Winemaker acquitted over refusal to spray vines

A Burgundian winemaker charged with refusing to spray his vines to prevent the spread of disease has been cleared by a French court due to an administrative technicality.

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Winemaker Thibault Liger-Belair

Thibault Liger-Belair, a biodynamic winemaker, was summoned to court by the French Ministry of Agriculture after he refused to spray vines at his vineyard in Beaujolais at Moulin-à-Vent in Beaujolais to prevent the spread of flavescence dorée following an outbreak in 2013, 25 miles away in the Mâconnais.

The disease, which is spread by leaf hopper insects, kills young vines and reduces the productivity of older ones, turning the leaves a golden colour and causing the grapes to shrivel.

Because his vineyard in Beaujolais straddles two departments, the Rhône and the Saône-et-Loire, he argued he did not have to spray as the Rhône department had not ordered it.

Liger-Belair argued that the pesticide would not only kill leafhoppers, but also other insects that form part of the balance of nature he has built up in his vineyard.

Appearing at a court in Villefranche-sur-Saône court on 15 December, the winemaker was cleared of all charges, as reported by LePoint.fr.

The acquittal came due to a “procedural defect”, as it was decided that French agriculture minister Stéphane Le Foll had not formally approved a ruling to state that all vines in Saône-et-Loire, which Liger-Belair’s vineyard straddles, must be treated. Prosecutors have 10 days to appeal the decision.

Last December another biodynamic winemaker from Burgundy, Emmanuel Giboulot, had his conviction for failing to spray his vines overturned on appeal.

Giboulot was fined €500 back in April but a Dijon judge overturned the fine due to a technicality, as the original order to treat vines had not been first been approved by the minister of agriculture. Giboulot called the new ruling a “victory for citizen power”.

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