The SW Summary: On Champagne’s herbicide divide, hybrid grapes, integrated pest management, and more

By Hanna Halmari
The great herbicide debate continues

In Wine-Searcher Caroline Henry discusses the great herbicide debate that is dividing Champagne and considers the impacts it may have on the region. The Champagne Comité’s U-turn on their “zero herbicides by 2025” promise in 2022 has polarized growers. Those defending the use of herbicides claim they really needed to use them this year to eliminate any competition in the vineyard, due to “the thinness of the vine branches, supposedly caused by a lack of water in the soil.” Henry points out that ironically these growers are perpetuating the problem they’re trying to fix, given the fact that herbicides contribute to soil erosion. She argues that the real reason behind herbicide application is to max out on potential grape quantity, especially given the recent changes to the reserve system that mean more grapes can be harvested this year. 

At the other end of the spectrum, the anti-herbicide collective is becoming more vocal in its opposition and demanding a new timeline for the zero herbicide promise. Among these are a few “star” producers with a wide reach among the Champagne audience, meaning their resistance can have a significant impact on Champagne’s high quality reputation. Henry discusses the reputational risks and urges the Comité to stop dragging its feet and come up with “a real plan on how to eradicate herbicides in the region.” Read the article here.

Are hybrid grapes the future?

Writing for Decanter, Elaine Brown explores the future of hybrid grapes in fine winemaking. Focusing on Sonoma’s coast, Brown discusses how the increasingly humid climate is making organic farming increasingly challenging. Given how susceptible traditional wine grapes are to powdery mildew, growers have little choice but to turn to fungicides to prevent or reduce infection. This is where hybrid grapes come in. Baco Noir, for example, is a disease-resistant variety that was developed by crossing traditional Vitis vinifera wine grapes with heartier American species in the 1900s.

Common criticism of hybrid grapes centres on their thin grape skins and unpleasant flavours. However, with the changing and increasingly volatile climate, many are reconsidering their approach. Brown notes how the work of forward-thinking and experimental producers demonstrates that hybrids have the capability to make fine wine. They “just need appropriate growing conditions and thoughtful winemaking.”

Treasury Americas maximises on-site solar generation

Treasury Wine Estates published a press release announcing the expansion of Treasury Americas’ on-site solar electricity generation. The division is installing around 13,000 solar panels across its properties to generate over 60% of the company’s electricity, “setting a record for a U.S. wine company of its size and scale.”

The investment is a key move in Treasury Wine Estates’ ambitions to transition to 100% renewable electricity by 2024 and net zero carbon emissions by 2030. Will Drayton, Director of Sustainability and Science for Treasury Americas, shares how the substantial investment in solar generation is “greening the California grid and opening the door to future developments such as on-site storage.”

Read more here.

Integrated pest management: The best of both?

In SmartCompany Emma Elsworthy discusses an increasingly popular type of farming known as integrated pest management (IPM). IPM is a farming approach that uses a combination of organic and conventional principles. Australian broccoli farmer Stuart Grigg explains how “organic farming relies on only natural remedies, whereas IPM farming uses organic principles and adopts a “strategic use” of pesticides when necessary — the best of both worlds.”

Not only is IPM produce more affordable and accessible than organic in Australia, but it’s also helping close the gap “between the dichotomous definitions of organic and conventional farming.” As the risk of pesticides is becoming more widely understood among consumers, IPM can hopefully help open up the conversation around chemicals and educate consumers on the nuances. Read more here.

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About the author

Hanna Halmari

Hanna Halmari is the editor at Sustainable Wine and the head of conferences at Innovation Forum. Hanna specialises in sustainability research and events across various industries. She holds an MSc in international development from Kings’s College London, where she developed a strong interest in political economy and post-communist transformation. Hanna speaks Finnish, Bulgarian and English. In her spare time she is a dedicated Radio Lollipop volunteer at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, enjoys travelling, and tasting new wines.