A BIO wine-maker on the Côte-d'Or was due in court today, accused of refusing an order to treat his vines against an incurable disease.
Emmanuel Giboulot faces up to six months in prison and a fine of €30,000 if he is found guilty of refusing to protect his vines against the highly contagious flavescence dorée.
The case has sparked a war of words between environmental activists, who want to defend organic farming, and the wine profession which wants to protect its vineyards.
Protesters are set to demonstrate outside the court in Dijon, and online petitions in support of Mr Giboulot have been set up.
The bacterial disease flavescence dorée is spread by the leafhopper insect and has the potential to threaten entire vineyards. An outbreak was discovered in vines around Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy, in 2013.
The prefecture ordered the use of broad-spectrum insecticides to combat the spread of the disease across the whole of the department.
But eco-friendly wine-maker Mr Giboulot refused to treat the 10 acres he operates in Côte de Beaune and Haute-Côte de Nuits.
He would not even use the natural pesticide pyrethrin, claiming that all treatments are against the "biological equilibrium", a fundamental principle of biodynamic farming he has applied since the 1970s.
Head of the Regional Department of Food, Olivier Lapôtre said: “For the treatment to be effective, all vines need to be treated.”
He went on: “Our fears have been well founded, since cases have been found a few kilometres from Beaune.”
According to Denis Thiery, director at the National Institute of Agricultural Research in Bordeaux, Mr Giboulot’s refusal to treat his vines is akin to “refusing to be vaccinated when it is mandatory”.
Supporters of Mr Giboulot insist the prefecture had overstepped its authority, claiming that a government minister alone had the power to implement such an order “in the absence of a genuine emergency”.
In 2003, they said, an outbreak in the region had been effectively controlled with a geographically limited response, rather than by ordering treatment of vineyards across the entire department.
Since the 1980s, two ministerial decrees have ordered that vineyards be treated with a broad-spectrum insecticide to combat the spread of flavescence dorée. Any infected vines must, by law, be uprooted and burned.