Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Italy's Top Organic Producers Pour at Slow Wine USA Tour in San Francisco

Slow Wine's USA Tour featured dozens of top flight Italian and U.S. producers. (I wrote about the organic American producers who poured at the San Francisco event here a few days ago.) 

Here are five of the stellar, organic Italian wineries I was able to taste with at the event. 

The Piedmontese producers had the highest rate of participation in the five city tour (which is funded by EU marketing budgets). 

San Francisco and New York had the most attendees from trade and media. 

New York: 459
San Francisco: 445
Miami: 236
Seattle: 214
Dallas: 153


The quality to price ratio was extremely appealing for these wines, as compared to comparable quality from U.S. producers.

A side note: 18 percent of Italian vineyard acreage is certified organic. That is compared to about 4 percent in the U.S. (though regions like Napa have about 11 percent certified organic acreage). 


Elvio Cogno

A classic Barolo producer in the Langhe. Elvio Cogno regularly also places in the Wine & Spirits Top 100 and is often present at that SF tasting. In the Slow Wine tour, Elvio Cogno poured in both San Francisco and Miami. The winery has converted to organic practices and is in the three year transition period required for organic certification. 

• Tech sheet for the Ravera

Daniele Conterno 

Today run by Daniele, the fourth generation of the family's vintners, the family run estate decided to become organic in 2005 and became certified in 2015.


G. D. Vajra

The first estate to farm organically in the region, in 1971, the Vajra family today continues that tradition with certified organic vines. In addition to Barolo, it produces Riesling and Barbera and recently also started to make a Langhe Nebbiolo. The winery also makes two wines from heirloom varieties including Dolcetto and the lesser known (and rarely grown) Freisa.

Good background reading on Vajra:

It poured its highest altitude Barolo - Bricco Delle Viole (DOCG) - along with its celebrated Baudana (50 year old vines from a tiny, historic vineyard at high elevation) and the Freisa Kye (DOC).



Felsina completed organic certification in 2000, among the first in Tuscany, and is a powerhouse producer in the southeast edge of Chianti Classico. The single vineyard The Rancia Reserva (DOCG) comes from a small vineyard of only 6 hectares. The Fontalloro is IGT, as it comes from vineyards in two areas: Chianti Classico and the Chianti Colli Senesi, which lie at different elevations.

Good background reading comes from my colleague and friend Monty Waldin:


Another organic pioneer, the family certified its first estate organic in 2004 and, as a biodynamic producer, is a member of the Renaissance des Appellations. It has three estates including this one in Maremma, near the sea in Tuscany. 

The wines are truly affordable, but I was unable to find them for sale online in the US. I have contacted their export manager for more details.

(Slow Wine includes both organic and non-organic wineries, but the ones featured here are organic since this blog is about organically grown wines from certified vineyards.)

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Oregon Wine Board Founders Award for Dr Robert Gross; Second Major Award Win for a Biodynamic Producer in Oregon

So happy to see Bob Gross getting his due with the announcement this week that he has received Oregon's highest award. Well deserved.

See the announcement here:

And don't think of this as simply history! The winery's wines are still among the best and more affordably priced in the U.S. I started collecting wine in 2010 with several cases of their Pinot and their LIFE Pinot (no added sulfites) still ranks among my favorites on the basis of flavor alone. And the LIFE Pinot is only $40. [Absolutely compares to wines that cost two to three to four times more.] 

Congrats to the Gross family on maintaining vineyard and wine quality for so many decades. And for expanding their vineyard holdings with their newly acquired Arborbrook. May it continue.


In 2019, Rudy Marchesi of Montinore Estate was voted Wine Person of the Year by the Oregon Wine Press. Kudos to Oregonians for recognizing these industry leaders.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Slow Wine USA Tour: Better Together - American and Italian Wineries Pour at SF Tasting

After spending three days in Bologna at the Slow Wine Fair (with 600 Italian wineries and 100 international ones) in Italy, it was a huge pleasure to taste both American and Italian wines last Monday in the spacious Metreon in San Francisco. 

Here are a few of the U.S. wineries who poured at the event. All of these photos feature certified organic estate producers who wereawarded Slow Wine's top award–the Snail.


Winery rep Mel Wong pours the Panther Creek Pinot Noir (Petaluma Gap AVA) for Davit Evans of Foreign Cinema. 


Dan Fishman and Tony Chapman from Donum showed off the wide spectrum of their Pinot Noir ranging from their 91 acre Carneros estate to their Russian River site.


Southern Oregon's organic and biodynamic certified Troon presented a lovely sampling of their delicious, drink now wines.


Winemaker Jeronimo DaValle from newly certified Lake County organic powerhouse, Shannon Family, poured its top Ovis wines, including an impressive Nero d'Avola.



From Napa's Howell Mountain, the estate's newly hired viticulturist Giuseppe Tumbarello (formerly with Hamel Family) and general manager and winemaker Alberto Bianchi (formerly the winemaker at Newton) are refining Adamvs' estate and making only estate wines from this certified biodynamic site. 

San Francisco was just the first stop on Slow Wine USA's five city tour which went on to feature tastings in Seattle, Dallas, Miami, and New York. 

I'll post a few highlights of the certified organic Italian producers who I also tasted from.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Get Your Ticket: April Phil’s Day Seminars and Luncheon to Honor Sonoma’s Rossi Ranch Vineyard

The Coturris and Otellini's saved one of Sonoma's great historic vineyard treasures - and now more than 10 vintners share the fruits of their labors - become wine. 

It's so cool that this asset (organic, of course) is getting its "Oscar" moment. Join us!

Legendary Sonoma Viticulturist Phil Coturri joins with other vintners to celebrate the iconic Rossi Ranch Vineyard with Seminars and Wine Tasting at April Phil’s Day, April 1, 2023 at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn

March 6, 2023 (Sonoma, CA) — Enterprise Vineyards and Winery Sixteen600 are pleased to announce the inaugural “April Phil’s Day” to be held at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn. Honoring legendary Sonoma County vineyard manager Phil Coturri, this year’s event will focus on longtime work at Rossi Ranch, a certified organic Sonoma Valley vineyard that provides grapes to some of California’s most storied wineries. 

“The grapes grown in Rossi are used in some of the most desirable and collectible wines being made in Northern California today,” Coturri noted. “The site was originally planted in 1910, and over the past 15 years Phil’s focus on certified organic farming practices have ensured that the vineyard will remain significant and relevant to the state’s wine industry.”

All events will take place on April 1st, 2023, at the Sonoma Mission Inn, 100 Boyes Blvd, Sonoma, CA 95476.

MJ Towler and Sam Coturri will lead two tasting seminars, the first focusing on Rossi Ranch white wines and the second focusing on Grenache, Syrah and other Rossi Ranch red wines. Lunch by Executive Chef Jared Reeves of the Fairmont will be accompanied by rosé wines made from Rossi Ranch and other Enterprise Vineyards farmed sites.

The winemakers and wineries participating represent an incredible mix of luminaries and industry veterans including Alejandro Zimman of Winery Sixteen 600 and Stone Edge Farm, Rosemary Cakebread of Gallica Wine, Tony Biagi presenting Mabon Wines, Danielle Langlois of Jambe de Bois and Lasseter Family Wines, Artie Johnson of Le Artishasic, Katie Bundschu from Abbot’s Passage, Scott MacFiggen of Sosie Wines, Bart Hansen of Dane Cellars, Michel Berthoud from Mayo Family Winery, and more.

Friend of the winery and star of stage and screen Jamie Kaler will emcee the day’s festivities. Special guests include Rossi Ranch’s Sandy Otellini and Chris Majerchek, Robert Kamen, winemaker emeritus Jeff Baker and MJ Towler, THE Black Wine Guy.

The cost to attend the day’s activities is $225 for general admission, and $175 for members of Winery Sixteen 600s “Phil Sent Me” wine club. There are also ten $100 scholarship seats available via application to qualified members of the trade. Attendance is limited to 100 participants. 

For tickets and further information, contact the Winery Sixteen600 Tasting House at 707.721.1805 or purchase online at Eventbrite:

Phil Coturri is a legendary viticulturalist and one of California’s pioneering organic farmers. For over 40 years he has shunned fertilizer and synthetic herbicide in favor of cover crops, integrated pest management, and paying careful attention to each grapevine’s individual needs. With almost 1000 acres of prime vineyard land under his management, Coturri’s farming practices are extremely influential throughout the state’s north coast. He manages vineyards such as Kamen, Lasseter, Rossi Ranch, Laurel Glen, Oakville Ranch, and 30 other sites at the top level of the wine industry. Harkening back to his Italian heritage, Coturri also produces olive oil from trees on his Moon Mountain relating back to his musical discernment and longtime relationship with the members of the Grateful Dead, he consults on a wide range of agricultural interests. 

Enterprise Vineyards is a vineyard management company based in Sonoma that handles farming for 30+ of Napa and Sonoma Counties’ most desired vineyards. Farming organically, their team is known for increasing the quality of the fruit while increasing the health of the vines. Their focus is on biodiversity in the vineyard, empowering the participation of their workers, and leaving a minimal environmental footprint on the planet, all while growing some of the finest grapes in the state.

Winery Sixteen600 is owned by Phi Coturri and his sons Max and Sam Coturri. Sourcing grapes from a large number of the vineyards farmed by Enterprise, they emphasize wine made from the Rhône grape varieties. The winery’s tasting house is located off the square in downtown Sonoma and features two stereo systems (with turntables, of course) and a collection of art by Stanley Mouse, longtime Grateful Dead cover artist (and designer of the Winery Sixteen600 labels).

Monday, February 27, 2023

Organic Pride Panel and Tasting at Slow Wine Fair 2023 | 19% of Italy Vines are Organic + It Has 51 Organic Districts

Slow Wine Fair is not exclusively devoted to organically grown wines, but they are a highlight of the event, and some of the most outstanding examples were on display during the Organic Pride tasting this morning. 

Vice curator and session moderator Gabriele Rosso led the Organic Pride tasting 

The lineup featured wines from a wide variety of regions, ranging from the Cilento coast in Campania to the Italian-Slovenian border.

While all six wines were outstanding, if I had to highlight three I would pick the #2 and #3 wines in the tasting and the last wine #6 - which had many many advantages, among them that it was a 2008 vintage wine. 

More to come later. For the moment I'm off to the next adventure here at Slow Wine Fair 2023.

A shoutout to my two interpreters who so graciously translated the Organic Pride
panel for me (since it was delivered only in Italian). Grazie a mille!

Monday, February 13, 2023

Slow Wine's Second International Wine Fair Opens in Bologna Feb. 26-28

As co-editor (with my wonderful colleague Deborah Parker Wong) of
Slow Wine Guide USA, I'm so looking forward to participating in this event, starting in two weeks. 

I'll be writing more about the exciting masterclasses being offered at the event–from biodynamic wines from China (where, yes, there is a Slow Wine China chapter) to sessions on the Caucasus mountains, the Abruzzo, French wines, an organic wine panel (with Federbio), Champagne from Lombardy and top 2010 vintages.

Though I've been to many other parts of Italy, this is my first trip to Bologna, the gastronomic capital of Italy–looking forward to tasting the real food of this world famous region. If you want a refresh on what makes this area so special, check out Stanley Tucci's Bologna episode here.

The second edition of the Slow Food event for good, clean and fair wine is in Bologna, Italy from February 26 to 28 with over 500 exhibitors from 26 countries

Winemakers, professionals and enthusiasts return to Bologna, Italy to continue their revolution in the wine world in late February.

Slow Wine Fair is the second international gathering of the Slow Wine Coalition, an inclusive and collaborative network that brings together the protagonists of the wine world to shape the future of wine, following in the footsteps of Terra Madre, the largest Slow Food gathering, which is organized biannually in Turin, Italy. The Slow Wine Coalition is represented by over 100 international winemakers and enthusiasts from 24 countries who come together to share their values, experiences and challenges—as well as potential solutions. Among others, the Fair hosts delegates from France, Turkey, Croatia, Chile, Georgia, Uzbekistan, the USA and Ukraine, as well all regions of Italy. Check out the exhibitor catalog:

Pressing Issues

“Climate change is an urgent issue for winemakers, as highlighted by last  summer. There are reasons for optimism, however, such as the growth of organic winemaking that restores soil fertility and plant health. These topics will be addressed during the conferences, debates and tastings at the Fair,” explains Giancarlo Gariglio, coordinator of the Slow Wine Coalition.

Through the promotion of slow wine Slow Food aims to shape the future of winemaking—a paradigm shift is necessary in a wine world still heavily reliant on the use of chemicals, where monocultures are damaging the  biodiversity of the most prestigious terroirs. Forward-thinking winemakers are well aware of the need to change course, and Slow Food is working to build a system whereby wine can become a tool for the cultural rebirth of the countryside, in which winemakers are custodians of the land and promoters of a system that protects rural landscapes, restores biodiversity and promotes the socio-cultural growth of the countryside.

“Slow Wine Fair is the only event with a Tasting Committee ( that selects the wineries in the catalog so that Italian and foreign buyers can find companies that truly reflect the philosophy of good, clean and fair,” continues Gariglio. The Commission includes editors of the Slow Wine guide and international journalists such as Deborah Parker Wong [and Pam Strayer] from the United States and Juan Gualdoni from Argentina.

Everyone can be part of the change by signing the Manifesto for Good, Clean and Fair wine, a document which aims to foster dialog among consumers, wine makers and professionals and motivate the members of the Slow Wine Coalition to take concrete, consistent actions in support of this transformation.

The program


The Slow Wine Fair starts before the end of February: in the weeks before the event, three Conferences highlight the main themes of the Fair. All will be freely available online and translated in Italian and English.

Wine and the climate crisis on February 8 at 6 p.m. CET hosts four speakers with prestigious international experiences who bring their different points of view on climate change in the vineyard: applied research, university research, technology and company experience, together with their experience on the ground.

On February 15 at 6 p.m. CET, we address Denominations: a common good? Experts discuss the positive aspects of these denominations and those to be revisited, taking into account that there have been numerous cases of winemakers choosing to leave a DOC or a DOCG, while there are consortiums who exclude producers who have every right to be part of the denomination.

Life is organic on February 22 at 6 p.m. CET gives us an opportunity to reflect on organic farming, starting with an analysis of the current situation before drawing some potential future scenarios. It is important to raise public awareness of the benefits of organic agriculture for soil fertility, for plant health, and for parsimonious resource use – above all water use – as well as a form of climate change mitigation.

Slow Wine Arena

The stories and struggles of the Slow Wine Coalition members take center stage at the Slow Wine Arena, a political space where protagonists of the wine world share experiences and solutions to ensure a future for good, clean and fair wine around the world. Speakers from France, Croatia, Ukraine, Turkey, Spain, Italy and beyond explore a range of relevant topics from the changing geography of winemaking landscapes to the challenges involved in making glass wine bottles more sustainable. A special workshop dedicated to all Slow Wine Coalition members will trace the next steps for the future. Find out more:


The five city Slow Wine US tour begins March 6 in San Francisco. See details here.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Italians Plant Geyserville Zin Clone in Puglia, Win Tre Bicchieri from Gambera Rosso

The long, tangled history of Zinfandel, aka Primitivo? is filled with yet another two worlds twist. 

Vintner Gregory Perrucci of Agricola Felline in southern Italy took cuttings from Ridge's 1880s vines in Geyserville and planted them in his vineyard in Puglia, pouring the wine he made from those vines this weekend at the ZAP tasting. (Yes, the grapes are certified organic). 

The winery has been the only non-American members of Zinfandel Advocates and Producers, since 1997.

I didn't get to meet him but did try the resulting wine - fantastico. So good in fact it won a Tre Bicchieri from Gambrel Rosso.

The winery also exhibited hard to find English language copies of the definitive Italian guide to Primitivo by noted authorities Antonio Calo and Angelo Costacurta. It was just published in 2022 by Kellermann and includes contributions from Gregory Perrucci. I can't wait to read it. (I have contacted the publisher on how one can obtain the English version. An Italian version is readily available to purchase online).

The winery is looking for an American importer. Contact:

The winery also won a Top Wine prize for a different wine, Primitivo di Manduria Giravolta, from Slow Wine in Italy, grown on limestone soils. The winery will be pouring that wine at the Slow Wine Fair in Bologna Feb. 23-26. Come join us there!

You can read more about the history of this variety in Italy on the Slow Wine website which has this excellent article on the region most devoted to this grape's revival.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Organic Rock Stars to Pour at ZinEX This Weekend - Plus Special Seminars and Tastings

The wine world is waking up from fire, Covid, drought and floods and as one sign of its coming back to life is this weekend's stellar lineup off wineries pouring at the Zinfandel Experience in downtown San Francisco. 

Organic participants include: 

•  Bedrock (their Sonoma Valley estate is in the process of becoming certified - other vineyards are typically not certified and/or not farmed organically because Bedrock does not own them)

• Dashe (Some of the Mendocino single vineyard wines are)

• Grgich Hills (all certified organic grapes and certified "Made with Organic Grapes" winemaking and labeling)

• Quivira - estate Zins 

• Ridge (estate single vineyard wines only) (NOT PAGANI, for instance, which uses tons of Roundup - and which Robert Parker does not differentiate in that way, confusingly calling brands not specific wines green)

• Rusack - all estate

• Tres Sabores - one of the allstars for the ages, preserving precious old Zin vines in Rutherford

• Truett and Hurst (estate only, biodynamic grapes on those)

• Turley (estate vines are certified, purchased grapes from single vineyards are typically organically farmed when Turley controls the farming)

For a full list of events and activities, check out the event website

Friday, January 20, 2023

My Latest in Wine Business: USDA Funds $2 Million Beta Test Mapping Soil Carbon in Vineyards - Led by Jackson


Jackson Family (with 663 acres of vineyards in transition to organic certification), Ridge (with certified organic estate vines, non-estate wines are not), Spottswoode (with certified organic estate vine, non-estate wines are not) and other wineries are all part of The Soil Inventory Project (TSIP) grant which funds technology using local soil samples and computer algorithms to model soil carbon parameters. TSIP hopes to then pinpoint changes. One of the barriers to research has been the high cost of soil sampling and testing. TSIP hopes to reduce the cost of soil carbon sampling and advance research with low cost modeling methods based on large datasets.

Read story:

Saturday, January 7, 2023

The Wine Industry's Best Green Conference - Napa Green's Climate and Wine Symposium (Formerly Napa Thrives) - Announces April Dates for 2023 Conference

Like many other attendees, I would have to say that last year's Napa Thrives conference from Napa Green was among the best educational experiences I had at any event. It was refreshing not to hear anything about green marketing, but to listen to leaders in actual green practices. 

Yes, I have been to other "green" events in regional gatherings, but this one outclassed them all for its world famous climate speakers–New Yorker writer and long time climate activist Bill McKibben of and Third Act, and Jonathan Foley of Project Drawdown, arguably's the nation's top climate impacts educator, as well as wine celebrities–Eric Asimov was one–and dozens of others who were more boots on the ground type experts. 

This year the conference takes place on two consecutive days in week during a three week period. 

Though speakers for this year have not yet been announced, I urge you to mark the dates on your calendar and plan to attend.

In the meantime, all the sessions from the 2022 conference are now available online. It's a wealth of knowledge and insights to enjoy at your leisure. Though I made it to four of the days last year, I did miss two days and look forward to catching up via the archived videos. Here are three of the six topics.

The 2023 dates are:

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Thursday, April 20, 2023

See here for details.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Where are Climate Change and Ag Headed? Read My Interview with United Nations' Top IPCC Climate and Food Leader, Rachel Bezner Kerr

In interviewing Rachel Bezner Kerr for The New Lede, I was impressed with her deep knowledge of ag systems as well as social and political systems. In this conversation, she shares insights into the role of pesticides in climate change, what will happen if we take the chemical and industrial ag path forward and what we need to do now– change our subsidy programs–if we want to take positive steps toward climate resilience.

Last month, Cornell University professor Rachel Bezner Kerr traveled to Egypt where she addressed scientists and political leaders gathered from around the world at the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 27).

Bezner Kerr is a co-director of graduate studies for Cornell’s Department of Global Development and one of the three lead coordinating authors of the chapter about food, fiber and other ecosystem products for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. 

[The IPCC do not conduct scientific studies as a group but are well versed in the latest research and scientific literature. The IPCC is generally regarded as the gold standard in climate science.]

Bezner Kerr believes that time is running out when it comes to options for preventing severe climate change impacts on people and nature.

Among her observations, Bezner Kerr is calling for a systemic transformation across the agricultural industry, which is responsible for approximately 33% of carbon emissions, including those associated with nitrogen-based fertilizers.

The New Lede (TNL [aka yours truly]) spoke with Bezner Kerr upon her return from COP 27 about her views on how and why a food system transformation is needed for climate resilience. The following is an edited and condensed account of the conversation.


Tuesday, December 6, 2022

French Conference Highlights Vineyards’ Threats to Ecosystem Services And Offers Solutions: "It's Cheap to do Biodiversity"

It was a great pleasure to attend this conference held in Avignon back in May and I'm excited to share this article I wrote about this very valuable event, especially as biodiversity gets more attention on the world stage with the current UN conference on biodiversity (a 13 day event - don't worry, you haven't missed it as it's just kicked off) now taking place in Montreal. 

In its coverage of the event so far, The Guardian wrote of the UN's biodiversity chief, "Andersen emphasised that the final text of any agreement must tackle “the five horsemen of the biodiversity apocalypse”: land-use change; overexploitation; pollution; the climate crisis; and the spread of invasive species." (You can follow Tweets from the conference  @UNBiodiversity.)

The conference was a two day affair held at the Palais des Papes and featured a highly qualified list of speakers. Of particular interest were presentations by two researchers from Geisenheim in Germany - Professor Dr. Ilona Leyer who holds the Professorship for Biodiversity and Functions of Eco-systems and researcher Katharina Adler, also of Geisenheim, who has studied viticulture and birds.

Here is Ilona's full presentation from the conference. I am hoping to followup with a link to Adler's as well.

The takeaway message of both presenters was that organic is better than conventional, but complexity of species is best of all, advising growers to use hedge rows and insectiaries to break up monocultures. While these practices are practically de rigeur in organic vineyards, of course, any grower can use them. However, the researchers said, it is harder to foster biodiversity while using chemical agriculture. 

In the Rhone region about 30 percent of vineyards are organic.

In addition, it should be noted that "Biodiversity" is probably the term I heard used most often in wine marketing and is the biggest buzzword in the industry, judging from advertising and social media. As the U.S. uses the word "sustainable" to try to appear green, "biodiversity" is a more popular term in France, judgung from my two trips last year (to Bordeaux in Dec. for the Environment Forum and to Avignon, Languedoc, and Saint Chinian in May).

At Domaine de la Solitude in Chateauneuf-du-Pape (CdP), vigneron Florent Lançon is planting traditional fruit trees–cherry trees and apricots–which were once the region’s most treasured crops. But he’s not planting them to sell them at the market. He’s planting them and raising bees to enhance agro-biodiversity on his family’s historic, 100 acre organic estate. 

Nearby, the Jeunes Vignerons of Chateauneuf-du-Pape are planting a 26 mile long row of trees across their 8,000+ acre appellation (in which a third of the planted vines are certified organic). Part of a national movement of young winegrowers, the tree planting project is titled the Marathon of Biodiversity (#marathondelabiodiversite). The young vignerons in CdP are also fighting against construction of a local mine. 

Over at Domaine de la Charbonnière, sisters Caroline and Veronique Maret are counting solitary bees captured in cardboard tubes to track pollinator health.

These are all initiatives to soften or reverse some of the impacts that vineyard monocultures have had on biodiversity–losses documented by scientists who presented in-depth research at the Vineyards and Biodiversity conference held May 12-13 in Avignon. Organized by German born, Paris based wine writer, Birte Jantzen, and held at the Palais de Papes, the conference featured 15 biodiversity experts speaking on a rich, cross-section of topics ranging from birds and bees to massale selection to geology and microbial life. 

Biodiversity only became an official word in 1985, but it’s so widely used in France that you would never know its history is so recent. All across the country, wine regions and vintners are focusing on biodiversity, planting thousands of trees, protecting nature, and even labeling their organic bottles with eco-friendly pictures of birds.

As wineries have proliferated, they’ve changed landscapes, scientists and experts said, drastically reducing insect and bird populations and jeopardizing future vineyard fertility and ecosystem services vine growers depend on. Cultivar and genetic diversity have declined, too, making vineyards more vulnerable to climate change as well as future diseases and pests.

As many as half of birds in European farmlands have been wiped out due to habitat and pesticide stress, researchers said. In Germany, due to mechanization, vineyard orientation on steep slopes significantly increased soil erosion after winegrowers changed from traditional, horizontal terraces to downslope rows that are easier for machinery to navigate. The hundreds of hedgerows that used to provide biodiversity buffers have all but been eliminated in some regions, according to researchers. 

“From 1952 to 2002, there has been a revolution in the landscape,” said Professor Dr. Ilona Leyer (HER SLIDES) of Hochschule Geisenheim University who holds the Professorship for Biodiversity and Functions of Eco-systems. 

She presented aerial maps comparing selected winegrowing areas in that 50 year interval. Residents recalled no big changes, but the photos showed otherwise. 

“There were many tiny plots which are now big plots. There were woodlands and single trees and allees. Now we’ve lost all the trees and hedgerows,” she said. “There’s been a homogenization of the viticultural landscape.” 

The loss of insect populations has been dramatic, she noted. “A 2017 study found a 75 percent decline over 27 years in protected areas,” she said, quoting from the work of researcher Caspar Hallman. 

“We have lost more than 300 million birds in the EU in 30 years,” she said. 

Slides from Leyer's presentation

The use of chemicals in vineyards is partly but not wholly to blame, she and other speakers said, stressing that landscape biodiversity and vineyard practices had an influence on the ability of biodiverse ecosystems to survive. 

How can winegrowers repair some of the negative impacts on biodiversity? Leyer recommended removing very short vine rows at the edges of vineyards, replanting vineyards on steep slopes to horizontal terraces (instead of downhill orientation), restoring hedgerows and planting embankments with native plants. Becoming organic in the vines is another powerful lever, experts said.

Slide from Leyer's presentation

“We can undo what previous generations did. But terroir is made, not fixed,“ said Franck Alexandre, Gigondas vintner and President of Crédit Agricole Alpes Provence. “Terroir is always evolving. We cannot leave to our children a bad landscape and pollution.”

“Our society depends on ecosystem services,” said Bordeaux based researcher Adrian Rusch of INRA.  In a series of peer reviewed, published studies in major journals, the Bordeaux scientist has written about how “landscape simplification reduces abundance and diversity of natural enemies in agroecosystems.” (Here is one of his latest articles:

In his conference talk, Rusch presented data from a 2021 study by Yohan Charbonnier showing the beneficial pest control ecosystem services bats deliver when they eat European grapevine moths. In this study, “seventy percent of the bats in the study had grapevine moth residues in their feces,” he said, showing their positive impact in pest control.

Many studies cited found that organic farming amidst biodiverse landscapes created the most positive conditions to promote healthy, balanced ecosystems to mitigate monoculture’s detrimental impacts and to promote ecosystem services.

Said Rusch, “it’s cheap to do biodiversity.”

The wine industry should also pay attention to its own declining cultivar diversity, he said, quoting former Harvard assistant professor Elizabeth M. Wolkovich’s research on the topic. [She's now in B.C.] “Only one percent of the varieties in the world dominate,” Rusch said, with only 12 varieties planted on 70 percent of vineyard surfaces in most countries. That leaves vineyards vulnerable to future dangers.

Morning panelists  Sébastien Giorgis, Prof. Dr. Ilona Leyer, and Adrien Rusch
with moderator Laetitia Allemand, a winemaker and TV wine journalist in France

At least one local producer is working to ensure that the natural diversity of their vines’ genetics is preserved. At biodynamic Chateau Beaurenard, the family has created its own vine nursery for future replants. 

Regions like Bordeaux have recently taken baby steps to expand cultivar diversity by approving six new varieties (for limited use only). In Chateauneuf-du-Pape, vintners have 13 varieties to work with already but are looking for ways to mitigate an overreliance on grenache which is increasingly susceptible to warming temperatures making for higher alcohol levels. 

Both Leyer and Rusch are collaborating in their home regions on vineyard and biodiversity projects. Leyer’s beginning a multi year study in Germany in which stakeholders will plan the evolving landscape development together and include biodiversity goals in their plans. In Bordeaux, Rusch is working on Atelier Bacchus, a long term project that is just one of the 14 living labs under the VITIREV project which experiments with agroecological innovation and biodiversity.

Avid birder and biodynamic vigneron Frederic Coulon of Domaine de Beaurenard. His striking photos of birds in vineyards were used as conference art.

When Rachel Carson wrote her historic book Silent Spring in 1962, she had no idea that 21st century viticulture and bird researcher Katharina Adler, of Hochschule Geisenheim University would quote her. Adler began her talk on birds and vineyards with Carson’s quote, 

“Nature has introduced great variety into the landscape, but man has displayed a passion for simplifying it. Thus he undoes the built-in checks and balances by which nature holds the species within bounds.”

Adler showed data that revealed that farmland birds in European countries declined 17 percent from 1990 to 2018.

One of the few to have specifically researched the relationship of vineyards and birds, Adler’s research shows that vineyard habitats can support or negatively impact bird life. Vineyards with trees and bushes are attractive for birds, while individual vineyard monocultures are not, she said. When a region collectively has a high concentration of monoculture vineyards, that, too, has a strong negative effect on birds. 

Planting diverse flowers and cover crops in vineyard rows can have a positive effect as can refraining from using herbicides, she said. Nest boxes are helpful, she said, but are best placed at the boundaries of vineyards or beyond, as vineyard work can disrupt nests and family bird life. 

Prof. Emmanuelle Porcher, professor of ecology at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle and director of the Centre d’Ecologie et des Sciences de la Conservation, gave a brief overview of citizen science research conducted with 78 wine growers in the Cotes du Rhone. 

The results of that research showed that mineral fertilizer and pesticides were responsible for the most rapid declines in butterfly and solitary bee populations. Cover crops provided the most beneficial habitat for vineyard biodiversity, she said. The studies were conducted by l’Observatoire de la Biodiversité (OAB). 

The government is sponsoring Nature Watch programs to observe and measure biodiversity across 540 vineyard plots (in which 24 percent are organic). The program trains local high school students studying agriculture and viticulture in specific, standardized protocols and data collection methods to measure, observe and report data.

A new project, VitiBird (hashtag #VitiBird on Twitter), is now comparing pesticide sales data with bird population data to look at the relationships between biodiversity and chemical versus organic farming. The new studies will also analyze pesticide residue in bird feathers collected as part of the study.

Conference organizers plan to hold the event annually and are planning a 2023 conference.