How Bees And Bats Help Bordeaux Create High Quality Sustainable Wines

Food & Drink

Did you know that bats eat between 500 and 1500 insects per night, and that bees are responsible for 80% of the pollination of plants for biodiversity? But what does that have to do with producing high-quality sustainable wine? In the Bordeaux wine region a group of enterprising winegrowers, with support from the Bordeaux Wine Council (CIVB
), are conducting research studies to answer this question. These efforts are part of Bordeaux’s strategy to adapt to climate change and to reduce their environmental footprint.

“We spend one million euros per year on scientific research,” reported Marie-Catherine Dufour, Bordeaux’s Technical Director, in a recent webinar. “Some of our studies verify the positive impact of bees, spiders, and bats in the vineyard.”

The Bordeaux wine region has committed to a goal of reducing carbon output 43% by 2030. “We have five strategic focuses for the 2030 carbon plan,” explained Dufour. These are to: 1)reduce the weight of glass and packaging, 2) reduce the impact of freight, 3) change winemaking practices to reduce farm fuel consumption and input, 4) promote energy efficiency solutions, and 5) sequester carbon in and around the vineyard. “The two that are impacted by bees and bats are winemaking practices and sequestration,” she continued.

There are many wineries and wine-related organizations that are involved in the implementation of the strategy. The CIVB has named these organizations, ‘Eco-Heroes. The two wineries that are doing most of the research around bees and bats are Domaines Denis Dubourdieu and Vignobles Arbo.

According to Jean-Jacques Dubourdieu, owner of Domaines Denis Dubourdieu, “As part of our study, we installed 15 bee houses 5 years ago to analyze how bees impact biodiversity within the vineyard.” The results showed that since bees pollinate 80% of the plants in and around the vineyard, that they are very important to biodiversity.

Biodiversity around the vineyards is an important aspect of Bordeaux’s plan to reduce carbon emissions. Practices include a systems approach of planting more hedges and trees, creating and maintaining flower meadows and ecological corridors, as well as keeping grass cover. In order to make this happen, bees and other beneficial insects are critical to help with pollination and pest control.

“But,” continued Dubourdieu, “the biggest danger to bees is the Asian hornet we have in France, that are simply killing the bees. Also, too dry summers and springs. This is a difficulty.”

Winegrower, Margaux Arbo, of Vignobles Arbo, described the research they have conducted with bats at their estate. “For 12 years we have studied the impact of bats in our vineyards, and discovered there are 15 different species of bats,” she reported. “The bats love to hunt in the grass where they can find moths….This is our role to drive them into the vineyard where they can be a natural fighter. They are really our best friends.”

The bat studies have verified that bats reduce the number of predatory insects that can harm the grapes, and therefore reduce the need for pesticides. Additionally, vineyards that have larger bat populations reduce perforations of the grape bunches and leaves by 14 to 50%. All of this assists in reducing the use of agri-chemicals and tractor passes, contributing towards a lower carbon footprint.

But how does this impact wine quality? To date, this topic is still being researched, but early results show that there is an ‘additional freshness’ to the wines that come from vineyard plots that have more biodiversity. Therefore, such practices as encouraging populations of bees, bats, and other beneficial insects, as well as planting cover crop, shrubs and trees, are thought to positively impact wine quality.

“There is one study,” stated Dufour, “called Viti Forest, that is carried out by INRAE – our national research association – that would tend to confirm this feeling (perspective).”

In addition to these efforts, the Bordeaux wine region has also achieved other environmental successes. Currently 75% of the Bordeaux vineyards are certified as using an environmental approach, and 23% of their vineyards are organic or in conversion to organic.

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