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French winemaker cleared after refusing to spray vineyard

A French court has acquitted Thibault Liger-Belair after refusing to spray his vineyards against deadly vine disease flavescence dorée, in a second blow to the French authorities.

  • Second French winemaker cleared by court over refusal to spray

  • Liger-Belair calls for debate

Thibault Liger-Belair, the well-known Burgundian vigneron and proponent of biodynamic viticulture who owns a domaine in the Moulin-à-Vent cru in the Beaujolais region, appeared in court on Tuesday 15 December 2015 in Villefranche-sur-Saône in the Rhône.

He was acquitted after being charged with refusing to treat his vineyards against the vine leaf-rotting disease flavescence dorée.

It is the second time in around 12 months that a French biodynamic winemaker has escaped punishment for refusing to spray vines to protect against flavescence dorée –  which some experts have likened it to the phylloxera pest that ravaged European vineyards in the late 19th Century.

‘Procedural defect’

Liger-Belair was cleared thanks to a ‘procedural defect’, according to Michel Desilets, his lawyer.

He said French agriculture minister Stéphane Le Foll had not validated the prefectural law stating that all vines in Saône-et-Loire must be treated.

In France, the agriculture minister must validate prefectural decisions if they are to be considered mandatory. Le Foll himself is committed to reducing pesticide use in vineyards.

Thibault Liger-Belair’s vineyards straddle the departments of Rhône and Saône-et-Loire. ‘In Rhône, we have no duty of treatment,’ Liger-Belair told Decanter.com in a previous article. But, the local authorities in Saône-et-Loire have declared treatment necessary.

Although prosecutors have 10 days to appeal, Liger-Belair appeared happy with the verdict and ‘wanted to denounce the aberrations of an administrative decision that does not take into account agronomic reality’.

‘We need a debate’

He added to Decanter.com: ‘I also wanted to encourage a debate, so that future decisions can be taken more carefully, and better consultation between the state and vine growers in order to prevent other problems.’

‘Victory for all’

Liger-Belair said: ‘This is not my own victory; this is a victory for all vignerons who have minds of their own and who adopt an environmental philosophy.’

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