Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Bordeaux Banks on Biodiversity

Bordeaux's famed Saint Emillion wine growers have discovered the benefits of ecosystem services and biodiversity:

Viticulture has made the area wealthy but monoculture provides an ideal habitat for pests like spider mites and leafhoppers to colonise and infest a field, destroying the grape quality and yield.
For decades, chemicals provided the answer, but led to a cycle of dependency.

"When you treat with insecticides only three per cent of the bugs are a menace to the vineyards, the other 97 per cent are useful," said Patrice Hateau, director of Chateau Fombrauge.

In the case of spider mites, the insecticides also kill their natural enemy, the predatory mite Typhlodromus. "Just one Typhlodromus per vine leaf means you don't have to treat for red or yellow spider mites."

How can the ecosystem services provided by such predators of pests, as well as by pollinators, be integrated into Bordeaux's famed vineyards?

Chateau Figeac is a condensed picture of everything we need to do in Saint Emilion," said Philippe Bardet, the winegrower-activist behind the project, which now has the support of 26 public organisations.

Over the past 20 years, he has planted hedges and allowed grass cover, using this "functional landscape" to produce healthy grapes with fewer chemical interventions. Natural predators attack grape worms, and grass grown between the vines reduces diseases like mildew and rot by 30 per cent.

One campaign he led reduced obligatory vine treatments of the pernicious Golden Flavescence disease by 63 per cent, and won the support of 1,400 vintners.

Saint Emillion has always been among my favorite Bordeaux wines -- mostly because when I first started drinking them, I was a big Merlot guy (Saint Emillion is famed for using more more Merlot than other areas of Bordeaux, which tend to use more a majority of Cabernet in their blends).

I'm going to have to keep track of this project and do my best to purchase wines from participating vineyards!

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