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What If The Wine Industry Adopted A First Do No Harm Mentality?
This past Earth Day I attended the EarthDay.org Annual Climate Leadership Gala in Washington D.C. as a guest of French winemaker, Gérard Bertrand.
In 2002, Bertrand began converting his 16 Languedoc and Roussillon vineyards to biodynamic viticulture. Today, with just over 2,000 acres of biodynamically farmed vineyards, Bertrand is the largest producer of biodynamic wines in the world. He now shifts his focus underground, to soil health and carbon capture.
Listening to his philosophy of farming in harmony with the cosmos and embracing living soil in his vineyards was moving. But even more rewarding was witnessing a room of over 200 non-wine industry people enthralled by his personal journey, biodynamic winemaking philosophy, and enjoying his wines.
This agricultural product – wine – is uniquely positioned to illuminate and educate on an array of significant issues facing us today.
Therefore, I am launching a series within this column with an emphasis on first do no harm.
The focus will be on sharing stories of those seeking to elevate environmental and sustainability awareness from soil to glass by taking positive steps to protect the earth, workers, and wine drinkers.
The goal is to raise consumer awareness of the impact of wine on the environment and ways wine is leading agriculture in combating climate change with the hope educated and conscientious wine lovers will make more thoughtful consumption choices, supporting those in the industry who are seeking to first do no harm.
A Brief Look At The Evolution Of Agriculture
From nomadic to hunter-gatherer lifestyle, cities and civilizations have grown out of the ability to farm crops and raise animals to meet demand. The 19th century introduced machinery, fertilizers, and synthetic pesticides. By the mid-20th century, industrialized farming and increased chemicals usage became the norm, ushering in the rise of low-cost food production with a high environmental price.
According to the United Nations (U.N.), between 1960 and 2015, agricultural production more than tripled. In 2020, the U.N. issued ten warnings everyone should know about industrial agriculture, including: The facilitation of diseases from animals to humans, links to epidemics of obesity and chronic illness, entrenches inequality, and its fundamentally at odds with environmental health, to name a few.
First Do No Harm
Primum non nocre, first do no harm, is widely believed to be part of the Hippocratic Oath.
According to Harvard Medical School, there is actually no mention of the phrase in the oath. Furthermore, there is no actual pledge giving the avoidance of harm a priority by the physician in administering help to patients.
What does this have to do with wine? Looking at the history of winegrowing, within the larger context of modern agriculture, its impact on our planet, and the present and future threats presented by climate change, a first do no harm agriculture policy is a path forward to a better future.
What’s Wine Got To Do With It
While wine industry professionals love to wax poetically about wine (present company included), it is an agricultural product and is often guilty of many of the sins of industrial agriculture.
Some of the world’s most coveted wine regions are largely monocultures with vines repeatedly doused in synthetic chemicals growing in dead soil.
Organic viticulture practices permit the use of the heavy metal copper as a fungicide. Yet, studies show long-term copper use in vineyards accumulates in the soil, negatively impacting the environment through toxicity to aquatic and soil organisms.
Biodynamic certifications continue to permit tilling the soil, which destroys soil microorganisms, hastens erosion, and releases carbon emissions stored in the soil into the atmosphere.
The wine industry is constantly having these important conversations amongst itself. Global conferences and seminars such as Tasting Climate Change, Green Wine Futures, and Porto Protocol bring together experts from numerous fields to discuss the future of wine and climate change. Industry publications, regional symposiums, and professional conferences buzz with how climate change is impacting the industry and ways to combat these threats.
Positive changes are happening in the industry, but its not enough. Knowledgeable and assiduous consumers are the impetus needed to push the tipping point.
It’s time to broaden the conversation, hold each other accountable, and join together to fight climate change. A personal oath of first do no harm to the earth, our bodies, and each other comprises small steps, but the collective impact can become a tidal wave.