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Winemaker’s Bookshelf

sometimes wonder whether “sustainable” is going the same route as “natural”. Has the term become

By Gary Strachan

so pervasive that we don’t examine what it means anymore? Do we simply accept that anything “sustainable” must be accepted without question? Consider that B.C. has no native Vitis

species. I think the wild Virginia creeper is probably the closest local relative. We have a semi-arid, hot climate in

the Okanagan, cool maritime conditions at the Coast, and short season, continental conditions in the Shuswap and Kootenays. In spite of these climates we have chosen to grow grape vines where they have never grown before. What’s sustainable about that? I have a large folder on my computer

with subfolders from 2009 to the present. It’s remarkable how much material can be accumulated during four years of meetings on the subject of sustainability. The adoption of sustainable practices

has penetrated the worldwide grape and wine industry quicker than almost any other industry, possibly because the practices are easier to implement for a perennial crop, or possibly because the results can be visibly demonstrated to the public. To implement the B.C. project, a

Kelowna firm, Insight Environmental Consulting, was contracted first to survey the sustainable programs of other wine regions and then to derive a “made in BC” program. Step by step, the Sustainable Practices

Committee went through material from other regions, chose parts that were appropriate to B.C.’s regions, and drafted documents for vineyards, wineries and winery hospitality. The huge amount of material had to

be condensed into workable documents. In addition to drafting the guidebooks and self-assessment workbooks, many volunteers also tested the material under their own real-world conditions. The price is right. The books are all

posted for free on the B.C. Wine Grape Council website. If you absolutely must have a hard copy, Louise Corbeil, the hard working secretary of the Council will sell you a set at reasonable cost. The details are posted on the site, . What can you expect in the manuals? First of all, this is not a viticulture or

winemaking manual. It is assumed the user is familiar with the B.C. Best

‘Sustainable winegrowing’: An oxymoron? I

Practices Guide for Grapes and is also familiar with the B.C. Environmental Farm Plan. The Sustainable Practices Guides refer to a huge amount of material and provide references for those who need to access material in more detail.

The principles behind the manuals

boil down to three overlapping areas: 1. Environmentally sound: Practices that are sensitive to the environment.

2. Economically feasible: Practices that are economically feasible to implement and maintain.

3. Socially equitable: Practices responsive to the needs and interests of society-at-large.

The recommended practices

are not presented as a pass or fail set of rules but rather as a general set of principles that can enable the user to create an environment that fulfills not only his own needs but those of generations to follow. There is no single system that can be

revised to achieve sustainability nor is there a single practice that can be turned on or off like a light switch. The time line to achieve sustainability may take years or decades. The increased current awareness of

the environment may well mean that many users have already implemented some sustainable practices. The guide books assist users to assess their current practices and lead them to

consider further ideas. A good interim position is the use of integrated pest management (IPM) practices. In other words, no action is taken

unless it will cost more to ignore the situation than to act on it. Management strategies such as this save money while minimizing damage to the ecology of vineyards. I opened this discussion with a

question, which could be extended to “Why are we cultivating grapes in an environment that is not their natural habitat?” The easy answer to

that is “Because we can.” By comparison with

eastern North America, where there are many native Vitis species, we have few infections of grapes. By using sustainable practices we can safeguard this

advantage and maintain our industry indefinitely with minimized intervention for pest control, continually improving soils, and efficient use of water. The bonus of using a “less is better”

philosophy is that the careful operator can save money on operating costs and pass on his farm to future generations with a better growing environment than when he acquired it. Sustainable winegrowing is not an

oxymoron. — Gary Strachan can be reached via

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