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Some Thoughts on Sustainability, Organic and Biodynamic Grapegrowing in New Zealand

By April 2, 2013No Comments

There’s plenty of discussion on sustainability, organics and biodynamics with respect to grapegrowing and winemaking nowadays. I’ve been in communication with Mary Fogelberg, a journalism student who has been researching the subject for an essay on the topic. I put together a few general thoughts on the subject, which I reproduce below. I hope to publish her essay on this website following assessment after she has handed it in.

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The concept of organic and biodynamic grapegrowing and winemaking has grown remarkably in acceptability over the last decade. Originally perceived as the philosophies of eccentrics, lifestylers and hippies with little concept of commercial viability or reality, the principles of organic and biodynamic agriculture has taken on practical and ideological correctness and significance by the growers and winemakers of our wine industry, as well as the public, both serious enthusiasts as well as casual consumers.

There is of course a vast distance in standards and criteria between the accredited Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand, certified organics and biodynamics, but this is not really understood, with the general public seeing these methods of cultivation together on one side, opposed to the image of the less or non-environmentally friendly conventional agriculture and farming, or experimental (read: genetically modified) approach. The concepts of being environmentally friendly, ecologically sustainable and holistically sympathetic are ideals that our society have adopted and now strive for in all of our consumable products, including wine. This has now become mainstream, and those who were once perceived as being off the wall, different or difficult are now our heroes.

In the early days, the New Zealand wine industry thought that organic and biodynamic was likely to compromise fruit quality leading to inferior wine. Sprays and treatments were believed to be vital to the health of the vine and thus the fruit. The consequences to the environment were far less considered. It is now recognised to achieve levels of sustainability, organic and biodynamic accreditation requires the establishment of systems of behaviour and action that is not easy. On the way, the produce may not be up to standard. But once reaching the required criteria, the quality is now seen to be superior to what the traditional methods could provide.

My impression is that the New Zealand wine industry has a stronger acceptance of the green approach than the rest of the world. Without data and on anecdotal evidence, I feel there is a much greater proportion of growers and winemakers who support or are active in the principles of being clean and green. Of course there are many of the world’s greatest wine producers who are immersed in organics and biodynamics, many of them, for example, with smaller domaines in Burgundy, Alsace and the Loire in France, and they serve as wonderful models, but in the scheme of things, they have yet to exert a practical influence on their peers and the rest of the industry in the country.

It is a credit to the progressive thinking, speed and willingness to change direction of our wine industry when looking at sustainability, organics and biodynamics.

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