I read with interest the other day the issues involving a Burgundian winemaker, Emmanuel Giboulot, and the French authorities.
Act 1 has Giboulot following biodynamic practices, and having done so for 40 odd years. Biodynamics excludes the use of conventional pesticides.
Act 2 sees the spread of an incurable vine disease, flavescence dorée, which appeared in the Armagnac region in 1949, but by 1992 had made it to the Loire Valley, Bordeaux and Côtes du Rhone. The disease has no cure, and I understand advances towards Burgundy. You can read more about it here. Insecticide sprays can reduce leafhopper populations which are believed to be a conduit for the disease.
Act 3 has French authorities ordering the spraying of grapevines as a preventative measure. Giboulot appears not to comply.
It reminds me a little of a discussion I had with Michael Glover of Bannockburn last year. Michael really doesn’t like to irrigate, but faced with the serious heatwave of 2009, had to use some limited irrigation to save his vines. Do you choose purity of method or existence? Without water, the vines would die. With water, they live. Serious winemaking is about expressing the seasons, but what if the season would kill the vine? There is a tension between puritanism and pragmatism.
More generally, I think we need to see more discussion of the merits of biodynamics compared with “regular” organic viticulture (as opposed to “conventional” viticulture) for the biodynamic argument to convince. As a consumer, since I have observed a correlation between biodynamics and wine quality, I am sympathetic to the method on quality grounds. However, whether that’s causal, or because such winemakers and viticulturalists are otherwise highly diligent and so would have made good wines anyway, is something I simply don’t know. It seems to merit systematic study.
Perhaps the flavescence dorée case is not so clear cut, since the absence of effective controls suggests that it is not yet fully understood.