The report does go on to say that only minute quantities of the 33 molecules identified in the wines had been found. Unlike other foodstuffs there are no maximum pesticide limits for wines in Europe, with many traces of wine making aids or pesticides eliminated during the wine making process. But a report of this magnitude in a reputable magazine will undoubtedly have a major impact on the perception of French wines by consumers, particularly at a time of the year when all the major grocery stores are holding their Autumn wine festival.
For the uninitiated, it has to be said that the figures are quite scary: ‘Que Choisir’ found as many as 14 different pesticides in a single bottle of wine. There was also no correlation between a wine’s price and the amount of pesticides found, so buying an expensive wine provides no guarantee of drinking a pesticide-free wine. There did seem to be some connection however between particular wine regions and the amount of pesticides found in the wines. Regions with potentially challenging weather conditions such as Bordeaux, generally registered higher levels of pesticides than more southerly areas with a predominantly Mediterranean climate. Languedoc-Roussillon, for instance, fared relatively well, especially appellations like Corbières and Minervois. Due to its climatic advantage, it has to be said though that there were also more organic wines in the Languedoc-Roussillon sample than elsewhere, even though the wines were chosen at random. A wine like Gérard Bertrand’s organic Pays d’Oc Cabernet-Sauvignon Autrement brand retailing for just 4.50 euros came out well in the study. In fact, most of the organic wines tested contained very few traces of pesticides and they may well have come from a neighbouring non-organic wine farm.
The report itself can be described as alarmist and extremely damaging for the wine industry. It immediately establishes a connection between traces of pesticides in wine and a whole raft of diseases including cancer and Parkinson’s disease when the actual amounts found are infinitesimal. Similarly, there is no scientific justification for establishing a cumulative effect when no current regulations stipulate a maximum amount for an individual wine. However, this kind of article should encourage French wine growers to explore new avenues for continuing to reduce the amount of pesticides they use in their vineyards. Government initiatives such as Ecophyto should be as realistic as possible and offer alternative, affordable solutions to wine producers in regions where organic wine growing is at best challenging, at worst, impossible. It is unrealistic to think that the entire French vineyard will be organic one day but if every wine grower has a heightened awareness of the dangers for him/herself and for consumers, it would be a giant step forward. And maybe reports like this latest one by ‘Que Choisir’ can at least produce a knee-jerk reaction to spur the movement on.