A French court on Monday fined a Burgundy winemaker 500 euros for disobeying a government order to use pesticides in his organic vineyard to prevent a bacterial disease caused by a leaf-hopping insect.
The case of Emmanuel Giboulot (pictured), who farms a 10-hectare estate in the region’s Côte d’Or wine-growing area, recently became a “cause célèbre” among environmentalist.
Giboulot risked six months in prison and a fine of up to 30,000 euros ($41,000), but the prosecutor ended up asking for a reduced fine.
Following the hearing on Monday, Giboulot announced he would appeal the fine.
The winemaker also told the press “I don’t feel guilty at all,” and described the situation as “intolerable”.
Giboulot was pursued by a branch of the agriculture ministry for not heeding government policy on regularly treating vines against the “flavescence doree” disease.
There is no cure for the bacterial infection, which can kill young vines and greatly reduce the productivity of more mature ones, but pesticides have been found to stop the spread.
Flavescence doree first appeared in 1949 in France’s southwestern Armagnac region, from where it spread steadily to areas including Cognac, Languedoc, northern and southern Rhone, the Loire Valley and Bordeaux.
Organic farmer stands firm
After the discovery of a significant outbreak of the disease last year in Burgundy’s Beaune region, the local government ordered all vineyard owners in the Cote d’Or area to treat their vineyards with pesticides.
But Giboulout refused to comply, arguing that the order would destroy decades of work to create genuinely organic wine. He said that he is not opposed to treating diseased vines, but likened the blanket pesticide order to recommending chemotherapy to prevent cancer.
Giboulot’s defiance won the backing of leading environmental groups, such as Greenpeace and France’s Green party, and garnered more than 100,000 supporters in a Facebook campaign.
Environmentalists have argued that rather than the blanket use of pesticides, they should monitor the diseases progression, uproot affected vines, and limit the mandatory use of pesticides to the areas under threat.
But local authorities argued that using pesticides is a vital step in saving the region’s vineyards from catastrophe, and that Giboulot’s refusal to comply put his fellow winemakers at risk.