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How 'low' can you go?...

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

The other day I was at a wine tasting and I was approached by a guest at the tasting who was a little confused and asked for some help in something that was troubling them.

The conversation started with them saying to me “Hebron vineyard, you are a non-intervention vineyard?”

“Yes, we are, we pratice regenerative, non-intervention viticulture” I responded.

“Okay to be absolutely clear, no use of synthetic chemical fertilisers, pesticide, herbicide, or fungicide sprays?”

“Quite so, we have never used any type of intervention certainly not synthetic chemical but not even Organic or Bio-dynamic interventions”. I replied.

She then fixed her gaze at me and asked, “so what is a low intervention vineyard then?”.

I pondered this at the time and have done since. I have research this and on the whole it is accepted that...

“a low intervention vineyard is an approach to grape cultivation that emphasizes the principles of organic and sustainable agriculture.

The goal is to create a balanced and self-regulating ecosystem in the vineyard without synthetic chemicals and other artificial inputs”.

So by that definition we could describe ourselves (at Hebron) as a low intervention vineyard or change that to “non” or “natural” or “regenerative” or if certified perhaps as an “organic” or “biodynamic” vineyard. As long as the vineyard does not use any synthetic chemical inputs.

The conversation moved on to discussing the statistic that vineyards in Europe are the highest users of synthetic chemical inputs per hectare of any agri-business. Other extremely high users are potato farms and citrus producers. We discussed how the cocktail of synthetic chemical poisons have become part of what we now consume, in 2008 a study showed that every bottle of wine from vineyards that use synthetic chemical inputs had some of those chemical poisons in the finished product presented to the consumer. Quite a sobering thought.

She told me that she was still confused because she had been told from another vineyard, who described themselves as a “low” intervention vineyard; that they still used synthetic chemical sprays on their vines. I asked “how did the vineyard justify that to you?”

She replied that they had told her that they were only spraying with chemicals when they felt it was necessary for the vines. Thus the confusion.

The term ‘low’ intervention is just a phrase it has no standards attached to it. Most vineyards accept the definition as outlined above but a few have

cynically started to use it and say with a smile that it means they are “lowering” their chemical spraying regime. By just cutting your spraying by a tiny amount or even saying that when you come from an industry that uses the highest amount of synthetic chemicals, is not fair on the consumer because it means that the vineyard is still spraying and by saying that they “spray when they feel that the vines need it”, is a nonsense. The vineyard could go through the full chemical spray regime because “the vines needed it” and still try and hoodwink the consumer into considering them as a “low” intervention vineyard. This is entirely at the discretion of the vineyard owner, who is trying to sell their wine to you. Sadly some people will say anything to make that sale, no matter what. Or maybe they see the shift in the market interest to genuinely “low” intervention viticulture as the opportunity to bandwagon with their product which has a totally different provenance. Without any benchmark or food standard in place they are not doing anything illegal. Morally though it is very questionable and for the reputation of the Welsh wine industry it is not a positive step forward. Especially when the opportunity to completely replace those synthetic chemicals with natural, organic, sustainable practices and products exists for all vineyards, now.

We do not need to confuse the consumer, we should be open and honest about our vineyard practices. If we loose the trust of the consumer we will all suffer the consequences.

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