Beyond glyphosate: French vineyards shift away from controversial weedkiller

France’s wine industry can become “the first in the world without glyphosate”, President Emmanuel Macron said Saturday at the Paris Agriculture Fair. But is foregoing the controversial herbicide possible? FRANCE 24 spoke with vintners.

At France’s largest, if temporary, farm – the country’s annual agricultural fair, held at Porte de Versailles exhibition grounds on the southern rim of Paris – it was barely 10am on Monday and Xavier Martin was already enjoying a glass of red wine.

At a stand showcasing his wine from Irouléguy in the Basque country, the 58-year-old had just polished off a fried egg and a slice of grilled bacon. “Wine, I was born in it,” the fifth-generation winegrower says. A salon jury had just rewarded his 2017 Mignaberry rosé with a gold medal.

Martin, who gave up on synthetic herbicides 20 years ago, feels strongly about glyphosate. “We must keep our soils clean, just as we received them from our ancestors, to pass them on to our children,” the bearded vintner says.

“These grounds will outlive us. We must work to preserve them.”

‘More work’

But making France the first glyphosate-free winemaking nation poses a significant challenge for the sector, which uses a lot of chemical agents to protect its plants, according to the Générations Futures environmental group.

Nevertheless, Martin is convinced it’s possible. “It is all a matter of will,” he offers.

“Sure, it means more work. You have to get out more to clean the vines and get started early in the morning.” Between April and September, the now-retired Martin says, he would spend 130 hours a year weeding his vineyard’s 6 hectares with a trimmer strapped to his back.

“It took me three hours every morning to do 50 kilometres over four months,” he says. “It didn’t kill me.”

This determined “anti-glypho” winegrower reckons there are alternatives to help vintners turn the corner, like better equipment to work the soil without assailing the vines themselves. “Today, one can use backpack string trimmers, tillers, hydraulic-motor tractors … The cost ranges from €15,000 to €20,000,” he says. “It’s a purchase that can be made in a group. It’s a chance to get back to certain more human relations and techniques.”

A few rows over at the Paris Agriculture Fair, vintner Laurent Réglat, from Bordeaux’s Château de Teste, invested €19,000 for his plough. But he dismisses the notion of purchasing equipment collectively. “It’s a machine we all use at the same time of year, so it is pointless to buy it as a group,” says Réglat, who made the decision to forego glyphosate from the start of this year. Although he noticed the product’s effectiveness was diminishing as plants developed a resistance to it, the Bordeaux winegrower describes his choice as more practical than ideological. “We are required to make the change, but I’m not pleased at all about wasting my time cleaning the vines,” says Réglat, who owns a 20-hectare vineyard [ . . . ]

Continue at FRANCE24: Beyond glyphosate: French vineyards shift away from controversial weedkiller

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