Grapevine: Mother Nature vs. Man

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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

Here we are in the second decade of the new century. My how time flies. It seems just a short time ago that we were celebrating the dawn of the new millennium. Much has transpired in our lifetimes, in the realms of turbulent geopolitics, radical economic cycles, eye-opening technological advances and major scientific breakthroughs.

Through it all the balance of man and nature has endured. Endured in spite of increasing environmental impacts and conflicts in the order of natural selection.

Science, in particular, has advanced to the point where some believe man is closer than ever to being in total control of his environment, all the while improving lives. From the decoding of the human genome to advances in printed circuits, man feels more in control of his role in the natural order of things.

However, as man advances in his determined control over his destiny, nature is always there to remind us of the natural order of everything.

With this in mind, I’ve been ruminating on man’s recent encounters with nature regarding matters concerning the wine industry.

In the industry, there are many examples of man’s battle with the balance of nature. Man advances in conquering one aspect of the natural order; the natural order roars back with a forceful reminder of its superiority and dominance. Natural disasters and phenomenon such as wildfires, hurricanes, hailstorms, drought and disease continuously assault vineyards. Yet, man valiantly perseveres and comes back each time.

Andy Beckstoffer, owner of California’s prominent Beckstoffer Vineyards comments: “Whatever Nature throws at us, we will overcome. Our intellect and our science are that far advanced.”

Reality or perception? And at what price?

1. It requires approximately five years of investment in new seedlings and ongoing maintenance for a vineyard to resume its production after a major blow from nature. A cash-strapped winery may not be able to survive this assault.

2. When disease and weeds choked corn fields in the United States, Monsanto began a decades-long push to engineer seeds that resisted Monsanto’s Roundup pesticide product. Now farmers can spray Roundup freely across vast stretches of farmland. But the growing proliferation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) has raised concerns over the long-term negative effects of the pesticide as well as the human consumption of GMO corn, soy and other products. Today, over 80 percent of all corn and soy grown in the United States is from genetically engineered seeds.

3. From the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction department: Emmanuel Giboulot, a French winemaker in the Loire Valley, has been maintaining his vineyards organically for many years. He eschews chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, instead preferring to utilize nature’s counterbalancing elements. Among other measures, he lays down organic fertilizers and promotes an environment for beneficial insects in his vineyard that in turn control harmful insects. It seems he is in harmony with nature.

However, he was recently fined, and nearly jailed, by the local government for defying their ordinance that requires the use of Pyrevent, a pesticide used to kill a leafhopper insect that has been found to spread disease and kill grapevines.

Ironically, this ordinance flies in the face of a European Union initiative that encourages the use of organic farming to prevent contamination of agricultural products and the environment.

Giboulot successfully deals with preventing the spread of the leafhopper in his own, natural way. Pyrevent, while accomplishing a similar immediate result, upsets the balanced vineyard ecosystem. It is toxic to plants and animals, and has unknown effects on human health and the environment.

Man in harmony with nature or at war with nature? Which produces the better end result? It is as if man constantly tests the boundaries and capacities of nature, expecting that the balance will be sustained with no material negative impact. We are modern man and we are in control of our destiny – or are we?

Nick Antonaccio is a 35-year Pleasantville resident. For over 15 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.


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