Put ‘chemgro’ on wines produced using pesticides

Wine producers who use synthetic pesticides and fertilizers should be made to tell consumers using the tag ‘chemgro’ on their bottles, suggests Nick Mills at New Zealand’s Rippon Vineyard.

The winemakers in attendance at the London-based organic wine masterclass were, from left to right: Claudio Heye – Domaine Thomson, Nick Mills – Rippon, Jack Weaver – Churton, Rudi Bauer – Quartz Reef, and Lance Pigott from Vintage Roots, who was also on the panel

Speaking at a masterclass on organic wines from New Zealand, which has held in London last month, Mills expressed his frustration that those who don’t use synthetic chemicals must seek and pay for certification to communicate their approach to viticulture.

“Why is it that it is organic that has to be certified; it should be the other way round should, it should state that it is chemgro,” he told the attendees, who had gathered at London’s New Zealand House on 18 September to listen to a seminar on organic wine production in New Zealand.

Continuing, he said, “It comes back to this idea that wine is a natural product and therefore exempt from declaring what it actually is, and that will never change unless there is discussion.”

Wanting to raise awareness for what he believes is bad practice in conventional viticulture, he said that his motivation for a tag such as ‘chemgro’ was to help inform consumers, so “their decision to buy one product over another has a direct influence on the land,” he said.

He added, “Wine is understood as a luxury product, but it’s not, it is an agricultural product. It may be in a glossy magazine, but we need to get back to idea that wine is a beverage and that beverage is issued from the land; we need to bring it back to land.”

When asked later by db whether the term ‘chemgro’ was something he had heard elsewhere, or had coined himself, Mills said it was an idea he had come up with to describe the use of synthetic chemicals in agriculture, and had not heard it used by others.

Mills’ thoughts echo those previously featured on thedrinksbusiness.com from Isabelle Legeron MW, the founder of London’s RAW Wine Fair, and a leader in the charge for a low intervention wine revolution.

The UK-based, French-born Master of Wine told db earlier this year that pesticides and other artificial chemicals used in conventional winemaking should be listed as ingredients on the end product.

However, neither Rippon nor Legeron have specifically tackled the issue of alerting consumers to the most common fungicide used in organic and biodynamic farming, which is copper, as a means to control mildew in the vines.

Sprayed on the vines as Copper sulphate (also known as Bordeaux mixture), the heavy metal can be toxic to soil life if it washes off the leaves and bunches into the ground below.

Indeed, due to the potentially toxic affects of a build up of copper in the soil of vineyards, the European Commission has approved a new lower limit for copper application under organics from this year, taking it down to 4kg per hectare/year spread over seven years, from its current cap of 6kg/ha/year over a five-year average.

Also, due to the potential negative impact of copper on vineyard soils, it is not uncommon to find producers today opt for pesticide- and herbicide-free vine management, and the use of natural fertilisers only, but then resort to synthetic fungicides, because they are believed to be more effective than copper sulphate in dealing with mildew, and less damaging to soil life.

Others have also told db that organics has a greater carbon footprint than conventional agriculture, but that is a separate point of discussion concerning airborne pollutants, rather than soil-dwelling metals and chemicals – which can of course leech into ground water, or run-off into rivers.

What are your views? Should ‘chemgro’ be a tag for conventional farmers? Or should everyone be charged with listing the products used to grow grapes for winemaking?

Please email me your thoughts at patrick@thedrinksbusiness.com, or share your opinions in the comment boxes below.

Rippon Vineyard has been organic since it was founded in 1982 and became biodynamic in 2003.

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3 Responses to “Put ‘chemgro’ on wines produced using pesticides”

  1. Caitlin Tiller says:

    Great speech from Mills, absolutely agree on his questioning of “Why is it that it is organic that has to be certified; it should be the other way round should, it should state that it is chemgro,” But I think a fairer way to see out this discourse would be the legalisation of ingredients listing in wine. That way when people buy wine, like any other food product, the transparency will keep everyone accountable and the power will go rightly to the consumer to choose what style of farming practise they wish to support. Cheers, Caitlin 🙂

  2. Chris Scott says:

    What a load of rubbish, Organics needs certification so people know the type of organics they follow. They are not all the same, some are more restrictive than others. If Chemgrow was adopted, would all organics producers stop saying they were organic on their bottle and if they didn’t which organic rules do they follow? Organic producers choose to make wines using a restricted set of chemicals. It is their choice. They want to extract higher prices to help them recover the increased costs of making wines with less options at hand. So they need to label. Sadly, Nick is just being argumentative for the sake of some cheap press coverage, if he said to everyone he would not mention that his wines where biodynamic on his labels fair enough. Otherwise he is trying to increase costs to people who don’t believe in his type of homeopathic mysticism.

  3. Keith Pritchard says:

    Just a way to try to denigrate regular growing methods. Just love how people like to try to come up with legal ways to disparage others rather than just promote their own methods. Just tells a lot about their real basis of ethics.

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