Viticulture is the cultivation of grapes. It's been practiced for around seven thousand years, and radically changed in the last fifty.
The green revolution
In common with all other forms of agriculture, grape-growing has undergone a chemical and technological revolution since the Second World War.
Between 1950 and 1990 world-wide agricultural yields were tripled, without a significant increase in the total area of agricultural land.
But the increases have come at a price.
Chemically controlled agriculture damages the fertility of the soil, releases large amounts of toxic chemicals into the ecosystem, and encourages resistance in the pests it seeks to control.
It is also detrimental to the quality of the harvested crop.
When the alternative is famine, this is a price worth paying.
The vineyard revolution
In viticulture, the alternative is not famine.
Wine is a luxury product made from a crop which grows best on land unsuitable for the production of food. There is no shortage of such sites.
The triumph of chemical viticulture has been for purely commercial reasons. It is not hard to see what drives it.
- The interests of the grower
To guarantee his harvest, increase his yields, and not have to work as hard.
- The interests of agro-chemical companies
To sell as much of their product as possible, year after year.
- The indifference of the consumer
As to how the wine he drinks is produced and what it tastes like.
To many growers who embraced the chemical approach it is now becoming clear that it is only in their short-term interests.
But for as long as most consumers are prepared to accept a bland, industrially-produced product, that is what most wine will be.