And Now For the Bad News…

Lately I’ve gotten very interested in clean wine, and I’m trying to learn more about it.  I’m quite curious about things like Native Yeast Fermentation and ways in which we ensure the best wine is produced as nature creates it, bringing out the true flavors.  I do love wineries where the winemaker and vineyard manager/grower are either the same person or work very closely together, because then they are working with the art that comes into the science of farming and making the wine – it’s so much more than a chemical process.  You’ve read my raving about Arterra (I promise, I’m not on their payroll) because of the clean and clear taste of their wines.

My twitter feed has had a spate of articles lately in which horror is raised about the presence of glyphosate (the chemical in roundup) in California wines.  Of course there are also counter arguments in articles about the presence of the chemical in wines, and the fact that it isn’t harmful in small quantities, as it is in all of our wheat-based products at this point.  I wonder how much of that research was funded by Monsanto/Bayer?  I’d hate to think that McGill is compromised by corporate funding, but it seems very little isn’t at this point in our world (that’s for another kind of story for another blog).

I was even more surprised to learn that one of my most favorites, Linden, uses RoundUp in the vineyard!

Since that day I have taken a keen interest in weeds. But weeds are not weeds if they are desirable. Native cover crops (NCC) is a longer, but more correct and sexier term. Most of Hardscrabble is now managed using a sequence of native cover crops. None of these have been sown. All are volunteers that have been encouraged by sparing and persistent early morning spot backpack applications of glyphosate (aka Roundup) at targeted non-desirable weed species. If nothing else, I have now become much more aware of all the plant species growing on my farm.

I get what he is doing and saying in this article, and it’s such an interesting way to control erosion and water intake, to use naturally occurring growth, but at the same time, a chemical is being introduced that we simply don’t want in our bodies and greater water supply.  And since making wine is a series of chemical process occurring in the bin, barrel, and tank, what is the impact of this additional chemical to our wine?

(Let me note here that I think Jim Law is brilliant – I’ve spoken with him at the tasting bar twice, took one of his vineyard tours many years back, and think that the information he shares on his website is utterly fascinating.  He is clearly dedicated to growing his own understanding and sharing it with anyone who is interested in the interest of making Virginia wine continuously better.  I was sincerely surprised to see that he chose to use glyphosate, and this has brought to mind a million more questions I want to ask him next time I am at Linden.)

This doesn’t dissuade me from choosing big California Cabs, or from drinking Linden.  But it does raise a ton of questions about what we are doing and how we proceed?  Using chemicals allows us to increase productivity and grow and produce more wine (and other commodities).  But at what cost is the true question?  And then, once one farmer/grower uses chemicals, it eventually gets to every water supply in some form or another, either as glyphosate, or broken down into component chemicals as it decays.  Those end up traveling far and wide.  What is labeled “organic” because one grower/producer follows organic guidelines and rules can still pick up these chemicals from the general water supply.  It’s like the entire GMO argument – nothing is really non-GMO anymore, as our birds, bees and wind are carrying GMO pollen into fields that are supposed to be non-GMO.

We’re at a complex and somewhat crazy place now, in which we’re trying to figure out the impact of the chemicals we’re putting into our crops, animals and water sources on our bodies and the longer term impacts on the food chain.  My real wonder is what the impact of glyphosate is on wine flavors, and how does the clean wine movement work to ensure their product truly is “clean?”

Law, Jim. “Using Weeds to Grow Better Wine.” June 2017. Available on 1/14/19 at:

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