Saturday, June 14, 2014

Bovine Dramatic Viticulture

Anyone who's been down wind of a grape grower at the end of a warm and sweaty spring day would understand the term, organic. Yes folks, there's nothing artificial about those piquant aromatics.

Sweat, it's a natural part of life! Well maybe that isn't quite what the jingle was getting at, but, at the beginning of the growing season, every vineyard is close to 100% organic. It's what we do to it during the season that, in the minds of some people, knocks the average about. But, in the end, the grape growing game is about realising as much of that latent potential as possible, in the most cost-effective and ecologically sound manner.

I think it's a pity that there's a bit of an odour about the word 'organic'. Our European cousins, with typical flair, have opted for the phrase 'ecologically sustainable'. This gets away from the mud that has been increasingly sticking to the sun struck ideas of the chicken manure in the back of the Combi crowd.

With typical E.E.C. pragmatism, the term 'ecologically sustainable' allows a little more latitude in interpreting the rules. For example, if we use a systemic chemical for control of weeds, a practice which obviates the possibility of soil structure breakdown following conventional cultivation, are we still organic? There are those who would throw their fully imported designer caftans up in horror at the mere suggestion. And yet, if you were an earthworm or vine root watching the discs approach, you'd probably elect to go with the ecologically sustainable European model.

The North Americans, in somewhat less of a surprise, have adopted the biggest and best term possible. They've gone for the quite obscure 'Low Input Sustainable Agriculture' tag, a wonderfully crafted phrase with a renewable inner-glow. The acronym LISA already is internationally recognised as standing for Library and Information Science Abstracts, so they are definitely on the warm and fuzzy track. There's nothing like a bit of confused jargon to really free up the interpretation of the philosophical intent implicit in the word 'organic.'

So what does it mean, this "organic" word? Well, basically, it means "real". Is what you are adding to your vineyard real or unreal? Ground Sulphur mixed with water and sprayed through the canopy of your vines as a preventative for powdery mildew is real, the post-infection application of a synthetic systemic chemical is unreal. Chicken poo flung along the vine rows is real, liquid nitrogen dripped individually through miles of black plastic piping is not. Chipping weeds with  a trusty hoe and back-brace is OK, a residual chemical soil sterilant doesn't get a look in. See, easy isn't it!

Those of you who know Bloodwood already will know that we tend more towards the Bovine Dramatic than the bio-dynamic. We put the whole herd into the vineyard over winter but we use only "soft" sprays like copper and sulfur to protect against disease during the growing season. All left-overs from our winery are taken back to the vineyard from which they came and we employ people with eyes, noses and brains to pick and prune our vines. The whole wine making process is as gentle as practically possible and we use an organically certified bottling line to sterile filter and package our wines. In addition, all Bloodwood wines are matured and distributed directly through Bloodwood. If trusting the people who grow and make your food means anything to you, you can trust Bloodwood.

Nevertheless, we are all very, very lucky in the business of growing grapes around here. With the exception of weeds, which are a real problem only during the establishment phase, practically all our potential afflictions can be dealt with using real techniques and soft chemicals. This is just as well, for a vineyard is a life-long proposition. Imagine if DDT or the organochlorides had been a significant part of accepted vineyard practice over the years.  
So the next time you meet your friendly local grape grower in what looks for all the unreal world like the housewares section but smells suspiciously like the delicatessen, remember, it's both our futures we're looking after.

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