Into Wine: New Book by Olivier Magny Explores Terroirism, Soil Health and More

This is a guest post by French sommelier Olivier Magny, author of the new book, Into Wine: An Invitation to Pleasure

When you like wine, and start to learn more about it, you quickly realize that the soil makes a difference. Studying how vineyards were farmed has helped me grasp that the importance of the soil actually goes far beyond wine, and that the implications of mistreating it are also much more far-reaching that we think.

Under the combined effects of chemical pesticides, chemical fertilizers, deep plowing and tractors, we’ve managed to eradicate most of the life of our soils. Even though it may come across as unchanged on the surface, the truth is that for the most part, our soil has now turned to dirt.

After a few decades of mining our soils instead of farming them, we have destroyed them[1]. Messing with the soil is a gigantic mistake—and Nature has already started to get back at us for it.

Six unsuspected effects of pesticides

1) Floods:
Have you ever wondered why even though we live in such a dry era, we have so many floods? It doesn’t seem to make sense. Well, to understand this, you must know that when it rains, most of the water is absorbed by the soil[2], while the rest streams away. But what happens in places where the soil is dead is that the soil is not able to fulfill its absorption function properly. Consequently, most of the rainwater ends up streaming away. Mechanically, in case of heavy rain, rivers overflow and towns get flooded.

Interestingly enough, we relentlessly blame the rain!!

2) Desertification:
After intoxicating our soils, they end up infertile. In the world today, we destroy 25 million acres of farmland every year (plus another 12 million that we build upon).[3] Every single minute that goes by, 47 acres of soil are abandoned. That is 463 times the size of Manhattan each year[4].

3) Destruction of rural life:
In Western countries, farmers took the bait of mechanization and chemicals; this led them to substantial debt levels[5], while food prices kept going down[6]. In a matter of years, most were financially asphyxiated and went out of business. In poorer nations, a similar system was introduced. Small farmers can no longer feed their family or their community. They are forced to give up their ancestral lifestyle only to grow the populations of one of the many slums of the world. Other option for them is death: in India over the past decade, 200,000 farmers committed suicide. That is one every 30 minutes, every single day, for ten years. It is a silent genocide.

(I know, this is a really jolly part of the book – but stick with me: solutions are coming. We can’t just simply turn a blind eye to all this).

4) Famine:
In the world today, over one billion people are suffering from hunger.[7] Yup, B again.

5) Pollution of rivers and groundwater:
With the worm population dying massively, their activity is now left vastly undone. So the elements that worms usually bring back up to the surface like nitrogen or phosphates are no longer brought up to the surface. Consequently, we end up finding them in our groundwater and rivers.

6) Hurricanes:
In order to compensate for the millions of acres of farmland we lose each year, we deforest millions of acres in places like Brazil, Cambodia or Nigeria. One immediate consequence there is a dramatic increase in temperature.

Anyone who has ever taken a stroll in the woods on a sunny afternoon knows how much cooler temperature in the woods is compared to temperature out in the open. Well, multiply this by several million acres and you end up with a sudden and significant hike in temperatures around the equator. In the meantime, temperatures around the poles don’t go up as fast. Can you hear the wind blowing already?

If you combine all these elements, very few of us can say that they have not been affected, directly or through a friend or a family member, by these issues.

Realizing that the way the treat our soil is responsible for all these tragedies, I now think twice before calling them “natural” phenomena.

Ed. note: You can find Into Wine: An Invitation to Pleasure on Here is a video trailer introducing Into Wine:


[1] In places where the farmer can still afford fertilizers, plants still come out of it, in others, the land is simply abandoned.

[2] That’s (also) what the soil does.

[3] Each year, according to IFEN (Institut Français de l’Environnement), France loses 150,000 acres of soil every year, with 90% of these to the detriment of farmland. In 2011, France destroyed over 400 acres of land a day.

[4] This being amplified by irrigation. In drier regions, farmers  no longer stick to growing plants and raising animals that are adapted to their terroir, and as such, economical with water. For them, irrigation has become a necessity: rainwater is no longer enough. Problem is, the water used to irrigate is generally taken from groundwater. But as opposed to rainwater, groundwater contains salts. By irrigating, farmers salinize their soil and thus slowly kill it.

[5] Tractors don’t come in cheap

[6] Due to overproduction

[7] “In 2009, the number of people suffering from hunger in the world went up 105 million compared to 2008, and the numbers are over one billion now.” - Jacques Diouf,  – Director of the FAO  (UN’s food and agriculture organization) – April 2010.