A winemaker in the Vaucluse has become the latest producer to withdraw his wine from organic certification, citing his concerns over the environmental sustainability of organic winemaking.

Sebastien Vincenti, of Domaine de Fondrèche in Mazan, AOC Côtes de Ventoux, has been certified organic with French body Ecocert since 2009. But, that is about to change.

‘In order to remain coherent with the organic philosophy that I believe in, I have to follow certain conditions,’ Vincenti told Decanter.com.

‘I believe now that certain synthesized products applied at the right moment may offer better environmental protection than some organic alternatives, but these are all banned by Ecocert.’

His move follows news of a dip in organic certification in France and as the country’s biggest organic wines trade fair, Millésime Bio, gets underway in Montpellier in Languedoc-Roussillon.

‘I will reduce the use of copper build-up in the soils by changing my treatment programme to one that is more balanced between organic and synthesized products,’ said Vinceni. ‘The amount of oil used for tractors will also be halved, as I will not need to apply the treatments so regularly, so I will be lowering my carbon footprint’.

Other producers have also recently chosen to drop their certification due to environmental concerns.

Benoit Braujou, of Domaine Fons Sanatis in the Hérault area of Languedoc, left Ecocert after six years, telling French magazine Réussir Vigne, ‘using 5kg of copper a year per hectare just seemed crazy’.

Monty Waldin, a Decanter contributor and organics expert, said this argument could be misleading.

‘Many organic vineyards use no copper at all, and limits are lower anyway for organic than conventional vineyards. Residue can be further reduced by working hard to bring life to your soil by use of compost and cover cropping.’

In October 2015, Ecocert announced a slight dip in numbers of organically certified vineyards in France, but ascribed it to a ‘normal stabilization’

Editing by Chris Mercer

  • John Hilliard

    i’m glad you asked. Typical application rates of organic pesticides are in the pounds per acre – Sulfur: 3 pounds per acre each of about 3-5 applications, Copper: 1.25 pounds per acre hopefully only once. Oil: one gallon per acre each of about 3 applications. (That’s a lot of oil). And there are repetitive applications. Non-organic pesticides are applied ounces per acre and often are not repeated. Glyphosate may be applied at 15 oz per acre by a small ATV which replaces a multitude of tractors passes for weeding. The greenhouse gas benefit is huge.
    And is glyphosate a carcinogen? You are quoting the IARC which says grapefruit and Aloe Vera and coffee are possible / probable carcinogens. The IARC says wine is a KNOWN carcinogen. Are you stopping your wine drinking? Read the EPA and European Food Safety Authority opinions: “Glyphosate did not present genotoxic potential and no evidence of carcinogenicity was observed in rats or mice.” European Food Safety Authority, Conclusion on the Peer Review of the Pesticide Risk Assessment of the Active Substance Glyphosate, 2015
    * U.S. EPA: “Our review concluded that this body of research does not provide evidence to show that glyphosate causes cancer, and it does not warrant any change in EPA’s cancer classification for glyphosate.” U.S. EPA, Statement from Carissa Cryan, Chemical Review Manager, 2015 (in reference to 55 epidemiological studies evaluated by EPA in 2014).  This conclusion was reiterated in testimony by EPA’s Deputy Director for Pesticide Programs, William Jordan, before the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry on Oct. 21, 2015.

  • WineCountryGeographi

    I fail to see what if anything is comedic about this list below. I wish you would put your talents to work against the use of the much more dangerous substances used in Santa Barbara County:


    Boscalid: bee hazard, possible carcinogen
    2,235 lbs. on 13,564 acres

    Imidacloprid: kills bees and birds (banned in European countries)
    5,055 lbs. on 6,244 acres


    Glyphosate: kills microbial life in soil
    25,506 lbs. on 25,000+ acres (combination of both types applied)

    Oxyfluorfen: possible carcinogen
    4,074 lbs. on 12,675 acres

    Pendimethalin: possible carcinogen
    7,060 lbs. on 2,648 acres


    Glufosinate ammonium: neurotoxin
    878 lbs. on 3,172 acres

    As for petroleum distillates, there were 7,741 pounds spread on 19,477 acres. (Clearly this was used by most wineries, not just the organic ones, whose acreage is maybe around 600 acres in SBC).

    So, again, please, tell me, what’s the size of the problem with organic wine grape growing compared to this?

  • John Hilliard

    “There really is no financial incentive”. Although you do financially benefit. You are a better comedy writer than a wine writer.

  • John Hilliard

    Warren, I believe his fossil fuel savings would be substantial. Reducing by half sounds in the ball park.

  • La Cave des Nomades

    Hey John I dont agree with you. You seem to put everybody in the world in the same bag as Santa Barbara and you think you are awesome with all the data you have! but listen, come to Europe, come to France and see what we do in biodynamics and learn! For example I dont use any copper, just little powder sulphur and biodynamic preparations – and by the way no oils at all – i even dont know any bio wine maker here who uses oils like you are saying! We take herbs by hand and with animals, we dont use any tractor! So, stop seeing Santa Barbara has the center of the world and come over!

  • WineCountryGeographi

    John, don’t you sell wine? I think you have a lot more skin in the game than I do. My wine writing is not materially supporting me. It is, as for most people, a passion project. So there really is no financial incentive.

  • John Hilliard

    Hi Pam, I googled your websites and realized you have a financial interest in organic and biodynamic farming. You sell these ideas to people. It may be very difficult for you to be objective when your activities depend on these concepts being valid. It also might be helpful to disclose your financial interests when you comment on boards. I would have liked to have known that because I doubt you will be able to disavow a philosophy in which you have years of investment.

  • WineCountryGeographi

    John, I don’t see any data here. Just allegations. Please substantiate and we can re-engage.

  • John Hilliard

    I invite you to visit and see the data. I have several years of PUR for each organic and biodynamic vineyard and sustainable vineyard in Santa Barbara County. The work that I have compiled is not a “rant”, it is the data filed by each vineyard BY LAW with the county. It’s clear from the PURs whether a vineyard is farming organic or biodynamic, because there are only organic approved pesticides used. The amazing thing is the huge volumes of pesticides recorded in the PURs by the organic and biodynamic vineyards. And when you realize these repeated pesticide applications require repeated tractor passes it become apparent the fossil fuel use in organic vineyards is excessive, and because the Biodynamic vineyards also apply the Biodynamic preparations in addition to the organic pesticides, you realize biodynamic farming is very harmful to the environment. The sad thing is the Biodynamic preparations are supposed to , for example, prevent mildew, but the PURs clearly show that there is no reduction in the application of organic pesticides for mildew, there is only an increase in pesticide applications. Therefore, I assert the biodynamic preparation for mildew clearly is ineffective. The data in these government reports is damning to the organic and biodynamic vineyards. You would think just the mention of this would get them analyzing their shortcomings and revising their activities to better care for our planet. But is the purpose of organic and biodynamic farming just a marketing ruse? If it isn’t a ruse, I would expect a rush for the exits except for one reason: the public believes that organic and biodynamic is better for the environment. The environment suffers as a result.

  • WineCountryGeographi

    I don’t see where you substantiate your claims in your comments here. I’d love to see the data you’re referring to and perhaps then we could have a more intelligent conversation. At this point, it feels like you’re ranting, rather than providing helpful information that others can assess for themselves. It is not “absolutely clear” from the PUR who is organic and Biodynamic as the PUR does not record this information. I still do not understand what you are talking about. Some data would be most useful.

    The organic growers in SBC are quite sophisticated; I don’t think they lack the ability to analyze what they are using.

  • John Hilliard

    The issue is the environment. Organic and Biodynamic farmers are doing more environmental harm than new alternative farming techniques. All while claiming they are doing good. The amount of harm is significant.

    Yes, I have all of the PUR reports for all of the organic sustainable and biodynamic vineyards in Santa Barbara County. It is absolutely clear based on the PURs that the absolute worst environmental offenders are the biodynamic and organic farmers. It’s very upsetting to see the facts and then read the websites of the biodynamic and organic farmers. In many cases it appears they just believe in the marketing materials and have no idea how to analyze the pesticides they use.

    By the way, your assumptions about organic pesticides are incorrect.

  • WineCountryGeographi

    I’m happy to share who I am. I use my company’s name – Wine Country Geographic – on my Twitter handle, which I use to comment via Disqus on this site. It would have been pretty easy to find out who I am by Googling “WineCountryGeographic”.

    I write exclusively about organically and Biodynamically grown wines. I’ve written 7 apps and I have written on this topic for the industry, for Beverage Media, Wine Enthusiast, and most recently for Wines & Vines’ Dec. issue (the topic was organic certification costs).

    Thanks for your invitation, but you actually gave me a personal tour of your winery and a tasting of your wines several years ago. I remember your wonderful horses and barn and your magnificent house.

    If you have looked at the SBC Pesticide Use Reports, which it sounds like you have, you will see that very, very few of the wineries in Santa Barbara County are organic. But they have some of the best reputations for fine wine – Alma Rosa (some wines), Beckmen (some wines), Seasmoke.

    The county has a below average number of wineries that farm organically compared to Napa, for instance, where the percentage of certified organic vineyards is about 8 percent.

    If you are looking at the SBC PUR records, I’d like to see how you compute the amount of copper used by organic growers compared to the other wine grape growers. What products are you including in your analysis?

    As for sulfur, almost everyone in the wine industry in California uses sulfur.

    Stylet oil is used in very small concentrations. It’s highly diluted in water.

    I have never seen a way of understanding which parcels in the PUR are people who are certified organic. If you are able to zero in on this, I’ve love to know how it’s done, so I could understand your data and learn from your efforts.

  • John Hilliard

    Actually that’s not the case when it comes to vineyards- the two main organic pesticides are derived from fossil fuels. You seem to need a to hit the books before commenting.

  • John Hilliard

    Dear “WineCountryGeographi”,
    It would be more transparent and respectable if you would use your real name rather than hide who you are. The principal synthetic chemicals used by organic farmers are copper, sulfur and oil. The copper is a heavy metal and is quite poisonous to humans and the flora and fauna in the soil. Sulfur is a synthetic usually micronized chemical derived from petroleum and is used in huge amounts by many organic farmers even though it is an air pollutant (PM10) and harmful to lungs. Most organic farmers use a chemical called Stylett oil which is a synthetic petrochemical made 97% l from fossil fuels, and this oil is used to drench the plants, which is absolutely shocking to think about. These organic chemical pesticides are not as effective as we would like and require repetitive applications, sometimes weekly resulting in high fossil fuel use for these repeated applications. If you analyze the pesticide applications in Santa Barbara County, you will see that organic vineyards are doing about 100% to 500% more damage to the environment. The numbers are quite clear- come visit me and I will show you my extensive data base.

  • Warren Lauzon

    I realize that, but it still sounds pretty significant. And many of those others would apply just as much or more with organic. The City of Phoenix runs a large composting site (mainly to keep vegetation out of the landfills), and it costs around $4 million a year. No idea how much they actually produce, that is the net cost.

  • WineCountryGeographi

    I don’t really see why a story about ONE winemaker changing makes a headline. There are lots of subtle choices that winemakers make constantly and it’s not uncommon for a winery to choose to go off of certification. They’re replaced by a growing number of people who are choosing organic certification. This article really needed some substantiating numbers and or data in order to do more than document one or two anecdotal reports. I expect a more professional level of reporting from Decanter.

    Waldin is right about copper use.

    It is always best to look at the evidence of what people are actually using rather than what they are allowed to use. Here in California, we have a law that requires reporting and that data is published each year.

  • WineCountryGeographi

    He’s only talking about the tractor use. He’s not talking about the total fossil fuel inputs that may be part of his other inputs. Chemical fertilizers, for one thing, take a great deal of fossil fuel to create in a factory.

  • WineCountryGeographi

    “organic farming uses large amounts of dangerous and old fashioned pesticides”…what pesticides are you referring to, John?

  • I fully agree with John Hilliard. Here at Torre San Quirico we do follow the same close control on tractor passes and aim at getting an important reduction of copper.
    This is a very efferctive way to reduce the impact on the environment. I refused to apply for an organic certification.

  • 19ch65

    In Europe, the denomination “organic” does not exist.

  • First Officer

    Part of all that life you bring to the soil is fungus, which is why he needed all that copper in the first place. “…By working hard”, how insulting. It implies all he was doing was taking shortcuts.

  • First Officer

    It’s only a matter of time before OCA and Greenpeace SturmTruppen overrun the place and tear up all the grapevines, like they did to the cornfields in Colmar.

  • Warren Lauzon

    What I found interesting is that he expects to cut fossil fuel usage by 50%.

  • Jill Barth

    Provence (and other places, certainly) os home to AOPs that use biodynamique practices almost entirely, but lack the “label” organic. There are winemakers that separate themselves from AOP in order to regain flexibility to grow to their own standards. In these instances, the grower often exceeds consumer expectations for a good-Earth prouduct. Interesting topic!

    Here’s details on Les Baux-de-Provence AOP, discussionof this topic:



  • This is exactly my philosophy and why we have not applied for organic certification. Even thought the limits for copper are higher for conventional growers, anyone farming ecologically and carefully like us would probably not be spraying any copper at all. It’s not just copper either, it’s the effect of sulphur on the wild yeasts too.

  • John Hilliard

    Yes, organic farming uses large amounts of dangerous and old fashioned pesticides. My studies show a huge reduction in kilos of pesticide applied and a huge reduction in tractor passes which reduces fossil fuel use dramatically. By avoiding tillage we enhance soil health and reduce compaction and most importantly we sustainable farmers release far less greenhouse gases than organic farmers. It’s time for organic farmers to come clean with the public and stop repeating the same lies that they don’t use “chemicals” or “pesticides”. The public will sooner or later find out the truth: there are new products on the market that can have have far less environmental impact. And by the way, we all use cover crops and compost, that’s not just an organic practice, that’s just good farming!