The SW Summary: Chemical bans, label transparency & ‘bad’ certification

By Tobias Webb

Putting “Chemgro” on wine labels, the new transparency?

The Drinks Business reports that: “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”

According to this article from Patrick Schmitt, Mills from Rippon recently “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.

Schmitt notes that others in the natural wine movement have said similar things, yet don’t, in his views, express a view on copper sulphate use, which is allowed in organic and biodynamic certification, but in much much lower quantities than in the past.

The sentiment reporting in the Drinks Business piece, reflects what Luisa Rocca of Bruno Rocca wines told this publication in 2015 in this interview.

Luisa Rocca described her personal scepticism at the idea of organic certification, on the basis that she believes unsustainable wine should be “certified” as such, not sustainable operations.

She argues that transparency is far more important than certification:

“I was against this kind of certification” she says, “why do I have to pay a lot of money to tell my customer “I am not poisoning you?” she asks.

She points out that other wineries who use herbicides and pesticides don’t need to declare that: “It’s better that they should have to pay, and tell their customers they are poisoning them.” Listen to the 2015 podcast with Luisa Rocca here. The recent Drinks Business piece is here.

“Chemistry used to be our friend. But this is now over”

So says the president of the Bordeaux Wine Council, Bernard Farges, in a recent Euractiv article. It reports that: “an increasing number of winegrowers… are changing their practices. They want to obtain organic and biodynamic labels, as well as so-called ‘high environmental value’ certifications.”

Aline Robert, the author, points out that some winemakers in Bordeaux don’t like to talk much about being organic on labels, but are also working on sustainability in other areas:

“Although the winegrower’s Château La Grace Fonrazade is certified organic, François-Thomas Bon does not boast about this. For him, the Saint-Emilion appellation appears to be sufficient.

However, he is committed to adopting a global approach to ensure his winegrowing operation is less harmful to the environment. So far, he has recycled cardboard and wood from pallets, implemented a boiler that operates with vine shoots and measured the fuel and water consumption of his fields…Now he is even trying to find solutions to recycle the wood from the essential oak wine barrels, the lifespan of which does not exceed six or seven years.

“We are trying to develop straight barrels rather than rounded ones, to be able to recycle the boards… But it’s causing waterproofing problems at the moment!” the winegrower acknowledged.”

She notes that organics is progressing in Bordeaux, “even if with 10% of the vines being organic, the Bordeaux region is getting closer to the national average.”

As has noted before, those in Bordeaux often point out how much harder it is to be chemical-free than elsewhere in France (with perhaps Champagne and Loire Valley being exceptions)

“In 2018, we had three times more water than in Burgundy. It is much more complicated to limit treatments in our region,” according to Pierre Lurton, who manages the Yquem estate in Sauternes. The estate produces a grand cru, which was one of the first of its kind which will soon be organically certified”, so says the article. Read the full story here.

The recent article is part of a series titled: “European winemakers grapple with environmental questions” which also has a downloadable PDF covering areas such as pesticide use, droughts, and some circular economy aspects of sustainable wine.

SustainableWine interviewed recently interviewed Olivier Cuvelier, president of the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc. We discussed how the new sustainability criteria the Alliance is working with, may impact the 227 wines produced by members in 2017. he noted that: Humidity is a key barrier to eliminating chemical use in Bordeaux, particularly in the small chateaux. “It’s really a challenge”. Here’s the summary, and here is the podcast.

The end of chemicals (apparently)’s Tobias Webb was in the Rhone valley last week, visiting producers such as Gerin, Georges Vernay, Jaboulet and Cornas biodynamic pioneer Mathieu Barret.

Podcasts with representatives from Vernay and Jaboulet and with Mathieu Barret himself will be published very soon on this site. All of those interviewed said the same about chemical usage, such as Glyposate.

Effectively, it’s not needed any more, shouldn’t be used, and will soon be banned, was the message. None were prepared to say exactly when of course. That will be up the French government, and the EU conversation about Glyphosate is a complex one.

Over in Germany, The German government has announced plans to phase out glyphosate-based herbicides to control weeds by the end of 2023, according to Farmers Weekly. They quote one farmer saying that such a ban would make things worse:

“Bernd Olligs, a sixth-generation farmer from Damianshof, near Dusseldorf, said there were no substitutes for glyphosate and a ban would only force growers to use older chemistry and resort to ploughing to control weeds.

“If we lose glyphosate, it would have a serious impact on our management decisions for planting sugar beet and potatoes,” he told Farmers Weekly.” has heard this thinking also echoed by environmental scientists from Germany last year. A complex area.

The Future of Wine forum takes place in London on November 4th 2019. Join us to debate all the most important aspects of sustainability in wine. Check out the conference agenda and speakers here

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About the author

Tobias Webb

Toby Webb is co-founder of Sustainable Wine. He is also founder of Innovation Forum, a leading platform for change in sustainable supply chains. He has spent 20+ years working in business and sustainability and has spent ten years teaching the subject at various London universities. He advises a number of companies large and small on sustainability. Businesses he has worked with include Patagonia, Interface, Bayer, SOK Group, Boots/Walgreens, Metro, Unilever, Nestle, Reckitt Benckiser, Sainsbury’s, and many others. He co-authored the UK’s national CSR strategy for David Cameron from 2006-10. He has been organising events, advising, teaching writing, blogging and podcasting on sustainable business since 2001. His (non-wine) blog is at