Wine-growing and oenology

Organic viticulture

Resulting from an ideological movement born at the beginning of the 20th century, the organic farming is based on a close link between agriculture and nature, privileging biological balances between the crop plant and its environment, the respect of the natural rhythms and refusing the use of products of synthesis.
From this basic concept, several currents of thought were released. The biodynamy appeared in Germany under the impulse of Rudolf Steiner in 1924.Organic agriculture (organic farming), was born in England starting from the theses developed by Sir Howard in his “agricultural will” (1940. The organic farming, was developed in Switzerland by Hans Peter Rusch and H. Müller.

The wine growers in organic farming compel themselves to use only products free from organic molecules of synthesis. For the culture of the vine, they employ raw materials of natural origin and seek to promote the natural fight between the species. Their objective is to privilege the life of the grounds, the perenniality of the animal species and vegetable supporting the natural ecosystem then. The recourse to the phytopharmacological products, even natural should be only exceptional.

Sustainable viticulture concept

To imagine the concept of durability for the vine, plants, and the wine, both closely related to the origins of our civilization, can appear a nonsense. The wine covers indeed a cultural dimension, even pertaining to worship timeless, which recovers all at the same time sciences, them ancestral know-how, sociology, religions. Our sector indeed printed a mark indelible, an immortal symbolic system, in the evolution of the world.

Sustainable development accurately translates the spirit of a kind of development, formalized by Brundtland report, at the origin of the concept: a development which meets the needs for the present, without compromising the capacity of the future generations to answer theirs. The safeguarding of the environment and overall the Durable Viticulture, are integrated gradually in most wine and oenological technical routes.

Sustainable vitiviniculture is defined by the OIV as a “Global strategy on the scale of the grape production and processing systems, incorporating at the same time the economic
sustainability of structures and territories, producing quality products, considering requirements of precision in sustainable viticulture, risks to the environment, products safety and consumer health and valuing of heritage, historical, cultural, ecological and landscape aspects.”


The term “biodiversity”, contraction of “biological diversity”, was coined in the mid-1980s by naturalists worried by the destruction of natural environments and the species they support.

It is generally defined as “the variability of living organisms of all origins, including, among others, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes to which they belong“.

The diversity of living matter that we can observe today is the fruit of a long process of evolution from the first bacteria that appeared 3.5 thousand million years ago. Through a complex mechanism combining genetic mutations or re-combinations and the pressure of natural selection, those primitive micro-organisms gradually evolved, leading to more complex organisms, adapted to their environment, notably man and other mammals.

The vine has suffered a dramatic reduction in its varietal diversity, notably due to the introduction of phylloxera.
If this crisis led to the creation of a few new varieties (hybrid direct producers), it ultimately resulted in the simplification and homogenisation of varieties planted.
More recently, clonal selection, difficult to envisage for marginal varieties, has continued this targeted planting and also contributed to a reduction in the genetic diversity within each variety, by systematically favouring certain clones.

The viticultural ecosystem is blessed with very diversified fauna, which can help in the control of pests, through the presence of natural enemies. This functional biodiversity requires the development of ecological reservoir zones (hedges, plant cover) and the adaptation of vineyard treatments.

Climate changes

Along with natural changes, international scientists are now almost certain of the contribution of human activities to global warming, which is expected to reach 2 to 4°c by the end of the 21st century.

The grapevine, a climbing plant, is exceptionally adaptable. And man has succeeded in adapting his growing techniques to diverse climates.

Nevertheless, apart from a few extreme situations, the vine only really flourishes in certain specific areas of the world (latitudes 20 to 53° in the northern hemisphere and 20 to 42° in the southern hemisphere).

In addition, viticultural (grape varieties, mode of cultivation) and oenological itineraries are adapted to the local micro-climate.

It is therefore reasonable to wonder whether a significant variation in the climate will change conditions of cultivation, or even the distribution of vineyards and the characteristics of wines.

In addition to the direct effects (changes in phenological stages and ripening, relative evaporation), climate change would probably have many indirect consequences:

  • Surface runoff and erosion through an increase in episodes of heavy rainfall
  • Flooding of vineyards in valleys or coastal plains
  • Development of new parasites due to changes in vineyard ecosystems
  • Modification of viticultural landscapes (vegetation, modes of cultivation)

Viticultural landscapes

The european landscape convention (20 october 2000) defines the landscape as “an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors”.

The landscape is a dynamic relation between a territory and a gaze. It incorporates an interaction between a material approach, in its natural (geology, topography, etc.) And human components (farming, buildings, etc.), and an intangible perception, involving emotions, aesthetics and sensibilities.

Landscape valorization constitutes an important communication support, not only through tourist activities, but also through the media, particularly the new internet-related technologies. It also transmits a cultural message associated with the wine. Conversely, any deterioration in the aesthetics and authenticity of the landscape can harm the product’s image in the eyes of the public.

At the same time, viticultural landscapes are also foundations of the identity of a profession seeking the connections essential to the development of collective actions, especially in the field of environmental protection and sustainability.

Reflection on landscaping requires knowledge of local aesthetic specificities, combined with a collective project involving the different territorial players. This project is based on actions of raising awareness, protection and enhancement, possibly in connection with national or international “labelling”.

The management of terroirs

Terroir is generally defined as “a set of material and intangible elements that bear witness to the specific relations that a human community has established over the passage of time with a territory”.

Firstly, the terroir is based on a physical dimension associated with local specificities (geology, topography and climate). But over and above this, the terroir is a “cultural ecosystem” incorporating biological balances and human factors. A sustainable vision of the terroir presupposes, on the one hand, the conservation and enhancement of its natural potentials, and on the other, the transmission to future generations of a heritage that provides for the economic valorization of farms and territories.

Definition international organisation of vine and wine of vitivinicultural “terroir” (viti 333/2010) :  vitivinicultural “terroir” is a concept which refers to an area in which collective knowledgeof the interactions between the identifiable physical and biological environment andapplied vitivinicultural practices develops, providing distinctive characteristics for theproducts originating from this area.
“terroir” includes specific soil, topography, climate, landscape characteristics and Biodiversity features

As well as taking into account potential impacts (soils, aquatic environments, biodiversity), sustainability must also incorporate externalities related to the territory (tourist attractiveness, fire prevention, local activity). Vineyards on steep slopes and terraces testify to viticulture’s heritage contribution and to the subtle harmony that man has achieved with nature.

The sustainable management of terroirs must draw on the relevant information to evaluate the potential impact of viticultural practices. The complexity and interactions of the phenomena related to a territory call for the use of synthetic data in the form of indicators, bearing witness to the overall state of the biotope and helping to guide the strategies of players and decision-makers.


The construction of a viticultural building or wine cellar and the choice of machinery associated with the design of facilities imply in-depth reflection, particularly with regard to the economic and qualitative aspects as well as the safety of those using the machines. As well as the practical side, taking sustainable development into account requires a reflexion about impact of the cellar’s design and operation on the greenhouse effect.

In the past, natural means were always used to take advantage of coolness and warmth.

Building design, involving efficient insulation and sometimes completed with original solutions (green roofs or walls, underground heat exchangers, etc.) And alternative energies (solar, geothermal, biomass…) Is part of this eco-design process for wine cellars.

While the various traditional methods cannot be used in every situation, eco-technological progress, besides economic measures, means that it is possible to envisage developing.

These aspects, together with landscape integration, contribute to promoting the cellar’s environmental image. It is possible to incorporate an original and pioneering approach, besides architectural choices, in communications and wine promotion measures.

At the same time, experts are predicting a significant rise in the price of water and energy, which will contribute to raising wine production costs.

The aim the communication is to establish an overview of available solutions illustrated with examples from different wine-producing regions of the world.

Energy and the greenhouse effect

As far as energy is concerned, the stakes for future generations are multiple. From an environmental point of view, the combustion of fossil fuels (petrol, coal, gas) increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, accentuating the greenhouse effect. Sustainability also takes into account the availability, over the next few decades, of these non-renewable fossil energies.

Mechanisation in viticulture, as in farming generally, developed during the middle of the 20th century. Quite apart from the direct consumption of energy (tractors, grape harvesting machines, transport), intermediate viticultural products (fertilisers, plant protection products) are also responsible for increased energy consumption.

In the cellars, wine growers often had empirical knowledge of the importance of thermal conditions for wine production. They adopted every possible means of benefiting from natural cold or heat (underground cellars, open during the winter, air vents orientated in relation to exposure or dominant winds). Low winter temperatures were exploited to ensure the tartaric stabilisation of wines. However, wine-making remained very dependent on the immutable cycle of the seasons and on the year’s weather conditions. Recently, qualitative imperatives, the need to ensure the perfect biological and physico-chemical stability of the wines, the shortening in cycles of vinification and the building of cellars at ground level have all contributed to the widespread adoption of thermal applications throughout the wine-making process.

The use of energy and additives, the energy recycling of by-products and waste, the design of buildings and equipment all form part of the environmental and sustainable imperatives of grape production and processing systems.

Vinicultural effluents

The environmental impact of oenological processes is primarily linked to waste effluents from cellars that may endanger the biological balance of rivers, particularly during the harvesting period. The organic elements produced by wine-making activities favour the development of micro-organisms that use up the oxygen dissolved in the water, to the detriment of the ichthyofauna. The effects of the concentration of production units and, paradoxically, the development of wastewater treatment plants in viticultural districts, often saturated at harvest-time, have highlighted the environmental risks of cellar activities.

The fight against pollution in wineries depends on two complementary approaches. Upstream, the production processes need to be adapted to reduce the waste load and ensure the optimal management of water. This approach can be summed up by the phrase “the easiest effluent to eliminate is the one that is never produced”. It is based on an optimisation not only of technological design, but also of organisation and training.

Downstream, the treatment of cellar effluents, carried out individually or collectively, can be considered with the use of various individual or collective systems: evaporation, spreading, aerobic or anaerobic biological treatment..

By-products and waste

The management of waste is a central theme of reflection in sustainable development, both in terms of its actual management and of the depletion of resources linked to their production.

Historically, the proportion of waste produced by the vitivinicultural sector has regularly increased. In addition to bottles and their packaging, the packing used for oenological and plant protection products and the waste related to vinification processes (descaling solutions, filtering media, etc.) Are also part of the environmental challenge facing wineries.

As far as by-products are concerned (marc, must deposit and dregs), there is a long-established system of valorization through distillation. The same is true for tartar crystals, transformed into tartaric acid. Similarly, composting is a means of returning organic matter to the soil, part of a sustainable ecological cycle that limits the greenhouse effect. Indeed, composting is one of the foundations of organic farming.

The optimal management of these by-products and waste depends on several techniques: quantitative and qualitative inventories, reduction at the source, selective collection and recycling.

Water management

Water is indispensable to life on earth. It dissolves and transfers oxygen, carbon dioxide and the mineral salts that are vital to living organisms. The level of precipitation, combined with the temperature, define the characteristics of terrestrial ecosystems. The total quantity on the planet is estimated to be about 1.4 thousand million cubic kilometres. Most of this (97.4 %) is salt water. In parallel, most of the fresh water exists in the form of ice or snow.

As far as irrigation is concerned, the use of irrigation control systems combined with estimates of hydric stress and relative evaporation make it possible to limit water consumption while reducing the risk of increasing soil salinity.

Water is also used in viticulture for washing sprayers and vinification equipment. Training and raising the awareness of personnel and optimising washing systems and procedures can help to limit consumption.

Methods of recycling or re-use (rainwater, cellar or spray effluents) can also be incorporated into the sustainable management of water resources.


The aim of spraying is to cover a zone of vegetation, a soil or a weed with a given mixture, under the most suitable conditions for protection or destruction. In addition to the agronomic considerations, spraying must take into account, to an ever greater degree, environmental constraints and safety of use.

The final objective of spraying includes optimization of the dose, in proportion to the plant cover, and limitation of drift (the quantity of spray mixture that misses its target). The loss of product may result in a transfer into the air and the soil.

Generally, targeted application (one side at a time) adapted to the stage of development of the vine limits the risk of drift, compared with “open” spraying (oscillating cannons or helicopters). Antidrip devices can also prevent the loss of mixture when the pressurised circuit is turned off.

In parallel, the need to protect users and avoid one-off pollution incidents calls for the training of personnel, an adaptation of practices and equipment (product storage, filling area, management of wash water). And food safety considerations also justify the traceability of treatments.

Protection of the vineyard

The introduction of the plagues came from America (powdery mildew, downy mildew and phylloxera) during the second half of the 19th century contributed to profoundly change the habits of the campaigns. Some vineyards will disappear temporarily or permanently. Sometimes these scourges dived winemakers in deep disarray that only prayers and local superstitions have attempted to mitigate. In the middle of the twentieth century advances in chemistry have helped an important development of the synthetic products in the protection of the vineyard. If at first, these new molecules translated into spectacular results about the diseases and parasites, the phenomena of resistance and the risk of residues have highlighted the interests of reasonable protection.

In addition to the phenomena of resistance, the use of plant protection products could drive by changing the biological balance and destruction of the auxiliary, to the emergence of new pests. Such was the case for weeding with the outbreak of weeds immune to new herbicides. Similarly, the use of insecticides, led to a decrease in the population of the typhlodromes, leading to the development of dust mites.

Built-in protection relies on the use of alternatives to chemical control methods and tools of decision (observation, counting, disease modeling). Different research focuses particularly on the understanding of the mechanisms of defence of the vine.

Runoff and erosion

Most hillside vineyards are confronted with problems of runoff and erosion. Over the last few decades, these phenomena have been exacerbated by developments in viticulture: longer rows, weeding, restructuring of the hillsides (destruction of hedges, shrubs, walls, etc.).

In the past, vine growers had, often empirically, developed solutions to limit the source of erosion risks. Unfortunately, the imperatives of productivity and the introduction of mechanisation have, under certain conditions, overridden these ancestral practices. In keeping with the specific situation, a compromise must be found between the need to adapt the planting and layout of vineyard plots to the constraints of mechanisation and the concern to regulate surface runoff as close to the source as possible. For vines on steep slopes, these imperatives often justify the introduction of plant cover or a surface layer of mulch (reducing runoff and improving the soil structure). As a complement, hydraulic works (ditches, stoned or concrete tracks, settling basins) facilitate the outflow of rainwater. All these measures need to be incorporated into a policy of harmonious landscaping.

The soil

Men have been exploiting the soil, the “skin of the earth”, for thousands of years, without always knowing its diversity and functions. It is widely defined as “the superficial part of the earth’s surface created from a combination of mineral products from the continental disintegration of rocks and organic molecules from the decomposition of living matter (microbial, vegetal and animal)”. If its traditional dimension as physical support and reservoir of water and mineral elements can be perceived intuitively, its microbiological diversity and its role in the cycles of water and matter are still often unrecognised, notably in strategies of cultivation.

Soil-related factors limiting agricultural productivity have been mastered with the use of enrichment, fertilisation, mechanisation or land improvement (drainage, irrigation). But this success of modern techniques has its own limits; soil compression and erosion, the reduction in biological activity and the transfer of pollutants are some of the new preoccupations of agronomists.

The soil constitutes a heritage that needs protection, and this was recognised by the council of europe in the european soil charter (resolution 72/19 of 26 may 1972), which specifies that “soil is one of humanity’s most precious assets. It enables plants, animals and humans to live on the surface of the earth”.