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Regular Champagne drinker? Pesticide levels now at toxic levels in ground water caused by drought and excessive usage

Soil and hands

For regular wine drinkers like myself, the presence of chemicals like herbicides and pesticides in the vineyard and production process is a concern.  Who wants chemicals in their bodies from nasties like glyphosate after opening a fine wine? The new world, particularly New Zealand, has been more notable in the move by many winemakers to use organic or biodynamic practices to limit chemicals and this is to be applauded.

Old world wine winers have been slower to ban chemicals on the vines, worried by the impact on yields and potential rampant disease on the grapes.  Its been great to see sparkling wine producers in the U.K. such as Sedlescombe in Kent adopting organic as well as biodynamic in their products. Bravo!

Champagne region around Reims in France, North East of Paris

It has been of particular note to read reports in recent weeks about the the hot, dry summer in Champagne that has left pesticide levels in its groundwater at dangerous levels. Too many chemicals are clearly being used in the vineyards to maintain quality with heavy handed application of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides.

Ongoing studies by the Champagne region's water agency, Eau Seine et Normandie, found chemical residues both in the surface and ground water regularly exceed European authorised levels. This is partly explained by the fact that the Seine river has one of the smallest water flows of all French rivers, yet the water used by the region is extremely high at around 3 billion cubic metres per year and this limits dilution capacity of chemicals.

This has meant that for the French living in areas such as Champagne, pollution levels have reached alarming levels and it is estimated that nearly 3 million citizens in areas such as Bordeaux, South West France as well as Champagne are drinking polluted tap water as a result of pesticides and nitrates leaching into the water table. 

Studies in 2016 show that pesticides remain the most important threat to ground water quality, especially the herbicide glyphosate. It can take years for these chemicals to completely disappear from the groundwater because they bind to the chalk present in the soil in the region. 

champagne vineyards

In 2008, the French government put in place a first EcoPhyto plan with 1900 agricultural producers to limit chemical use and this has been followed by Ecophyto II in 2015 with 30,000 producers aiming to reduce the use of pesticides by 50 percent by 2025.

The Comité Interprofesionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) has already championed the eradication of insecticides in Champagne and  is now signed up to the EcoPhyto II plan to deal with the areas excssive heribicide use. Two-thirds of the region's vineyards were still blanket-sprayed with herbicides, and almost 90 percent of the vineyards used herbicides to weed under the rows. Veuve Clicquot is one of the few Champagne producers that have have eliminiated herbicides in its vineyards due tot he concerns about the impact on water quality despite impacting yields and making life more difficult for its workers.

In July 2017 the CIVC will vote whether to accept a ban on the blanket spraying of herbicides from the following. The decision seems a no brainer, especially for those millions of people around the world who enjoy that regular glass of Champagne. Come on winemakers, we don't want chemicals in our wine and Champagne!