A year ago I started a serie about the visual impact of herbicide sprays when you visit the wine regions at the right season. My first herbicide story last year already listed quite a few shocking images illustrating what the conventional growers do to their soils and wineries in order to get "clean" parcels, but I was to find even better gems (so to say) this year, just see by yourself. As promised here is the initial story, completed on the top with a dozen more pics, as a booster vaccination about the herbicide devastation.
As said a year ago the best season to see this hidden part of the vineyard management is march to may, that's when the yellowish/redish devastation can be appreciated at its best. Few wine tourists venture in the back roads of the wine regions at this time of the year but still I'm sure the AOC big shots and other conventional-viticulture people are annoyed that if demanding visitors ventured in their area in the wrong months, they might get alarmed by what they see.
From Bordeaux to Touraine there's no shortage of herbicide use even if many appellation area encourage cosmetic changes like having alternating stripes of unsprayed rows to offer the illusion of a healthier vineyard and soil, as if the herbicide fell vertically in the soil ignoring its right and its left....
There are still overall many old-school conventional vignerons who can't get rid of their heavy-handed doses when they spray, like this grower in Touraine located just north of the Cher river between Noyers and Selles-sur-Cher (pic above). How is it possible that they still sell to locals (and they do !) when you drive by and see such a devastation along with their invitation to come buy their wines ! And this is a visual proof that these domaines can dump all the herbicides they want on their parcels, they get their AOC approval anyway...
I don't know it it's in the plans or if it's even feasible but I'm sure many growers would be happy to use chemicals that keep the grass green even when its dead, which would be a solution to ward off the potential public relation problems related with viewing the color changes. Some others have found the way around, and with a keen eye you can see through their trick (there's one or two examples below in the added pics for 2016) : the trick is they first "burn" the weeds with herbicide and then later make a 2nd pass to plow the crime scene so that when you look at the parcel casually you approvingly laud the soil work. The problem is it's pretty hastly done and you see here and there all over the place tufts of yellowish grass surfacing among the overturned soil. Sad.
The guy on the left who sprays who-knows-what with his hazmat suit with his boss looking from a safe distance on the side (this was not herbicide, they use tractors for that) was spotted near Vosne-Romanée but it must be said that overall, Burgundy is doing a pretty good job to protect its soils compared to other regions, herbicide use seems to be sketchy there, you really feel that there's a deeper understanding of realities.
Walking along the vineyards of mainstream, commercial estates
I had the idea to make this visual story when driving through the Bordeaux region a couple months ago : I didn't take pictures there alas outside of my visits, but the roads were lined with vineyards showing the different shades and modes of herbicide sprayings, it was visually very interesting. You had them all, there was the old school ones (nothing survives, the ground looks like it's the moon), the progressive ones (sustainable we'd say) with neat, unsprayed grass (lawn) on every other row like you would almost picnic on the grass and think you'll remain healthy, and there was yet another spraying mode I'll call it the stealth mode : it's harder to detect at first glance because the parcel looks like it's plowed et all, but when you pause and look closely you can see that there's been herbicide under the rows even though the whole surface seems to have been plowed, nice try, this may fool many average visitor and possibly knowledgeable ones...
Appearance trumps fact, it's known and human, and we often fall in the trap; a blond woman can pass for Angela Davis using suntan cream and curly hairdo and people buy it for years, same for some growers who, knowing that the vineyard side of the wine is now visited, use tricks like spraying herbicide and cover their tracks with a nice plowing afterwards (or the other way around, like the cropped image on the left seems to imply for this particular parcel). I was fooled myself one day while walking among parcels with a vigneron, I pointed to what looked like a nicely-worked parcel thinking it was his, but it wasn't : he showed me the thing from close, and you could see clearly from the clods that hadn't been overturned that this nice-looking plot had been heavily sprayed. I hadn't the reflex alas this day to shoot an incriminating picture but I'll add it when I come accross such an occurence again.
I think it's obvious that this cosmetic approach to show a nice face even though the soil will get its fair share of chemicals comes from the fact that mainstream winegrowers and estates know that people begin to wander in the vineyard and look at the ground. This post is open-ended photo story which I'll name "50 Shades of Brown to yellow". you'll find there my latest collections of weird-looking parcels from different regions, most of the pictures will ideally have to be shot around april-may because that's the best season to visualize the herbicide-colored grass, and I encourage wine amateurs to themselves visit a given wine region at this time of the year in order to realize that most domaines still use weedkillers very generously.
The quality and vividness of a wine depends foremost of the way the vineyard is managed, and the use of additives, cellar corrections and modern enology are directly related to the quality (or the lack thereof) of the grapes and soil management.
I'll post again the photo essay next year at about the same time with additional, renewed multi-colored stripes, and this time I'll be alert to spot the interesting (and sometimes innovative) versions of this type of farming. We'll not try to name the domaines behind these pictures, it's so widespread that it would be unfair for those displayed on this story (and they might sue me...).