We have been practicing organic farming in our Côte-Rôtie vineyards since the end of ninety's (official retraining since 2002).
Given the steep topography of our vineyard, for a period of time we were using, like many winemakers, chemical weed killers. This allowed us to limit the need for manual labour, which nevertheless remained enormous. We were also very moderately using mineral fertilizers. After a number of years we noticed a lot of problems in the structure of the soils and the life of stocks. After many questions and attempts to resolve these issues, we decided to return to the practices of ploughings and scraping, although the steep slopes of Côte-Rôtie make such activities very difficult. Only some plots of land are possible for mechanisation. For the steepest-sloping plots, we are obliged to plough with a winch, and to finish with a hoe. We now need practically one person per hectare.Our other vinyards (Condrieu, Coteaux du Lyonnais, Côtes-du-Rhône et Vin de France) are also certified organic.
In winter, while the vines lie dormant, naturally-growing grasses contribute to the microbial life in the soil and to the fight against erosion. At the end of winter or at the beginning of spring, the first "façon" takes place. These "façons", or ploughings, continue until the middle of the summer, so that the grass does not compete with the vine stock. To improve the structure we do not fertilize any more with mineral fertilizers, but rather with compost, which is manually spread in autumn.
This changes and experiments showed us the improvement on the structure of grounds by organic farming.
The land of our vineyards is made up of poor and very rocky soil. When a plot of land is weeded chemically and does not receive organic matter over an extended period of time, the result is a disintegrated plot without coherence. This leads to erosion, and over the long term, the unique characteristics of the soil will be lost. Land worked mechanically, keeping a quantity of grass and nourished from compost has a more lumpy structure and "holds together" more effectively; it is less taken by the natural elements.
This way of working also helps to control the vigour of the vine and brings it a good balance. Our stocks have more resistance to the diverse diseases and predators, and consequently need fewer phytosanitary treatments. We thus treat the vines relatively little, according to the needs of the year, with sulphur, a copper mixture, and herbal teas. This allows a good ecological balance in our plots, with a diversified fauna. (We often see several varieties of ladybugs on the vine shoots).
These observations, as well as the results of various studies (on health of workers, on the residues found in wines..) encourage us to continue in our choice of organic farming, which for us is the future of viticulture.