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French biodynamic winemaker facing court for refusing to spray vines

French officials have targeted a second biodynamic winemaker for refusing to spray vines against flavescence doree disease, this time in the Beaujolais Cru area of Moulin a Vent.

Thibault Liger-Belair, a proponent of biodynamic viticulture, is due to appear before a court in Villefranche-sur-Saône in the Rhone for ‘refusing to perform measures of plant protection’, according the France‘s agriculture ministry.

It is the latest example of the concern surrounding a leaf-rotting disease named flavescence doree, which has no known cure and has been likened by some experts to the phylloxera pest that scythed down European vineyards in the late 19th Century.

In a similar court case last year, winemaker Emmanuel Giboulot won an appeal – albeit on a procedural point – against his conviction for refusing to spray vines as a preventive measure.

Thibault Liger-Belair owns two domaines, one at Nuits Saint Georges in Burgundy and one at Moulin à Vent, a Beaujolais Cru appellation. The Moulin à Vent commune straddles the departments of Rhone and Saone-et-Loire.

‘In Rhone, we have no duty of treatment,’ Liger-Belair told Decanter.com. But, the local authorities in Saône-et-Loire have declared treatment necessary.

‘There is no risk because the flavescence doree is present 30 kilometres from my vineyard,’ said Liger-Belair. ‘But the [ministry] requires a systematic treatment even if insects are not present. I have some conviction to respect my terroirs, but I made prospective studies in the vineyards and if I see some insects I will treat with pesticide as the law requires.’

Flavescence doree was first spotted in Armagnac in the 1950s. However, there is still no cure, and the disease is highly contagious. It causes leaves to yellow and grapes to shrivel, killing young vines and reducing the productivity of older ones.

If convicted, Liger-Belair faces a maximum fine of 30,000 euros and up to six months in prison. Emmanuel Giboulot was fined 1,000 euros, with 500 euros suspended, in his original conviction.

Read more about flavescence doree and the debate surrounding it:

Written by Yohan Castaing

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