How committed are you to the green lifestyle? Would you sacrifice your business to stay organic?
That's the question many Northern California grapegrowers are asking themselves right now, as the European grapevine moth appears to be spreading across Napa and Sonoma Counties.
Last year, the moth struck right at the heart of California wine, destroying the crop at one Oakville vineyard. That sent chills through the spines of every winery that has debts to pay, because a year without a vintage is a dead loss.
Fortunately, unlike phylloxera, this moth sucks the juice of grapes but doesn't destroy the vines themselves. It's originally from southern Italy, where growers have been dealing with it for years.
But while organic growers hope to control it with predatory wasps, currently the best means of dealing with it might be with pesticides.
Another technique is to release pheromones from female moths into the air to disrupt the mating cycle. This is what the state tried to do in 2007 to control the light brown apple moth after it was discovered in Berkeley, but a public outcry induced state officials to stop spraying and that moth is now thriving throughout the Bay Area and beyond.
I talk to grapegrowers all over the world who say they grow organically but won't get certified because they want the option to use chemicals if they really need to. Usually their worry is mold in particularly rainy years. But the European grapevine moth is more fearsome because if you don't eradicate it this year, it will be back next year in larger numbers.
Recently I was discussing this casual semi-organic status with another wine writer who said that such a stance defeats the whole purpose of organic growing -- to learn to overcome obstacles without resorting to chemicals. Personally I'm in favor of so-called "sustainable agriculture," including the use of chemicals when absolutely necessary. To me, the appearance of an invasive pest like this is as good a reason as any to spray. My colleague counters that you have to learn to farm despite the pests because they will keep coming, and once you resort to chemicals you've entered the slippery slope to depending on Roundup.
It's an interesting topic, but for me it's purely academic. For grapegrowers in Napa and Sonoma Counties, it's their livelihood. Don't be surprised if you see fewer labels from 2010 reading "made from organically grown grapes."