Bordeaux Through the Lens of Sustainability
- By Laura Williamson MS
- 22 Dec 2020
- 7 MIN
- Level 201
Across Bordeaux, sustainability is the topic on everyone’s mind. A fast-track push and plan that began quietly 20 years ago has now morphed into an emblematic, standard-setting approach.
Bordeaux’s goal is to achieve 100% sustainable vineyard coverage. Today more than 65% of the vineyard area has a certified environmental approach, up from 35% in 2014.
In addition, eight Bordeaux AOPs covering 80% of the region voted unanimously in 2017 to adapt their INAO rules to include environmental measures that will become legal requirements by 2030. These appellations were the first in France to adopt such measures.
The Blueprint for Success
The Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB) works in partnership with winegrowers, negoçiants, and cooperatives to drive this movement. Bordeaux may not have been first to the table with a sustainability approach, but as a large region, the engine can take a while to start. But once started, momentum gathered with speed and Bordeaux’s commitment to sustainability took firm hold.
Through its collective EMS (Environmental Management System) and specific technical and educational programs, the CIVB helps the industry get started and work together, which is at the heart of the approach. This is not a one-off or a short-term initiative. The CIVB has dedicated €1.2 m per year to sustainability R&D. Research measures cover a range of initiatives including:
- Climate change adaptive practices
- Preserving biodiversity
- Reducing pesticide use
- Social cohesion (Good Neighbor Charter)
- Reducing carbon footprints
- Expanding the Environmental Management Systems (EMS)
Each measure deserves a closer look but let’s focus on the approach and practices concerning the first two: climate change adaptive practices and biodiversity.
Climate Change Adaptive Practices
The CIVB currently has 30+ research initiatives looking at climate change: examining, anticipating, mitigating, and adapting.
Adaptive Practices: Water stress is a critical climate change factor facing growers today. This stems from rising temperatures acting as a precursor to dehydration.
Adaptive practices to help offset this include:
- Delaying pruning (helps to push back ripening)
- Choosing later-ripening rootstock and grapes more resistant to water stress
- Minimizing leaf removal to help shield grapes
- Beginning harvest earlier (20 days) and picking at night when cooler
- Reducing plant density (decreasing water needs)
Adaptive Plant Material: This includes a number of new initiatives such as:
- Authorizing new non-competing grapes (later-ripening and fungal-resistant)
- Increasing plantings of permitted grapes that ripen later (Petit Verdot)
- Massal selection (ensures best DNA and quality of reproductive vine material)
Biodiversity is the gateway to sustainability. It takes a holistic view across the entire acreage and ecosystem. Nature’s three tools to encourage biodiversity are:
- Soil: Biodiversity encourages revitalizing and enlivening soil through carbon increase (soils are one of the largest known carbon sinks)
- Flora and fauna: Adding forests, hedges, shrubs, and flowers yields a safe harbour for insects, birds, and bats, creating a complex interdependent web of life
- Insects and animals: Insects are the stars of the food chain. Spiders are predators for aphids and leafhoppers. Beehives foster permanent pollinator populations. Birds help to devour insects. Bats (23 species) feast on moths at night. Snakes eat unwanted root-harming mammals
- Restoring wild game in 3,000 m of forest corridor in order to diversify the animal population
Additional biodiversity practices across Bordeaux include 85% grass coverage of all plots and sheep use as a substitute for mowing, delaying full mowing until harvest, further protecting microorganisms.
Each winegrower has his own set of initiatives. Below are just two examples to illustrate the breadth of practices and holistic approach.
Organic production at Château Coutet, Saint-Émilion:
- The estate has never used chemical treatments (there are only 58 châteaux in this category)
- Horses replaced all tractors in 2015
- The installation of bat houses and nesting boxes, as well as the trees required for these
- The management of the spider population to eat leafhoppers
- The protection of habitat for snakes
- Animals and solar-powered robots manage grass height (reducing the need for copper treatment)
- The installation of beehives and insect hotels
- The propagation of wild tulips left by the Romans
- Agroforestry (trees and hedges protect against spraying from neighbouring properties)
Certified organic and biodynamic practices of Château Smith Haut Lafitte, Pessac Léognan:
- No chemical treatments
- The recovery of rainwater, and recycling of wastewater
- The production of in-house compost (since 1997)
- The installation of bat and insect houses
- The planting of forests, hedges, and trees to offset CO2
- Vines are being propagated from their own vine nursery (with scions from their own Massal Selections and rootstocks)
- The mulching of vines (rather than burning) to boost soil nutrients
- The reintroduction of horses (this started some 20+ years ago)
- The practice of phytotherapy (using plants grown on the estate to aid in vineyard defence)
- The recycling of CO2 produced during fermentation into sodium bicarbonate
This introduction of practices linked to Bordeaux’s advancement in sustainability is merely a cursory overview.
A more complete layout of all Bordeaux has in motion can be found here.