Vineyards & Pesticides

Better Grapes, Better Wine

Enjoying wine is one of life's great pleasures. But how that wine was grown and how it was made are questions that often go unexamined. 

Biodynamic farming provides a comprehensive and eco friendly approach to growing wine grapes. Some people call it "organic plus."

In addition, biodynamic grape growers can choose to follow certain winemaking standards that produce wines made in a pure style. (Some do, some don't.)


• Herbicides, fungicides and other toxic chemicals are present in modern vineyards. Organic and biodynamic farming offers healthier alternatives, that don't rely on synthetic chemicals which present human and environmental dangers.


• Biodynamic farming is more comprehensive than organic requirements and is an overall, ecological approach to managing a farm's fertility and life. One of its goals is to sequester and recycle carbon.


• Thirdly, many wineries, including some of the most famous in the world, have discovered that biodynamic farming results in more flavorful grapes and balanced wines with greater depth and character.

This basic overview covers these main topics: organic farming, biodynamic basics and wine quality. 

For questions about the difference between sustainability versus organic and biodynamics, winemaking additives, certification, sulfites in wine and other topics, check out the FAQs for details..

1. Organic FarmingVineyards & Pesticides

The first foundation of biodynamics is to use only materials approved for organic farming. 

Most consumers are not aware that herbicides, fungicides and other toxic chemicals are routinely used on wine grapes. 

What are the agrochemicals used in conventional and sustainable vineyards (that are never used in organic and biodynamic ones)?  And what are the concerns about using them? 

2. Biodynamic Basics

What is biodynamics

Many people would like to simplify the definition to "farming by the moon" or "burying cowhorns," but these definitions are superficial and do not describe the core of biodynamic farming which is more of an ecological approach.

As Jason Haas of Tablas Creek Vineyard succinctly put it, 

“Organics is essentially the replacement of chemical additives with non chemical additives.  Biodynamics is the building of a system in which additives are largely unnecessary because you have designed an ecosystem that provides what your crop needs.”

Biodynamic grape growers use:

• Locally sourced nutrients (primarily compost), which help sequester carbon

• Natural rhythms (solar, lunar, and seasonal) 

• Mineral and plant based inputs applied at regular intervals throughout the vine's life cycle 

They also follow best practices in viticulture

3. Wine Quality

What impact does biodynamics have on wine quality? Critics and producers weigh in.

Sustainable, Organic, Biodynamic: What's the Difference?


Green Marketing

Confusion reigns in the wine world over green wine certifications. It's a forest with many trees. Everyone knows consumer want green products, but which does each one mean what?

Green comes in many different shades. 

Even Bayer says it's green:

"Before crop protection products and technologies can be introduced to the market, they must demonstrate that they are harmless to people and animals and can be used without causing unjustifiable burden on the environment."

This is the company that tens of thousands of cancer victims  in the U.S. are suing. The victims used Bayer's popular herbicides and got cancer from using Bayer's Roundup herbicide, which contains a carcinogen called glyphosate. More than 15 countries, dozens of cities and counties—including many in wine country—have now banned glyphosate on publicly owned property.

Wine grapes growers fall into four groups, encompassing a wide variety of 

1. ConventionalChemical Farming

2. Sustainability—Lower Input Chemical Farming 

3. Organic—Farming without Toxic Chemicals

4. Biodynamic—Farming without Toxic Chemicals and With Required Regenerative Practices


• Herbicide use reduces mycorrhizal fungi 53% according to a recent vineyard study. These fungi contribute to plant health and grape flavors.

Organic wine grape growers protect their vines 


Other Chemicals of Concern

Wineries sometimes bring in the big guns

Many do not understand that wine grapes are grown using thousands of pounds of agrochemicals. 

In the film A Year in Burgundy, the legendary Burgundy vintner Lalou Bize-Leroy says of her winery's conversion from conventional to organic farming, "We cut out all the cides—herbicides, fungicide, pesticide—which sound like homicide."

That is the foundation of organic farming. 

The state of California collects data on pesticide use which state health officials provide an online mapping tool to share the data.

(Growers in other states and countries typically use the same chemicals but are not required to report them.)

Vineyards certified by either the federal organic program or Demeter's biodynamic standards never use these toxic, synthetic chemicals.

Wine industry led sustainability programs permit the use of these chemicals.

Most wine grape growers use herbicides, that kill weeds; the vast majority also use fungicides to try to prevent mildew.

The problem is that both 


 • Herbicide use reduces mycorrhizal fungi 53% according to a recent vineyard study. These fungi contribute to plant health and grape flavors.

Organic wine grape growers protect their vines 

Herbicide | Glufosinate-Ammonium

The herbicide glufosinate-ammonium is a deadly neurotoxin. 

217,588 pounds of glufosinate-ammonium were used on 267,290 acres of wine grapes in 2017 

• Click on the second map above to see where glufosinate ammonum is used on wine grapes


Herbicides | Glyphosate & Other Carcinogens

• 603,901 pounds of glyphosate used on 364,428 acres of wine grape vines in California in 2017

• Click on the first map above to see where carcinogens, mainly glyphosate, are used on wine grapes. 

• Glyphosate is the listed active ingredient in many commonly used herbicides, the most well known brand is Roundup.

• In addition, scientists testing Roundup formulations find that it is far more toxic than glyphosate alone. Recent testing shows it contains heavy metals as well as arsenic.

• Glyphosate was declared a probable carcinogen by the UN's top cancer risk science panel in 2015

• Repeated spraying has been found to increase the risk of getting non-Hodgkin lymphoma by 41%

• Glyphosate levels in humans have risen 500% in 23 years, primarily from diet and are a risk factor for liver diseases

Fungicide-Insecticide Cocktails | Imidacloprid

• Some commonly used fungicide products combine fungicides with insecticides called neonicotinoids.

• Neonics are bird and bee toxins.

79,818 pounds of imidacloprid (a neonicotinoid) used on 258,653 acres of wine grapes in California in 2017

• After herbicides, the most commonly applied chemicals in conventional and sustainable vineyards are fungicides. 

• Though the most common way neonics reach bees is through seed coatings (mainly planted in the Midwest), they kill birds and bees wherever they are used. 

Bee advocates have sued the EPA over its failure to restrict neonic use.

• Click on the third map above to see where all neonics (including imidacloprid) are used on wine grapes. 

Fungicides | Boscalid

 58,632 pounds of boscalid used on 238,810 acres of wine grape vines in California in 2017

• Boscalid is one of the culprits named in "Insectageddon"—the term that means the annihilation of insects—and is a bee and bird toxin

• Research shows that Boscalid is commonly found in estuaries where it kills algae.

• Click on the fourth map above to see where boscalid, a fungicide, is used on wine grapes. 

Neurotoxins, Developmental & Reproductive Toxins

48,417 pounds of chlorpyrifos (a deadly neurotoxin now banned in California) were used on 26,340 acres of wine grapes (before the ban) in 2017 

• Scientists have been trying to ban chlorpyrifos 

Epidemiological studies released in 2009 show rural Californians drinking private well water in Tulare, Fresno and Kern counties had an 82% increased chance of getting Parkinson's due to chlorpyrifos being used in their areas

• Click on the fifth map above to see where chlorpyrifos is used on wine grapes. 

Other vineyard chemicals, classified as developmental and reproductive toxins, are also widely used.

• Click on the sixth map above to see where developmental and reproductive toxins, are used on wine grapes.