Riverford Wicked Leeks

Wine, Soil, Mistakes & Learning

Last week on my way to our French farm, I accompanied my brother to a wine fair featuring producers who use a minimum of additives, particularly sulphites. Non-organic winemakers often liberally use this hangover-inducing preservative to stabilise their products. Having sniffed, swilled and mostly spat our way round, we met a Spanish winemaker who added no sulphites at all. His wine seemed wonderful, so I asked how he achieved what non-organic winemakers say is impossible. When pushed, he conceded his wine occasionally went wrong, but he embraced these mistakes as part of his learning; they helped him to develop his understanding of how to make excellent, unadulterated wine. I also sensed that he relished the challenge; it was what he was put on this planet to do.

I travelled on to our French farm, where we have grown some fine crops of lettuce, cabbage, kohlrabi and parsley, but it has also been a frustrating season and we have made mistakes under pressure. It has been challenging back home too; we were unable to plant through the relentlessly wet and cold April, so the lettuce, chard, spinach, courgettes and beetroot will be delayed until mid June. As a result, we’re having to import more veg than we would like, making it harder to control the quality.

On the French farm, chemicals seem tempting. Pushed on with artificial fertiliser, the soil compaction and leaching might not have shown in the carrots; with fungicide seed treatment the waterlogged sweetcorn might have survived; with herbicides the poor growth in the carrots and leeks would not have let the weeds dominate. With a chemical arsenal I might have felt great mastery, but it would also avoid me contemplating how foolish it was to ignore the advice of Didier (who has farmed this land for 40 years) not to crop the heavy, poorly drained land so early. I would be ignorant, arrogant and perhaps rich; a bit like some chemical farmers, food processors and a few bankers, but I would never appreciate the joy and ultimate satisfaction of a sustainable partnership with my soil. But the most disturbing and ultimately dangerous aspect of the control afforded by short term fixes like added sulphites in wine, ammonium nitrates on cabbages, GM and most food additives, is that they hide our mistakes for long enough to prevent us from learning from them.

Guy Watson

bank holiday deliveries

We’ll be delivering as normal over the upcoming bank holidays. So look out for your delivery on your normal day.