In order to assess the impact of human activity on the cultivation of the vine with a view to encouraging the development of flora and fauna, the Côtes du Rhône Syndicate signed a 3-way agreement with the Agricultural Observatory for Biodiversity and the French Institute of Vine and Wine in July 2019.
The Observatory provides information and perspective allowing farmers to learn from collective experience and replicate those practices that help boost biodiversity.
How does this apply to winemaking in the Côtes du Rhône vineyards?
Well in a number of ways! To state a few :
- Implementation of AgroEnvironmental Measures to bring about a drastic reduction in the use of chemical weedkillers
- Pursuing High Environmental Value (HVE) certification
- Individual partnerships between 70 winemakers and local wine syndicates with associations such as the French Apidology Observatory, the Regional League for the Protection of Birds, the Ornithological Centre of the Gard department, developing local initiatives to protect biodiviersity
Supposedly, a lot of this is test and learn?
Absolutely. Training and R&D are key! Currently in the works in 2021 :
- 76 winemakers are taking a comprehensive training programme on biodiversity and its application within viticulture at the Chambers of Agriculture of Ardèche, Drôme, Gard and Vaucluse.
- 5 protocols are underway targeting 4 groups of terrestrial invertebrates and insects: earthworms, butterflies, pollinators (bees, bumblebees, wasps, ants, etc.), snails and slugs, and bats. In order to study these populations, the winegrowers are creating shelters that will encourage their settlement and facilitate their monitoring.
Beehives in the vineyards
Really? The birds and the bees?
Yes… because although vines are self-pollinating, about a third of our food crops depends on pollinating insects. Pollinating insects provide us with this free service that is estimated to represent the equivalent of 10% of the world’s agricultural turnover.
The Syndicat des Côtes du Rhône is supporting the Observatoire d’Apidologie (Apidology Observatory) and, as part of this partnership, has installed a test beehive on its experimental domaine in Châteauneuf-de-Gadagne.
Some domaines, which already have beehives, are going a step further by introducing beehives connected to scales which allow the activity of the bees to be monitored in real time.
*Did you know that there are 1,000 types of bees? and, contrary to popular belief, 80% of them are solitary.
The Côtes du Rhône’s Environmental Landscape Charter
It is a set of best practices based on the winegrowers’ voluntary commitment to improving the way they work their vineyards through the use of sustainable growing practices. Maintenance of the typical structure of a vineyard with headlands around the plots, flower-covered fallow land, hedgerows maintained or planted with oaks, jujube trees, almond trees and other native species. The Charter’s purpose is to encourage the preservation and development of biodiversity.
So ensuring the landscape is preserved is beneficial to the environment?
More broadly, it involves improving the area around winery warehouses, restoring the traditional built heritage such as the vineyard cabanons or restanques (shelters) and low stone walls, thereby respecting and preserving the region’s identity. It also means preserving paths and tracks and maintaining the demand for land through the involvement of public and institutional players, planners and winemakers’ unions. The aim is not merely to beautify the landscape, but to preserve the integrity of a region.
It also means using equipment suited to the new practices such as wooden posts and more efficient vineyard equipment, as well as reducing inputs to prevent these from ending up in the soil and groundwater.
One example we like to mention is the plantation of rose bushes in the vineyard : not just because they are agreeable to the eye, but because they inform the winegrower of potential diseases and helps anticipate proper treatment, which is kinder to the environment.