Organic viticulture

Principles & aims

  1. To coexist with, rather than dominate natural systems:
    • Enhancement of biological cycles
    • Maintenance of ecological diversity within and around cropped land by managing habitats such as banks, hedges, ponds, etc.
  2. To sustain or build soil fertility (“feed the soil, not the plant”)
    • Use of crop rotations
    • Rational use of manure and vegetable wastes
    • Use of appropriate cultivation techniques
  3. To minimise damage to the environment
    • In particular, avoid mineral salt fertilisers and agrochemical pesticides
  4. To minimise the use of non-renewable resources

Regulations

  • Guidelines are laid down by IFOAM (the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements)
  • Enshrined in EU regulation 2092/91 (July 22 1991)
  • Regulations enforced by the UK Register of Organic Food Standards, a division of Food from Britain. This body receives notifications from operators, inspects Organic growers, and approves and supervises private inspection bodies (Approved Sector Bodies)
  • The Soil Association is an Approved Sector Body (one of 5 in the UK), but the only one to approve vineyards. Founded in 1946 to research and promote Organic practices and guardian of the Soil Association symbol. Registration is currently about £300 plus an annual fee of 0.25% of sales (minimum £300, maximum £5000)

Production standards

Record keeping

Must keep physical and financial records of:

  • Brought-in materials (e.g. fertilisers and sprays)
  • Brought-in plants (noting things such as source, status and any treatments during propagation)
  • Field cropping histories
  • Details of manure, fertiliser and spray applications

Conversion from conventional production systems

A 3-year plan designed to result in a viable and sustainable system operating to full organic standards must be drawn up by the grower. This must include a soil fertility-building stage with details of crop rotation, manure management and appropriate cultivations. Conversion must take place on a farm or part of a farm that is large enough to be viable, and free from pollution from spray drift, traffic and factories. Prohibited inputs may not be used at any stage during the conversion.

This conversion plan must be submitted to a Certification Committee appointed by the Approved Sector Body, which reviews and monitors it at least once a year. In-conversion produce may be sold using the wording “Soil Association approved Organic conversion” or “IOFGA approved organic conversion”

Soil Management

The development and protection of optimum soil structure and fertility is the main goal of Organic soil management. Optimum soil structure is described as: “a water-stable, organic enriched, granular structure where all the water reserves within aggregates can be fully exploited by root hairs and the space between aggregates will be large enough to allow rapid drainage to admit air and to facilitate the deep penetration of roots” (Elm Farm Research Centre; The Soil 1984).

In order to attain this, the following recommendations are made:

  • Regular input of organic residues
  • The encouragement of a high level of activity in soil organisms, particularly micro-organisms
  • A protective covering of vegetation, if applicable, and in particular, the use of green manure
  • Appropriate cultivations, well timed, which achieve a deep loosening of the soil but avoid damage to existing structure.

Crop rotations

These are recommended in order to:

  • Aid the maintenance of soil fertility, in particular soil organic matter levels and soil structure
  • Provide adequate nutrients and reduce nutrient losses
  • Minimise weed, pest and disease problems

Manure management

In Organic systems, there must be maximum recycling and minimum losses of materials. All brought-in or conventionally produced manures must be approved by the Certification Committee and must be composted before use. Compost heaps should be covered up and maintained for at least three months. High temperatures (optimum 60°C) are recommended to destroy weed seeds, pathogens, chemical residues and antibiotics. Brought-in manures from un-organic farms are ‘restricted’ (permission from the Certification Committee must be sought) and manures from ethically unacceptable livestock systems are prohibited.

The maximum levels of heavy metals in manures and in soils are controlled. Care must be taken to avoid contamination of waterways or underground water in manure storage, handling or spreading.

Supplementary nutrients

Mineral fertilisers should be regarded as a supplement to, and not a replacement for, nutrient recycling within the farm. Only fertilisers that release nutrients through an intermediate process, such as weathering or the activity of soil organisms are allowed, but ‘restricted’ use of highly soluble nutrients is allowed to treat severe mineral deficiencies

Weed control

Objective is to suppress rather than eliminate weed populations by:

  • Crop rotation
  • Manure management
  • Fertilisation
  • Utilisation of green manures

The short-term use of plastic mulching is permitted, but all synthetic herbicides are prohibited.

Pest control

Emphasis is on prevention rather than cure. Key control methods are:

  • Good husbandry or hygiene
  • Balanced supply of plant nutrients
  • Use of resistant varieties
  • Creation of an ecosystem that encourages predators (e.g. use of hedgerows, plant breaks, companion planting)

The routine use of Bordeaux mixture and sulphur is restricted, but all other pesticides approved on vines are prohibited. ‘Pesticides’ based on plant extracts (e.g. horsetail, onion, garlic, tansy, wormwood, stinging nettle, rhubarb, regania, neem, quassia, pyrethrum, rotenone) are permitted.

Conservation

Prohibited practices include:

  • Drainage of wetlands
  • Hedge trimming between end of March & beginning of September

Conclusions

Organic viticulture is still a very small part of the English Wine sector, but rapidly expanding in countries such as Italy (30,000 ha), Germany & France.