Day 32: A Taste of Petrol
Eric Texier is a vigneron working in the Rhone valley. he is a former nuclear engineer and he brings a scientist’s constant curiosity to his winemaking. It’s an honor to have him here.
Petrol is often named in tasting.
Some find it noble. Some find it vulgar. Some say this is a question of balance…
I admit that I like a bit of petrol in Mosel Rieslings or in my own Chateuneuf blanc.
For the past 9-10 years though, when I check my accounting books at the end of the years, I find a taste of petrol in all my wines.
Natural wine is supposed to be made by natural means, as I understand it.
Some of the “stamped” (I mean certified) natural winemakers are growing organic or biodynamic while some are going their own way, more concerned by politics or aesthetics than certification. But roughly everyone claims to use as clean as possible ways to grow grapes and make wine. I do as well, of course.
Well than, back to my accounting books.
As I started growing grapes organically (according to the Ecocert rules), I could see that my oil consumption was raised quite a bit for my Brézème vineyard.
Let’s take a closer look:
During 1999, I burned about 550 liters of diesel for 4.2 ha. At that time, these vineyards were chemically weeded and treated.
During 2008, a tough year for mildew though, I burned 980 liters of diesel for the same 4.2 ha… These same vineyards are now ploughed under the row, cultivated between the rows and treated with so called “organic” molecules (copper sulphate, sulphur).
By the way, I checked that the energy used for the production of 1 kg of carbamates (anti-mildew agents) is about the same than for 1 kg of bouillie bordelaise (copper sulphate and lime, aka Bordeaux Mixture).
So, ploughing – and I will talk here only about ploughing- 4-5 times under the vines with an interceps instead of spraying Roundup once has an enormous cost in term of CO2 and fossil fuel consumption which comes out to about 10 hours of tractors per hectare, each year. Roughly 100 liters of fossil fuel burned for 5000 bottles. 20 ml of fossil fuel burned for a single bottle. About the volume of a cork of fossil fuel in each bottle!!!
I don’t want to be too long and boring.
But I can now claim that the choice I made 9 years ago of going for organic growing spared about 70 liters of Roundup over these 9 years, but I burned 3600 liters more fossil fuel or 2 vintages of Pergaud.
You guys knew I would be politically incorrect. So here I am…
Since I have made my first wine (1995, Staline just died, right?…), things have changed quite a bit. Natural wine is now a whole part of the wine world. But natural wines were something different at that time. They were traditional, artisanal wines made from organic grapes, and sustainability was part of the picture. A very important part, for the growers and for the consumers.
I have the strange feeling that these days, a very few people are interested when I say all my doubts about using copper (a heavy metal, and a very powerful and long remaining antifungus, that kills most of the very important mycchorisis in the soils) or my concerns about ploughing and fossil fuel.
Amphoras and SO2 are among the top concerns now. Talks about long maceration for the whites are very welcome both in NYC and in Paris, in trade tasting or in Bars à vins natures.
But I will say that cold carbonic maceration energy cost is absolutely HUGE. And therefore a lot natural wines might be very questionable in terms of carbon footprint. Nobody gives a shit about this. Except some of the Michel Rolland teams maybe. Or Adam Lee probably.
Though I am not considered as part of the core group of the “vin nature” world, I have met quite a lot of the growers involved in this movement, and to my surprise, very few are talking about viticulture. At a much lower rate than what I have found among the historical organic growers.
More specifically, sustainability is rarely a subject of discussion. SO2, carbonic maceration, filtration, amphoras, Jules Chauvet, even Che Guevara are much more fashionable than fossil fuel consumption or carbon footprint in the present natural wine discussion while biodynamie, the definition of natural winemaking, and spoofulation are all very popular topics on wine boards.
Didier Barrouiller and Michel Théron, both fabulously innovative growers, the former for plant interactions, the latter for the uses of herbs teas are not icons of the “Vins Natures” movements. They should have cared much more about fashionable topics than the impact of viticulture on the local ecosystems and they might be in splashy wine magazines or on wine boards as Natural Wines Heroes.
As consumers and citizens, I think we should be more concerned with facts than intentions.
Natural wines are full of good intentions. They are full of fossil fuel, too.
And that is a fact.
As growers, we have to go much further than organic growing (in fact pre-1950’s agriculture) or biodynamie (which is not much better than organic growing, at least when considered in today’s actual practice).
We have to face the question that people like Masanobu Fukuoka, Bill Mollisson, Miguel Altieri, Marc Bonfils raised at the same time, during the 1970’s, on all continents, which is, can we compose with nature instead of fighting against it?
I know no one wants to see organic growing, biodynamie and natural wines as fossil fuel rockets, but right now and in my humble opinion, they are.
Let’s go further, merde.
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Up next: A wrap up post, or; Don’t count on it coming tomorrow.