Sustainability initiatives in Bordeaux include a variety of approaches. These efforts must at least preserve, if not restore, the environment and have a positive effect on society. According to the Le Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB, Bordeaux Wine Council), the region began its sustainability efforts 20 years ago. 35% of Bordeaux’s vineyard area were taking a certified environmental approach by 2014, and by 2016 that number increased to 55%. Today, 65% of Bordeaux vineyards hold a sustainability certification.
Climate change, societal demands to reduce pesticide use and water conservation are all issues that have encouraged sustainability initiatives. These initiatives include maintenance or restoration of biodiversity, reduced chemical use, reduced water use, recycling and carbon footprint reduction along with social initiatives that improve worker safety. Sustainability certifications may be reflected on wine bottle labels, though often they are not. The CIVB identifies four product labels that you may see on a wine bottle:
Biodynamic viticulture may be certified by Demeter or Biodyvin. This regenerative farming practice builds on an organic certification, but adds the use of Biodynamic preparations to build soil fertility, and uses the Biodynamic calendar, which takes into account the constellations, planets, moons, eclipses and more, to guide vineyard work. Biodynamic certification is among the most rigorous levels of certification in farming. 61 properties in Bordeaux were certified Biodynamic as of December 2019 according to CIVB.
Agriculture Biologique organic certification means no synthetic chemicals have been used and only natural treatments are allowed in strictly controlled amounts. This rigorous certification takes a minimum of three years to complete and about 13% of Bordeaux vineyards are certified organic.
3. Haute Valeur Environnementale
Haute Valeur Environnementale (High Environmental Value, HVE) covers four key areas of biodiversity conservation, plant protection strategy, management of fertilizer use and management of water. The farm is certified as a whole at one of three levels. If certified at the highest level, the Haute Valeur Environnementale logo may appear on the wine bottle label. According to the CIVB, with more than 1,500 properties certified at the highest level, Bordeaux has the most certified vineyards in France.
4. Terra Vitus
Terra Vitus is a certification specific to vineyards. There are 7,800 hectares (19,274 acres) certified in Bordeaux. Sustainable development in environmental, economic and social areas are required along with obligation of means and continued improvement. Six principles are outlined.
In addition to product labels used in Bordeaux, there are three company certifications.
- Agri Confiance – a sustainability initiatives for cooperatives
- AREA (Agriculture Respectueuse de l’Environnement en Aquitaine) – a regional sustainability certification
- ISO 14001 – outlines specific requirements for an environmental management certification
And, in response to climate change, six new grape varieties have been approved for winemaking in Bordeaux. The four red varieties include Touriga Nacional, Marselan, Castets, Arinarnoa, and the white varieties include Alvarinho and Liliorila.
Recently, I sat in on a discussion that brought the topic of sustainability initiatives in Bordeaux to a personal level. Representatives of three châteaux explained the specific initiatives they employ. Each winery’s approach is unique to its circumstance, but all share a commitment to the land, the vineyards and making quality wine. Three wines were provided as tasting samples to sip as we listened to the discussion.
Château Jean Faure
The transition away from conventional farming methods was prompted by the decision of current owners, Anne and Olivier Decelle, to live on the property. They eliminated the use of pesticides, earned organic certification in 2017 and biodynamic certification in 2020. The Ducelles are only the sixth family to own this historic property in six centuries. Vines have been planted on the property for at least 400 years.
Marie-Laure Latorre, Château Jean Faure general manager, noted that the goals of Ch. Jean Faure include preserving and improving the landscape to leave it to the next generation in better condition. Biodiversity has increased in the plants, wildlife and beneficial insects on the estate. She stressed the importance of soil biodiversity as well, though it is not something you can see, and feels the health of the vines is a reflection of this increased diversity. Healthier vines are the result, and produce grapes with better flavor and smoother tannins in her opinion.
As an aside, the Conseil des Vins de St-Emilion has decided to require a sustainability certification by 2023 for a wine to carry the St-Emilion AOC designation on the bottle.
2018 Château Jean Faure Grand Cru Classé, Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux – medium ruby with aromas of red fruit, earth, dried tobacco leaf and cedar. Red fruit flavors include cherries and raspberries along with blackberries and dried herbs supported by lively acidity. Fine drying tannins linger on the palate along with red fruit and cedar. 13.5% abv. SRP $34.99
There is an energy and tension in this wine from the combination of red fruit flavors and lively acidity that keeps it light and substantial at the same time. The blend is 60% Cabernet Franc,35% Merlot, 5% Malbec.
As an environmental engineer, Luc Planty, Château Guiraud estate manager, is perfectly qualified to manage the château’s sustainability efforts. Ch. Guiraud started on the path to sustainability with biodiversity practices in 1996 and earned organic certification in 2011, making it the first Grand Cru Classé to earn certification. Vineyard practices now include permaculture and biodynamics. As a result soil health and diversity have greatly improved. Sustainability efforts also include seasonal workers to assure their safety, health and adequate living conditions.
2019 Château Guiraud G Bordeaux Blanc Sec, Bordeaux – light golden with generous aromas of guava, passion fruit and cut grass. Layers of flavor include guava, oat hay and lime zest with a salty finish and generous acidity. The wine has nice weight in the mouth and a rich flavor profile. 14% abv. SRP $20
I know and love Ch. Guiraud by way of their Sauternes, which we were introduced to at our local wine shop many years ago, but not through their dry white wines. I’m not surprised how delicious this delightful blend of equal parts of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon is, however. It shows great complexity and richness. Lovely wine.
According to Luc, the wines of Château Guiraud have always been delicious, but since organic certification they more clearly reflect the terroir of Sauternes, and show their soul, as he put it.
Technical director and co-owner, Jean-Christophe Mau, takes a different approach to sustainability and has achieved HVE certification. Biodiversity is encouraged through the planting of hedgerows, cover crops and an orchard that includes a variety of fruit trees. In addition to bees, the farm supports a flower farm. Natural fertilizers are used in the vineyard and only 60% of the property is dedicated to vines. Jean-Christophe believes vineyards are healthier when not grown in a monoculture and that means less intervention in the vineyard is required.
The second focus is to reduce the winery’s carbon footprint in production and packaging — lighter-weight wine bottles cost less to ship and locally-made cardboard shipping boxes (also lighter) have replaced wooden boxes and are recyclable. The Chateau Brown website is very consumer friendly, and is a wealth of information about their sustainability initiatives.
2015 Chateau Brown Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux – medium ruby with generous aromas of plums, blackberries leather and earth. Blackberry and plum flavors are supported by cedar, earth and leather in a medium+ body. Tannins are gauzy but fine. 14% abv. SRP $30
Well balanced with plenty of flavor and acidity, this is just what I hope to taste in a bottle of left-bank Bordeaux. The blend is 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot and priced very attractively. 2015 was an excellent vintage, one of the best since 2005 according to Jean-Christophe. Although he cannot be certain his biodiversity efforts on the estate are reflected in the quality of his wine, he is certain those efforts, along with his efforts to reduce the company’s carbon footprint, make his company a better one.
Thanks to the CIVB for this look at the many approaches to sustainability being taken in Bordeaux and to Gregory + Vine for organizing our tasting.