We’re living in one of the most socially conscious eras of human history. People have more information to hand than ever before and they’ll use that information to inform their purchasing decisions.
The environment is one of the hot button issues of today. But when we speak about the environment in regards to winemaking, we typically talk about climate change. We discuss how the changing climate affects producers and what can be done when it’s becoming more and more difficult to predict the weather and the seasons.
What’s less talked about is the effect that grape cultivation can have on the land.
Are we causing harm in nature through grape cultivation?
In this article, we explore some of the potential issues that can come from the cultivation of the grapes used to make Italian wine. We also look at some of the solutions that most of today’s environmentally-conscious winemakers have put into practice.
Issue #1 – Unnatural Chemicals
The drive towards organic and biodynamic farming comes as a direct result of people’s concerns about the unnatural chemicals used in food production.
These cause issues on two fronts.
The most obvious is the effects that these chemicals can have on the people who ingest them. A lot of people are worried about what long-term exposure to the chemicals used in fertilisers, pesticides, and the like could have on their health.
The second is the effects that these chemicals have on the natural environment. Remember that these are substances that don’t occur in nature, or at least don’t occur naturally in the places that they’re used.
Some argue that using such chemicals slowly strips the land of its goodness and natural qualities. There’s also definite proof that these chemicals lead to changes in the ecology of an area.
In this respect, cultivating grapes can have an adverse effect on nature.
But again, that’s why many producers are making the move towards more organic cultivation methods. Over time, these new techniques will restore the land that may have been affected by the use of chemicals. Plus, these techniques protect the local ecosystem and lower the impact of cultivation on the environment.
Even with non-organic producers, there are regulations in place to limit the use of chemicals so that they cause minimal harm.
Some organisationsalso carry out regular soil analyses to ensure that the soil remains the grape’s main source of nutrition. This also ensures that the soil’s kept healthy.
Issue #2 – Water Usage
Winemakers cannot rely on natural water from rain to grow their crops. As mentioned, climate change has made the seasons less predictable. Where previously producers might expect rain, they now can’t approach their work with the same level of certainty.
This means that many producers use irrigation techniques to ensure their crops get watered properly.
This can raise its own environmental issues. For one, the use of poorly-treated water can cause problems. Chemicals in the water can have similar effects to the chemicals found in pesticides and fertilisers. Plus, there’s also the issue of sewage water.
While no producer worth their salt would ever consider using such contaminated water, it’s still enough of a concern for regulators to prohibit its use in writing.
The point is that using water from the wrong sources can have a negative effect on the natural surroundings. For the largest producers, who use gallons of water every day, it’s critical that they ensure the validity of the water’s source and use irrigation techniques that don’t lead to the destruction of natural habitats.
It’s also important to use water from a replenishable source. Failure to do so could lead to the draining of natural water sources, which again could have a negative impact on the environment.
Issue #3 – Pruning
As strange as it may seem, the methods that producers use to prune their crops can also have an impact.
In fact, several regulators mandate that any pruned leaves or plant products get chopped up and turned into mulch. Leaving the remains as is on the ground could have environmental consequences.
The aim is to create a sustainable microclimate of leaves and clusters. This ensures the vines have minimal impact on the natural ecosystem and don’t causeissues with the plant life in the surrounding areas. Leaving pruned remains untended can lead to them travellingwith the wind to new areas. In rare cases, this could lead to vines growing in areas where they’re not naturally meant to grow.
Issue #4 – The Use of Machinery
Only the smallest of producers can get away with cultivating their grapes completely by hand.
For most, there’s a reliance on machinery to keep in mind. Every machine used to cultivate grapes requires energy. And of course, this has an impact on the environment. Each machine has a carbon footprint and failing to both account for and manage that footprint can increasethe environmental issues that come from wine production.
Wine producers must make concerted efforts to use the latest and most efficient machinery possible when cultivating their vines. Old machines are less energy efficient and thus have a larger impact.
Proper maintenance and storage arealso important. Failure to look after machinery properly can lead to issues, such as waste products from the machines seeping into the ground. This can cause damage to the ecosystem surrounding the vineyard, as well as causing damage to the vines themselves.
The key here is the proper management of the use of any machines required for cultivation.
The Final Word
There’s no denying that the Italian wine industry does have an environmental impact. The act of cultivating grapes in large quantities is energy intensive and presents the opportunity for mistakes that affect the environment.
The move towards organic farming seems to be a natural counter to some of these issues. However, producers also must account for the effects that their machines have. Furthermore, they must follow responsible and sustainable practices to minimisetheir effects on the environment.
Thankfully, the Italian wine industry goes to great lengths to do just that. And as we learn more about the environmental impact of cultivation, it’s likely that even more regulations will get introduced to mitigate the issue.
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