In order to move towards practices that are more environmentally friendly and return to a true expression of the terroir (which should be reinstated as one of the AOC themes), many wine estates are debating the issues of sustainable management in vineyards and organic farming.
We will examine three different types of viticulture here :
Known as "la lutte raisonnée" in French which translates as 'measured control', this is the first phase before full-scale organic viticulture. Unlike conventional agriculture (high yields, prolific use of chemical treatments and products to prevent diseases and predators) which produces an "assisted" and productive vine stock, sustainable viticulture uses chemicals in a limited and measured way and sets additional constraints to general regulations such as:
- Restrictive specifications
- Preservation of the farming environment
- Soil and fertilisation management
- Upkeep of wine-producing land
- Limitation of inputs with measured use of plant protection and oenological products
- Effluent reduction and waste management
- Traceability and testing
- Sustainability and improvement of the farm or estate's performance
ORGANIC FARMINGOrganic viticulture, so often derided in the past, is gaining increasing ground, thanks to the many advantages it offers. Because pesticides and chemical fertilisers are not permitted, the vine produces a grape of great quality that reflects the typical characteristics of its terroir.
There is a biological balance in nature and life is present at all levels. Organic agriculture takes this balance and life into account, preserving them as far as possible. Organic wine producers undertake to use products that are free from synthetically produced chemicals. In the vineyard, they use raw materials of natural origin (copper, sulphur, plant-based insecticides) and work to promote natural pest control between species. Their aim is to encourage life in the soil and the preservation of animal and plant species, thus protecting the natural ecosystem.
In practice, this means letting grass grow which will aerate the soil, feed earthworms and compete with the vine stocks that will have to put down longer roots to reach the resources they need, in soil with a higher mineral salt content that is more representative of the terroir. It should not be forgotten that organic farming has a cost: additional labour, cleaner but more expensive plant treatment preparations, greater risk-taking in terms of vine diseases and therefore lower productivity which usually means lower yields.
BIODYNAMIC FARMINGBiodynamic farming is the extreme version of organic agriculture. Not only do winegrowers do everything they can to preserve nature, they also start from the principle that the damage already inflicted is so great that humans must do everything they can to restore this lost balance, including using the influence of terrestrial and cosmic rhythms. The vineyard is considered to be a living entity and a natural balance must be maintained between the four elements of earth, water, air and fire, in other words, the sun. Biodynamic viticulture uses the positions of the stars and planets in conjunction with seasonal cycles to determine exactly when which treatments should be applied. The latter are all completely organic and some are more than a little mystical, such as the burial of a cow's horn filled with dung.
This unconventional way of doing things may sometimes raise a smile, but the success of some of its proponents should be sufficient to pique our interest.
THE DOMAINE PONSOT PHILOSOPHYThe three types of viticulture explored above, namely sustainable practices, organic agriculture and biodynamic farming, are all based on a negative observation: humans have gone too far in their quest for profitability and have not been sufficiently concerned about the future of the vine. And this is no doubt true.
At Domaine Ponsot, this concern or rather this process of respecting Nature is very ancient. It is the embodiment of the so-called "peasant" tradition based on common sense. And every generation since the foundation of the Domaine in 1872 has subscribed to this Love of Nature and, by the same token, its respect. And everything that is advocated today in the three ways of working described above has been applied at Domaine Ponsot since its earliest days, without needing to invent a name for it.
Unfettered by the latest fashions, we have always sought to express the richness of Burgundy terroir through "natural" cultivation practices. Human intervention is limited and only applied to the help that the vine needs, without ever trying to force it in any way. Of course, this way of working is only possible with full knowledge of the facts, and current technology allows us to check the state of the soil, vegetation and maturity as never before. And we make full use of what it has to offer. In summary, our family's long tradition of letting Nature do most of the work means that today the conditions of our vineyards are particularly good. And every intervention on our part is dictated by circumstance, in which both common sense and the most natural products possible are the order of the day. What we have always been doing is now being advocated by most technicians and names invented to describe practices that were already well-known … several thousand years ago!