When I was a small child, my great grandfather raised bees on the family vineyard, Domaine de la Bousquette in the South of France. After World War II, everyone began using pesticides on their vines and by the mid 1970s my grandfather, who was a physician, could see the toll that these poisons were taking on the vines, the workers, and the soil. He decided to adopt the then novel approach of using organic growing methods, and by 1980 we were among the very first organic wine growers in France. Banned from our property were chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Each year the local organic association “Nature & Progres” would come and inspect to certify the organic status of our land.
I started the Organic Wine Company in 1980 to bring our high-quality organic French wines to the U.S. and to educate the wine-buying public about the benefits of organic viticulture. I owe a debt of gratitude to the people at the Pesticide Action Network. I first met them at a lecture in San Francisco in 1894, a meeting which is branded in my mind forever. They alerted me to what they called the “Circle of Poison,” wherein companies would employ the use of pesticides that had been banned in the USA due to their known toxicity onto unsuspecting Mexican farmers. They would spray DDT and other such chemicals onto their tomatoes which would in turn be bought by U.S. companies and served on American dinner tables.
Pesticide Action Network is still at it, 40+ years later. I greatly admire their research and outreach, as it is critical to my own efforts as an organic evangelist.
Now, wine grapes are not actually pollinated by honeybees. However, organic viticulture is important to bees. The vineyard partners we work with use various methods of companion planting-providing habitat and forage for bees-and integrated pest management to grow their grapes. My friend Jacques Frelin, former President of the Association of Organic Viticulturists in France, highlights the benefits to bees in this way:
“Organic viticulture is favorable to honeybees because it does not use pesticides, fungicides, insecticides, fumigants, or chemical fertilizers which deplete the soil and cause harm to the whole ecology of the grape growing process. We use compost to create a thriving flora, which in turn attracts honeybees and other beneficial insects.”
Bees are continuing to die off at alarming rates, an pesticide exposure is a key factor. According to ScienceDaily, between April 2019 and April 2020, beekeepers reported losing almost half of their hives, their second worst year on record. Not only is this beyond tragic, but bees are a key signifier of a healthy ecosystem. If we allow them to continue disappearing, it does not bode well for our future.
So what can we do about it? First, we need to continue spreading the word. The more people are aware of this issue, the more likely a solution becomes. We need to pressure lawmakers to enact legislation to protect bees by banning chemicals known to harm them. Eating and drinking organic are among the lowest-impact changes we can make in terms of disrupting our habits, and can make a huge impact on the health of the planet.
If you’re interested in learning more about this issue, or making a donation to Environment California in their effort to save the bees, you can find the page here.