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Sustainability focus: Bordeaux

Sustainable Wine making Bordeaux

This blog might well be for the real enthusiasts as it is based off my research essay I submitted for my Diploma qualification recently. So, all I have to say is, good luck! But, in all truth, this topic is very prevalent in the wine world and gives a real insight into changing vineyard and winemaking practices.

Environmental impacts are fast becoming a key concern for consumer and producer alike as the effects of climate change have increased over the past few decades, if you couldn’t tell (how many storms the last few months?!). Wineries and wine regions across the world are some of the best businesses out there for environmentally charged practice. In Bordeaux, the region has taken up the mantle to champion these issues with their wine body, the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB), challenging all Bordeaux wineries to have some form of environmental certification by 2030. To give you an idea of how key this issue is, many of the great Chateaux have taken this issue seriously (Latour, Chateau Margaux, Pontet-Canet and d’Yquem to name a few).

The three main environmental certifications in Bordeaux are biodynamic, organic agriculture and HVE, meaning high environmental value. Biodynamic practice is essentially about building on the overall health of the vineyard and vine, promoting polyculture and so on. Organic centres on the replacement of synthetic treatments for natural ones such as sulphur and copper, as in the ‘Bordeaux mixture’, and natural pesticides. HVE seeks biodiversity conservation, plant protection strategy, managed fertilizer use and water resource management. Perhaps not wildly thrilling, but certainly important.

How are they achieving these?

One particularly interesting change, especially for Bordeaux, is grape variety changes to combat the changing growing conditions. Some wineries have started replanting older varieties that had fallen out of favour due to previous difficulty to grow or fashionability. Petit Verdot is the biggest winner here with plantings increasing by 191% between 2000-2018! This was taken one step further when 6 new varieties were approved, including Spanish and Portuguese varieties such as Touriga Nacional (in port) and Albariño.

Biodiversity is a major trend at the moment too. One of the most common ways this is achieved is through introducing and encouraging many animal/insect species into the vineyard. For example, bats are excellent in naturally regulating vine pests reducing/removing the need for chemical use. Château Fourcas Hosten and Château de La Dauphine use cattle in their vineyards whose movement and manure will improve soil health as well as naturally regulating weeds. Many have found that shifting from vine monoculture is also important for biodiversity. A number of vineyards have wild meadows now.

Sustainable Wine BDX

It is not just in the vineyard but also changes in the winery that are important. Wineries require vast amounts of electricity and water for cooling and cleaning tanks and the most obvious way to make energy consumption more environmental is through renewable sources. Château Meyney has installed solar panels and now uses electric tractors, where the end goal is to go entirely off grid’ via solely renewable energy. Château Livran has a waste-water management system which creates compost which can then be reused in the vineyard. Even small changes such as Château Dauzac using extra-smooth vats so less water is required to clean them makes a long term difference.

Of course, with the vast wealth behind some of Bordeaux’s Chateau, you’d expect cutting edge tech to be at the forefront too. Drones can be used for ‘heat mapping’, which highlights the warmest areas in the vineyard and enables wineries to target their watering, fertilisation and irrigation. Ultimately, more efficiency, less waste. Drones can even pinpoint early signs of disease to help keep potentially harmful treatment to a minimum. Another technological tool at their disposal are weather stations, and you don’t even need super advanced ones. These will allow wineries to work with the climate and be more engaged with it rather than reactive. Some can even determine wind speed and direction which can be used to determine the effectiveness of a pesticide spray, reducing over spraying. Technical stuff.

What are the challenges to going green?

The key challenge is cost and investment. Smaller wineries will struggle to convert their practices as they lack the workforce, training and ability to invest in these. It is true that organic wines cost more to buy, but that is to offset these extra costs. It is even worse given the current world economic climate where certain raw materials have shot up in price due to a certain war, as have energy bills.

Bordeaux does provide help for these smaller wineries, however. The Système de Management Environnemental helps properties work together and share knowledge, experience, and training. Sustainable BDX wine growingMoreover, recently the French government has offered money for growers to grub their vines up which, for these smaller growers where the intensely competitive market has led to their wine becoming unprofitable, should help remove some of this monoculture and less environmentally friendly wineries.

What impact will climate change have on Bordeaux wines?

There is genuine belief that Bordeaux will lose control of the aromatic profile of their wines if no action is taken. The ever more extreme weather will ruin the profile of the grapes and damage what makes Bordeaux, Bordeaux. As evidence of the benefit of environmental practice, Hélène Genin at Latour has discerned a more delicate, floral note in the aromatic complexity since going officially organic but with uncertified biodynamic practices too. Indeed, Alain Moueix of Grand Cru Classé Château Fonroque and Château Mazeyres finds the wines have developed a greater individuality and speak better of the place, the vintage and the winemaker. These are positive signs for the future of Bordeaux and show that those from the top Chateaux believe sustainable winemaking to improve the wine.

So, if you are still unsure about organic, biodynamic and the other “ic’s”, Bordeaux might be a good place to start. A region which genuinely cares about its environmental impact and is really playing its part and paving the way for others regions to follow their example.

Show me Sustainable Wines! >
by David Andrews, 29th January 2024

David Andrews, DipWSET

David Andrews, DipWSET

David brings great enthusiasm to the wine industry, starting with Majestic Wine in 2019 and now joining us at Winesdirect in 2023. He has completed his WSET Diploma qualification and looking forward to share his expert knowledge and tidbits of the wine world.

As an industry enthusiast and expert, David also writes a regular blog on instagram. Check it out here @oinosattheoikos

Read more articles by: David Andrews

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