Friday, March 21, 2014

Biodynamic Rebel: Hero or Liability?

A biodynamic producer in Burgundy, Emmanuel Giboulot, is being threatened with a fine and possible jail time for not spraying his vines to control a pest (Decanter article, Alice Feiring article). The glassy-winged sharpshooter (leafhopper) has been a concern in California for a while but has not reached catastrophic levels. France is now having issues as well.
Spraying Pyrevert apparently kills the leafhopper but Giboulot claims it kills other living things necessary for a balanced environment in the vineyards. Because the pesticide is "plant-based" some argue it will not harm his organic status. Others say the pesticide may not even do what is intended but may harm "birds, other animals, even the winemakers."
It is incredible to me that the use of an inarguably toxic product (at a minimum, it must be poison to some bug) could be forced upon a farmer making different choices. He claims to have not seen any of the bugs in his vineyard so he is hardly the cause of an ongoing infestation.
His vineyards appear to be blocks rather than the norm in Burgundy where rows, or even partial rows, are all a producer may own. The fractionalized nature of the region makes it nearly impossible to farm organically. I watched a helicopter swoop in on the hill of Corton one day and attempt to apply some sort of treatment to a couple of rows of vines. The application swirled in the rotors' downdrafts and ended up being dispersed across a much larger area than appeared to be intended. A neighbor with this approach could get the Pyrevert applied whether Giboulot approved or not. He might not even be aware it happened. This is not a recommendation, just an observation.
So far, he has resisted and garnered lots of support through a petition with more than 40,000 signatures. It seems some lessening of the punishment is likely. April 7th is supposed to be the date they announce the verdict.
I'm torn about what to root for. I applaud his right to not employ toxic treatments for so many reasons. Should the government be able to force us to apply chemicals that may or may not be effective and certainly have other, perhaps unknown, risks. Will the government reimburse him for any adverse effects to his vines, wines or people working there?  A recent study has corollated use of pesticides and low sperm counts in France. History tells us to be wary of "quick fix" solutions because we only learn all of their hidden costs with time.
On the other hand, I do not applaud people who choose not to immunize their children and I would loudly cheer the government if they enforced that and banned all of the anti-bacterial wipes, lotions and soaps people use incessantly. I eschew these things like the plague believing we'll all be tougher, stronger and healthier if we let little, weak bugs make us a little sick once in a while rather than building up some superbug that might kill us. I don't like colds but I prefer them to death.
I would be very frustrated if my vineyard succumbed to the leafhopper because my neighbor didn't do what he was supposed to do to protect himself and those around him. We don't live in a vacuum, our choices have repercussions for others. I wonder if farmers of vineyards adjacent to his have signed the petition? It will be interesting to see what punishment Emmanuel Giboulot will receive.

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