Ethical Vineyards: Inspiration from the Rhine

It is possible to have a vineyard without weeds .

Here on the hottest part of Germany’s Kaiserstuhl, the system is managed by drought, cover crops, and manure laid in a line along the vines, after they have been treated with herbicide.

Water is further managed by choking off the trunks of the vines with ties. They’re not taking up much water that way. And for good reason. Add water to this mix, and the weeds will really take off. This is tough on the vines. Look how many have been replanted.

Look as well at how little weed growth there is, even mid-panel, where no herbicides have been applied. What there is instead is a cover of mulch, which has come from the rye that has been crown as a cover and then cut short with a mower. Drought is this vineyard’s friend: low grass growth, but enough in the early season to provide an evaporation-blocking mulch, and then restrictions of the vines to lower their draw of water as well. This is important, because bumblebees are in trouble. They share an ecosystem with vineyards, and Glysophate, the active ingredient in the popular herbicide Roundup, is reducing their ability to keep their broods warm in cold weather. But think about it. They need a nest in thatch or soil, the environment must be warm, even early in the year, it must not be weed=killed with Glysophate, and it must not be tilled (which destroys the nests).

That’s not a big shopping list. This vineyard has touched most of those bases already.

What’s missing, of course, is species diversity. A bit of rye, mown off before flowering, is not going to do, but this driveway sure looks capable of supporting flowers, and even mounds of nesting clay, grass and wood, and, well, there’s this.

It’s just a simple onion, but if we time the cutting of the rye correctly, it will grow up through the stalks, flower, support the bees, hurry off its seeds in the face of drought, support birds, and reseed a crop under the thatch for the next year. It would limit us to growing grapes where the climate also supports onions, and few weeds. As for the weeds, what about thyme?

That or low-growing clover should be able to set the weeds back. Of course, this is a pipe dream. Vineyards will have to change from low-input plantations, to high-input ones. Costs will have to be recovered, not by the contemporary method of reducing tonnage to increase potential flavour, but by increasing tonnage instead and producing low price wine. It might be of lesser quality, but does that really matter, when the lives of the bees are at stake? We would need fewer vineyards, too, as each would be producing up to 5 times as much wine, so the question might really be: what will we do with the 80% of the land freed from this crop? What can we do? Grow almonds like the Romans did?

Or, what if we just grew bees, with a few nut and fruit trees planted among them?

Or emus. What would it matter? The 20% of vines would already be shouldering the load. Anything extra would be for the Earth, and, may I say, human comfort. We need an environment, too. A hillside stinking of Glysophate ain’t it. This is:

That 80% of production loss to produce wine as an artistic product for the wealthy isn’t necessary, and makes our environment into a privatized, industrial factory. Let’s talk about the flowering meadow tomorrow, because all is not well there, either. Right now, though I just wanted to demonstrate that we have the capacity and the land to repair much of what has collapsed in our environments. And that is good news.

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