France to organic wine grower: spray or pay

flavescence doree Should a grape grower who practices organic viticulture be forced to spray pesticide? In the face of a bacterial malady hitting vineyards in France, the Ministry of Agriculture has decided the answer is yes.

And the New York Times editorial page is on it. Well, on it four days ago when I was under a snow bank.

INRA, the French state research institute for agriculture, has a very good page (en anglais) on the “highly contagious” and “incurable” bacterial disease called flavescence dorée (aka FD or yellowing disease). Transmitted by the leafhopper (Scaphoideus titanus), it has been affecting vines in France (and elsewhere) since the 1950s. The leaves yellow, the grapes shrivel, and the crop for that plant is lost. Forever. It can be difficult to detect, hence the directive that requires the spraying of Pyrevert, a pyrethrin pesticide.

Emmanuel Giboulot, an organic grower in Burgundy’s Cote d’Or, is facing a 30,000 euro fine and six months in jail if he doesn’t spray his vines that so far haven’t shown any signs of FD. A Facebook support page for Giboulot popped up appeared and now has almost 35,000 likes.

The Times argues that “The law requiring such use in Burgundy is not only bad policy, it is terrible publicity for French wine.” While the policy question is a tough one, there’s no denying that it is horrible PR for French wine. Certainly other countries have FD and may mandate spraying as well but they have not been put under the spotlight. Probably because their authorities haven’t threatened to lock up the dissenters.

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9 Responses to “France to organic wine grower: spray or pay”


  1. Tyler, I think the NYT are bang “off it” actually. Ask yourself, there are more than one organic/biodynamic vignerons in Burgundy, so is this the only one refusing to spray? Where are the other Burgundy producers joining in? That it takes 3 years to convert to organic viticulture, so why is spraying only necessary now, what happened for the last 3 years (minimum)? You mention that so far his vines have shown no sign of FD; could this possible be due to the fact that everyone else has been spraying around him?
    All in all, I think there’s much more to this story than a David/Goliath stand-off.


  2. Man, that’s a tough call. Coercing people to perform acts they believe violate their principles on their own property makes the American in me squirm. But then again, not spraying could damage other people’s property through no fault of their own. If I were the judge this would require an all-nighter to figure out.


  3. I think this is the best explanation of this story that I have read. Thank you .


  4. It is also my understanding that the spraying they require is actually an organic product, so the fact that this is an organic vineyard is really irrelevant.

    None the less, the story does look bad for French Wine.


  5. […] France to organic wine grower: spray or pay […]


  6. Kevin, agree with your point but so often the vineyards in Burgundy will have one row farmed/owned by one person and the very next row is another.

    It is certainly a unique position. There are parts of the world that didn’t allow for cuttings to be planted or soil transplanted due to the threat of phylloxera or various vine diseases.


  7. It’s not new news either; check out Alder Yarrow’s post back in Nov ’13 http://www.vinography.com/archives/2013/11/when_should_you_not_be_allowed.html
    He makes the point that the French Government are thinking a little like yours when they say kids need to be immunized against certain diseases before attending school. Just like the way they check for citrus before you drive into California. It’s not just the French that behave this way, and their wine industry is far more valuable to them too.


  8. Good point Aaron. I wasn’t thinking about Burgundy’s unique vineyard ownership situation. I suppose I would have to come down on the side of the gov’t if his holdings could potentially destroy nearby vines owned by others on the same vineyard…but I still wouldn’t feel great about it.


  9. […] France to organic wine grower: spray or pay […]


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