The use of chemicals in organic farming is strictly controlled by law. Almost none of what is available to the conventional grower is permitted.
The organic grower concentrates more on trying to grow a healthy vine, able to withstand pests and feed itself naturally, than on sheltering the vine from anything that might harm it.
This means developing a healthy soil and a balanced ecosystem within the vineyard. It also means a lot of hard work.
The life of the soil
A natural soil is a living thing. A healthy soil is vital to the organic grower because it supplies the vine with nutrients.
He keeps it healthy by regular ploughing and by the application of carefully prepared organic composts. Many natural winemakers refuse to use tractors, because their weight can compact the soil and prevent it from draining properly. Instead they use a horse.
Conventional growers spray nutrients directly onto the vine, so the the health of the soil, to them, is irrelevant.
A conventional vineyard is a monoculture. It has only one crop, the vine, and the grower does what he can to kill or remove almost every other living thing.
A good organic grower tries to encourage a more natural environment in his vineyard. The vine lives alongside other plants, as well as insects, birds, and other small animals.
While some of these creatures may compete with or prey on the vine, they will also compete with and prey on each other. This situation is inherently more stable than a monoculture.
Where you only have a single crop, it can be destroyed very quickly by a single pest or disease. With a functioning ecosystem, it is much harder for a new pest to come in and score a complete biological victory.
Cover crops are secondary crops planted between the rows of vines.
They can help the vine in three ways.
- By encouraging the natural predators of the vine's enemies.
- By acting as decoys for anything that preys on the vine.
- By fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere.
Cover crops can then be ploughed back into the earth as a way of enriching the soil.