build-up has progressed to such a point that the soils supported only stunted weeds and rather sickly looking vines.
But most ecologically minded vignerons understand this, and try to limit copper application to a bare minimum. And, attendantly, they also monitor soil coppers very closely. What they are now finding is that a small amount of copper annually in the vineyards will not necessarily mean an increase in soil copper content. Why this is so is still open to conjecture, but it is very likely due to the fact that not only is copper a toxic heavy metal, it is also a obligate micronutrient for all plants and animals. The human body contains a fair amount of copper, as does the dry extract of plants… without any copper at all, we die. So small amounts of copper in the vineyard are probably absorbed and metabolized by the life in the vineyard. How much can be absorbed probably depends upon a variety of environmental factors.
Having said that, I think most growers would be happy to do away with the use of copper altogether if an appropriate alternative were available. Unfortunately, copper-based sprays are quite effective, are quite cheap, and are allowed in BD and organic (bio) certified farming practices. There is little incentive to develop environmentally sensitive alternatives to copper, and so little money is spent on R&D.

-Those certified in BD or organic farming have to adhere to a strict set of guidelines. Non-certified folk have a lot of freedom, and many of them choose from a list of vyd treatments that exist outside, for instance, the standard BD set, but are themselves purported to be environmentally sound. One example would be the use of microbial sprays, wherein vineyards are “inoculated” with certain microbes to combat insect or fungal pests.

I think your conclusion–“I am not sure”–is the proper one.
As with all things, it is best to verify for ones’ self, contacting the wineries directly to discuss these issues.

Regards,

Bruce,
Thanks for the comments.
I really appreciate them.

Don,
As is often the case there is no easy black and white answer to your question. BD or Organic vineyardists would argue that the highly effective systemic treatments that Denis uses also are effective at eradicating much of the other helpful organisms that live on grapevines. Many of these yeasts and bacteria actually work to keep the “bad bugs” in check. Killing everything can essentially strip a grapevine of it’s symbiotic immune system which often leads to a vicous downward cycle that requires continued application of more and more effective systemic eradicants.
All of that said, I don’t condone the use of copper and fortunately in California’s benign climate it isn’t necessary.