Herbicides make the vineyard look beautiful and pristine. Herbicides create rows of sameness in the vineyard. They create order under the vine. Each plant is lined up like a soldier in a parade. Under each row of grapes are swaths of smoothness; long tracks of weedless dirt that stretch as far as the eye can see. A barren desert of terra firma under green grape vines.
Herbicides are widely used in Long Island viniculture. Many in the industry use the caustic chemicals to kill weeds and other vegetation under the grapevine. They believe the invading weeds are harmful in the vineyard. They contend that they deprive water and other nutrients from the grapevine. But are herbicides really as valuable as some vineyards and wineries say they are? Are they really helpful in producing the best grape to produce the best wine?
Herbicides are Poison
Herbicides sprayed early in the season are used to eradicate weeds under the grapevine. Drift from the herbicide sprayer can be carried great distances across the vineyard. The herbicide that was meant to penetrate the soil under the plant can be carried in the air and make contact with the green tissue on emerging grape plants. The herbicide that was meant to kill the undergrowth in the vineyard can easily float across the farm and can kill healthy grapevines.
Herbicides kill everything. They destroy every plant that is sprayed. Beautiful wildflowers and colorful weeds under the vines are completely annihilated. Nothing is left but dry dirt.
We Love Our Grapes
North Cliff Vineyards is different. We are one of the vineyards on Long Island that does not use herbicides. We love the biodiversity in the vineyard. We believe weeds can be beneficial to the grapes by providing good insects that help protect the vine. These good insects actually help the grapevine fend off harmful insects that destroy the vine itself.
Another benefit of not using herbicides is the dead weeds and other vegetation provide food for the vines. When these plants are cut and left on the ground in the vineyard, they are providing natural nutrients for the grapes. The herbicides don’t provide that kind of support to the grapevine. At North Cliff Vineyards we believe that this natural cycle produces healthy grapes that are nourished by the cut vegetation that is recycled into the earth. It is probably the reason that North Cliff grapes ripen quicker and have higher sugars than many of the surrounding vineyards.
A Necessary Evil?
Are herbicides really necessary in the vineyard? Probably not. The vineyard manager’s job is made a lot easier if he doesn’t have to manually cut the weeds under the grapevine. Spraying herbicide is quick and easy.
Winemakers are always looking to create a better wine. They know that great wine starts with the best grapes. That is why North Cliff Vineyards never uses herbicides in the vineyard. It is hard work to grow a better grape– but the result is a fresher and more natural wine.
So the next time you are driving out east to visit the vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island, take time to observe the countryside. See if you can spot the vineyards that don’t use herbicides on their farm. Look for the colorful flowers and weeds under the canopy of green. Look for the bumble bees that are traveling from flower to flower. Get out of your car to experience the joy of spring and summer. Experience the renewal of life in the vineyard.