Winemakers in the Bourg appellation are to plant hedgerows around 'sensitive' vineyards to better control pesticide drift, which has come under the spotlight in some parts of Bordeaux over a possible link to child illnesses.

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Bourg producers north of Bordeaux are to plant 1,200m of hedgerows around vineyards in 27 ‘sensitive sites’ around the appellation, including crèches, schools and sports fields.

The planting programme, which is underway and will continue over winter 2015/2016, comes one year after 20 children and their teacher were affected with headaches and nausea following a pesticide treatment carried out on vines belonging to Château Castel la Rose and Château de Barbe in Villeneuve, Bourg. The plots were located directly next to the schoolyard.

The appellation has since been one of the most active in Bordeaux in terms of prevention of similar crises. To date, 27 sensitive sites have been identified across the appellation, and 24 winemakers in proximity have pledged to give suitable warning of any planned treatments, and to allow the planting of hedgerows to provide a natural barrier.

‘We have brought together different operators, from local mayors to the regional council to the environmental group Arbres and Paysages,’ AOC Côtes de Bourg director Didier Gontier told Decanter.com. ‘They have made grants available to either provide plants for the hedgerows, or to directly plant and maintain them’.

The issue is becoming increasingly important across Bordeaux, following the publication in August 2015 of a report by local health officials into childhood cancer rates in the village of Preignac within the Sauternes appellation was ‘unable to exclude’ the link with pesticides sprayed on the region’s vines, and recommended lowering the exposure near the school.

The mayor of Preignac, Jean-Gilbert Bapsalle, has said he wants to buy the vineyard nearest to the village school, to create a safe zone around the playground. From the winemakers’ side, the debate is still raging.

‘There has been no definitive link proved,’ Sauternes president Xavier Planty told Decanter.com. ‘But we have asked a wide number of experts for their conclusions. In the meantime, we would never encourage unsafe practices, and expect each individual winemaker to work within safe guidelines’.

‘To date we are the only appellation to have taken such a widespread action,’ Gontier said, ‘but we have worked closely with the Bordeaux Wine Bureau and other wine regulatory bodies in doing so, and stand ready to share our experiences.’