Two years ago I wrote an article whose title was a quote by my historical hero Louis Pasteur, “Wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages.” Well my recent visit to the Languedoc gave me cause to doubt that Pasteur was wrong, in at least half of his statement.
A friend (Chris) drew my attention to a website showing the quality of water in every commune throughout France. The results for the area of the Hérault centred around Puimisson, Puissalicon, Espondeilhan and Thézan-lès-Béziers showed that they along with other communes in the area have poor quality drinking water.
So why is that? Simply put it is agricultural pollutants and in this area what that means is pollutants from vineyards. In particular it means pesticides getting into the drinking water.
The area is full of vineyards, mostly managed under a régime of chemical intervention. Weedkillers, herbicides, fertilisers are all used to ensure maximum yields as vignerons are paid by the quantity of grapes they produce, though they do have to respect the maximum yields permitted by, for example, AOP regulations. Unfortunately when it rains, and it often rains very hard in the Hérault, the chemicals are often washed from the vineyards onto the surrounding roads and into the drains and sewers.
I was talking to an Italian vigneron in January and he was telling me that, as an organic producer, he was shocked at the last vendanges. His lovely grapes were growing on vines which had already begun to shed their leaves or were changing colour as the energy of the plant had been channelled into the fruit rather than the leaves. He felt somewhat embarrassed as his neighbours’ vines were pristine, bright green and laden with grapes. That was the result of the chemicals and nitrates sprayed on to those vines, whereas his were treated only with organic tisanes.
That is the same experience which I have observed in the area around Mas Coutelou. Jeff’s vineyards are surrounded in the main by conventionally tended vines. I remember him telling me as we stood in Rec D’Oulette (the Carignan vineyard) to look around at the bright green sea of vines with his own vines looking rather tired in comparison.
Well, the chemicals which make the greenery and heavy crops are polluting the water. The drinking water of the very place where the vignerons and their families live. When Pasteur spoke about wine being healthy and hygienic he was speaking at a time when most drinking water was polluted, even untreated. He was right, wine was healthier and cleaner than the water. And now, ironically, it is wine production which is making the water of ‘very bad quality’. Nevermind the 100+ additives which are legally allowed into wine, the wine is also a pollutant. That is why I challenge Pasteur’s claim.
I am amazed that this report created so little reaction, surely the very water which nourishes the vines and slakes the thirst of wine producers should be be safe to drink? At what cost are we producing wine unless producers take more seriously the effects of their farming methods. And you wonder why I prefer to drink mainly organic and natural wines?
March 6, 2017 at 5:59 pm
Hardly surprising this gets little focus and attention. The agro-chemical industry is a powerful group, and much as organic farming is gaining in popularity, wine in Southern France is a tightrope between profit and poverty (hence the actions of people like CRAV). It’s a shame that the majority believe high yields treated with synthetic products is the way to go, rather than health and quality.
Meanwhile, in the UK (as in France), a complete lack of understanding persists, especially on thew motives of natural wine makers (with another reactionary letter in Decanter from a reader hooray-ing Hugh Johnson’s scepticism in a previous column).
But health issues surrounding wine, as with those surrounding food, are very low on the average Brit’s list of worries. I can’t bear to think what will happen to EU food safety regulations post-brexit, casting an eye to the position in America, but it has been a major failing of the EU that food safety has not been extended to additives and residues in wine. One wonders why…………….
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March 6, 2017 at 6:03 pm
As you say it must surely be a question of vested interests and the ‘need’ to provide cheap food and drink. I was shocked to see the website and the lack of attention, but in a region where the wine industry and big co-ops rule …