In what has been described by the Italian press as a “wine war”, winemakers in Tuscany have been warned that too many vineyards could be damaging to the environment.
Not event the famous hill town of Montalcino has avoided scrutiny.
Tuscany’s regional government has warned winemakers that the use of pesticides and fertilisers can lead to the pollution of groundwater and that an overabundance of vines could contribute to soil erosion and landslides, as reported by The Telegraph.
The warning comes in the form of a 3,000 page development plan proposed by the regional government which is now being reviewed by producers of Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti and other key Tuscan wine regions.
The report singled out Brunello di Montalcino, responsible for producing some of Italy’s finest wines, and warned vineyards there had already increased the risk of erosion.
It also targets the village of Bolgheri, in the lowland Maremma region of Tuscany where, according to Stefano Carnicelli, a scientist who contributed to the proposal: “The aquifer (An underground layer of water-bearing rock) is not protected and the intensive use of fertilisers has released nitrates into the groundwater.”
The document, compiled by experts from the universities of Florence, Pisa and Siena, said that planting too many vineyards produced a “monoculture” that was unhealthy for the environment.
Critics have also claimed the deforestation of the region’s hills have made them less able to absorb heavy rainfall.
The debate kicked off after a violent storm caused a river to burst its bank, sending a torrent of water through a local beauty spot and drowning four people.
Brunello winemaker Fabrizio Bindocci says the claims are misguided.
Speaking to the Telegraph a spokesman for the Tuscan regional government said: “We’re not trying to impose an outright ban on new vineyards, we’re just saying that the impact of vineyards on the environment needs to be taken into account, particularly in the light of the floods in the Prosecco-producing area.”
“There’s been an increase in recent years in the number of vineyards and the area under cultivation for wine,” he said.
But winemakers claim they are more than capable of looking after their regions and fear the planning document could result in restrictions on the planting of new vineyards and the expansion of their estates at a time when sales are booming with the growth of markets such as China and east Asia.
“For us there is a harmonious bond between the production of wine and the countryside, and it’s wrong to consider vineyards as a danger to the environment,” Fabrizio Bindocci, the president of a consortium that represents producers of Brunello di Montalcino, told La Repubblica newspaper.
And wine industry supporters such as Montalcino mayor, Silvio Franceschelli, dismissed the reports warning that vineyards threaten biodiversity: “People who come to Montalcino expect to see vineyards, not fields of wheat.”
“Wine tourism brings great benefits to this area, unemployment is close to zero,” said Franceschelli.
And Giovanni Busi, president of a consortium of Chianti producers dismissed the claims, highlighting the value of vineyards worth up to €50,000 (£40,000) a hectare: “You really think they would be planted if there was a risk of landslides?”