Awards and citations:

1997: Le Prix du Champagne Lanson Noble Cuvée Award for investigations into Champagne for the Millennium investment scams

2001: Le Prix Champagne Lanson Ivory Award for

2011: Vindic d'Or MMXI – 'Meilleur blog anti-1855'

2011: Robert M. Parker, Jnr: ‘This blogger...’:

2012: Born Digital Wine Awards: No Pay No Jay – best investigative wine story

2012: International Wine Challenge – Personality of the Year Award

Sunday, 12 April 2009

'Agent orange' in Saint-Georges-sur-Cher

The previous pictures of lifeless vineyards dosed with weedkiller came from Epeigné-les-Bois. These come from nearby Saint-Georges-sur-Cher. Not all the vines in this part of Touraine are blitzed in this way but far too many are, including a significant area in Saint-Georges. I thought napalm went out when the Americans left Vietnam!

A close up of orange grass

The previous posting on the dead vineyards of Touraine drew this comment from Laurent Saillard:

'How awful! Readers need to know that the grapes harvested in these vineyards are full of chemicals that you'll find in the wines.
Read last year study published by PAN:
In fact since there is no life in the juice coming from these grapes more chemicals need to be added to it in the cellar in order to make it an alcoholic beverage. And lets call it what it is: a manufactured alcoholic beverage not wine. We are all responsible for this: the conventional winemaker for having the pretention of making wine; the natural winemakers for not being able to speak with one voice on the matter; the consumer for believing that what he is buying is wine and the critics, the "professionals" for making a living on these lies.

Enough! Who are we kidding here?'

Although there have been criticism of the Pan-Europe research – see Jamie Goode's Wine Anorak piece, it is surely clear that blitzing the vines in this manner will not be acceptable for much longer nor does it make any sense in the medium or long term. This is not a sustainable practice – period! With their root systems mainly on the surface, these vines are highly unlikely to produce good fruit – if supplying the local cooperative that may, perhaps, not be a consideration with volume more important for the grower than quality. The local ecosytem will have been destroyed and the vines likely to require multiple treatments to counter various diseases and pests. Furthermore what is the point of encouraging wine tourism if the vineyards look like this?

Over the last 20 years the area of vines around Epeigné-les-Bois has reduced very considerably and, although it is sad to see vineyards disappear if they are only viable if an arsenal of chemicals are used then perhaps it is time to admit defeat and recognise that they are neither profitable or sustainable.

This, of course, doesn't just apply to this small corner of Touraine weedkillers are used in many parts of France and other parts of the world. My impression, however, is that their use is much less prevalent in Italy and Germany. Once again the fault is not solely the producers but all the way down the supply chain: from the négociant who pays little for the grapes or must they purchase, the buyer – often for a supermarket but not invariably, and the consumer who buys cheap wine especially the buy-one-get-one-free. These blitzed vineyards are the inevitable consequence of the desire to have cheap wine. Here journalists/wine writers have a responsiblity to alert the consumer to the consequences of buying wine at prices which is too low to permit sustainable viticulture.


laurent saillard said...

The pictures speak for themselves...Great job Jim, keep spreading the word!

Unknown said...

Our local vineyard, overlooking the Loire and with the most stunning views has sadly been blasted. The grapes are apparently sold on to one of the large sparkling wine producers in Saumur under contract. Why can't these big companies enforce minimum standards upon their contract growers?

Jim's Loire said...

Thanks Laurent.


'Why can't these big companies enforce minimum standards upon their contract growers?'

A very good question. Minimum standards would be likely to mean paying more for the grapes.You can sure, however, that this sparkling wine company wouldn't promote their wines using a picture of the 'blasted' vineyard. Any chance of a pic of this blasted vineyard please?

Jim's Loire said...

Amazingly at the Foire aux Vins at Amboise I came across Domaine Tancrez, whose wines were apparently declassified from AC status because they had too much grass etc. in their vineyards.

Igor said...

Why can't these big companies enforce minimum standards upon their contract growers?Maybe because consumers are not ready to pay 15€ for a bottle of Cremant de Loire or Sauvignon.
And by the way, what do you think is the worst : use a lot of gas-oil to labour 2, 3 or 4 times a year or just spread one time a year a weedkiller ? Actually, I'm not working for a chemical company, I'm just a wine grower and I agree with you that it's an awfull landscape. To me, I think the best way is to combine each practice and not to go in only one direction... am I clear ? Sorry for my english ;-)

Jim's Loire said...

Igor. Many thanks for your comments.

I agree with you that consumers may not be prepared to pay €15 for a Crémant de Loire. However, people need to be aware that there are costs involved in growing grapes and making wine in a sustainable way and they need to be aware that cheap wine is likely to mean cutting corners. There is always a price to pay for lost wine just as there is for low cost food.

I think the widespread use of weedkillers is wrong for a number of reasons not all of them ecological.Vineyards on slopes are more prone to erosion, without vegetation there may be more wind erosion. The natural balance in the vineyards is destroyed and you will have fewer insects – both good and bad. Vine roots are likely to remain on the surface, so vines more prone to drought. Grassed over vineyards help to absorb rain during the harvest.

I am, however, doubtful about systematic labor (cultivation) and suspect that allowing a range of plants to grow in and around the vineyard is probably the best approach, although in very poor or dry soils these plants may provide too much competition for the vines.

Jim's Loire said...

Igor – if French is for first language or you find it easy to post in French please do so.

Jim's Loire said...

'There is always a price to pay for lost wine just as there is for low cost food.'

Sorry in earlier posting that should have been:

There is always a price to pay for cheap wine just as there is for low cost food.

Igor said...

I completely agree with you Jim. What I'm saying is that you can't only blame winegrowers, specially in the Loire Valley where grape's price is very low. First of all, consumers are responsible of what they purchase, and it's a fact that they go to the supermarkets for buying wine (for 80 % of them). And I think it's well known that supermarkets's buyers usually don't pay the right price to producers. I mean : consumers have the vineyards they deserve ! :-P

Aynard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aynard said...

I am very interested by what you talk about.
I see two points. I spoke with a large buyer of Sauvignon de Touraine in east of London..... And he told me I'll pay 2€... The cost calculated by official Chamber of Agriculture for doing Sauvignon in Cher Valley is 2,45€ I ll should loose 45 cents... per bottle … we need to sell at around 3,20….it should not be impossible!

The European commission is regulating about the label... size letter etc…, sulfits, allergen etc, but nothing about the the vine yard is growing with or without weedkiller and other chemical in vineyards..

Honestly if the journalist, sommelier, MW impose in different WINE CHALLENGE,to make different categories one for standard vineyard culture and other without these chemical... I m telling you that will change every thing…

You know that journalist can have a GREAT power.. and open the eyes of the consummer.... In fact the selling public price doesn’t need to be £15 but we need to see a Sauvignon de Touraine be sold £7,5. Today our Sauvignon are sold not at £6. It is not so different but we need this difference to avoid chemicals...and survive.

Second point, at least but the last the labor (cultivation ) in the rank is worst than to leave grass or other mustard or some other plant.
I fully agree with Claude Bourguignon: I suggest that you go to visit the site of Bourguignon his explaination are cristal clear....
It ll be rather better just to cultivate under the rank of the wine grape.

BUT to conclude we need the help the journalist and seller and distributor. And all together they can promote wine with a stick on the bottle with a LOGO like, "vineyard enemy of chemicals" or something like this but more english...

And then the all chain will benefit of such advertising...

Please apologise for my poor english...But the subject is extremly important.....

laurent saillard said...

"consumers are responsible of what they purchase... consumers have the vineyards they deserve !"

100% with you!
But lets try to make it a better world, lets try to at least respect the world we live in.
It's not because people buy shit that winemaker should produce shit.
Price is definitely an issue. Everybody now, wants everything for nothing. Quality has a price, in anything. If you refuse to pay the right price you get shit!

laurent saillard said...

And by the way Claude Bourguignon is the man!
Vignerons should study his researchs.

Mark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark said...

Also agree 100% with Aynard. The UK wine buyer who pays less than cost for a bottle of Touraine Sauvignon is as guilty of encouraging these practices as the vigneron who is forced by economic pressures to do so. Just as the demand for cheap food led to the horrors of battery chickens, so the demand for cheap wine leads to the viticultural methods highlighted here. In the UK and elsewhere it was the chefs and food journalists that campaigned for "real food" and encouraged consumers to pay a bit more for food that was produced with respect for nature. Time for the MW's and wine journalists to step up to the mark. Who knows, once the vignerons of Touraine (and elsewhere) start getting a realistic price for their wines they might sell a drop of the good stuff to the local ageing rural population at a discount ! Thanks to Jim for highlighting this issue and for his excellent blog.

Jim's Loire said...

Many thanks for various comments. I agree that journalists have a very important role in explaining and highlighting the short and long term consequences of cheap wine and food.

One of the objects of the Loire Sauvignon Blanc project is to raise standards so that the price rises sufficiently to provide with producers with enough to make a proper living from producing Sauvignon Blanc and hopefully enough to encourage further investment.