Do-Nothing Wine Farming is Based on a Flimsy Idea

do nothing farmingWe have now jumped the shark, I think, with this idea that wine should make itself. We’ve graduated from minimalist winemaking to minimalist wine growing. From an article entitled “Can Do-Nothing Farming Produce Quality Wine? we now are being led to believe that even using a plow offends the tender feelings of mother nature.

As organic, biodynamic, and regenerative viticultural methods continue to increase in popularity, a handful of brave winemakers are taking low-intervention winegrowing a step further. The Fukuoka-inspired viticultural approach—a supremely hands-off style informed by late Japanese farmer and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka—makes biodynamic and organic farming seem overly interventionist—conventional, even….Working primarily with rice and citrus farms of all sizes, Fukuoka gained acclaim from the 1970s onwards. Generally, his method decries plowing, tilling, and the use of machinery in the field. It also advocates against the use of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and even most forms of weeding. A true Fukuoka-modeled farm would not even have compost, as the process of preparing and applying the stuff is, by definition, interventionist.

Oregon winemaker Tai-Ran Niew  sums up the approach:

“I use sun, air, and rainwater,” he says. “The whole point of the exercise is finding a natural way.”

Some practitioners are just curious about whether it can be done. Others in poorer regions of the world lack the resources to buy equipment so do-nothing farming is a necessity. But most are motivated by the philosophical view that all technology is a violation of nature’s sanctity or purity.

The article reports on several small projects that have produced viable grapes but there is some doubt even among enthusiasts that do-nothing farming is scalable or economically viable.

“Nature’s answer could be you shouldn’t have grapes,” he admits.

No. That isn’t nature’s answer at all. Human intelligence and its products, such as agriculture, are as much a part of nature as wild flowers and grizzly bears. All species are created through an evolutionary process and human intelligence is as much an expression of that process as anything else.

The idea that humans are not part of nature is a pernicious idea that has done much damage.  For millennia we have assumed that nature is a threat to be subdued while ignoring the sense of responsibility that comes from recognizing we are an integral part of nature and thoroughly dependent on it. The idea that we can somehow remove the human footprint from nature is a distracting fantasy. To be fair, practitioners of do-nothing agriculture think they are acknowledging our dependence on nature but their underlying assumption is that human inputs are anti-natural.

Do-nothing farming is a well-intentioned idea and we may learn something from it. If they end up making some good wine we benefit from it aesthetically.

But the idea that it is a uniquely virtuous approach to preserving nature is silly. Anyone who looks seriously at the problem of climate change knows that it will take massive technological innovations to maintain a livable earth.

Private, small-scale feel-good projects and nostalgia for the year 10,000 BCE have little to do with real solutions.

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