Sustainability, Adaptation and Oenotourism Evolve in Bordeaux #Winophiles

The French #Winophiles group of wine writers and bloggers start 2021 with the theme “What’s new in Bordeaux”. Jeff from the blog Food Wine Click! is our host and spearheads our Twitter chat January 17 at 11am ET, 17:00 CET. I touch upon three areas that continue to evolve here: Sustainability, Adaptation and Oenotourism. Please see below for other group member articles on this topic.

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Bordeaux is about making wine, but in recent years this has meant other things as well, like modifying vineyard practices to adapt to climate change and putting more emphasis on enotourism, including chateau visits, dining, and lodging.

Bordeaux is also about the environment. Concerns have grown in more recent years and some wineries and vignerons (vine growers) saw changing their practices was necessary and jumped right in. Being a historic region, with a lot of tradition, it took others more convincing, and in some cases the next generation stepped in to make those changes. Given the climate- maritime with more humidity – and the risk of losing part or all of a vintage, reducing, or eliminating chemical usage is a tough choice and requires a new mindset. In fact, many vignerons and winery owners in Bordeaux are now working towards the entire region becoming engaged in some type of environmental certification (whether organic, biodynamic, high environmental value (HVE/Haute Valeur Environnementale, or others) by 2030, a goal established by the CIVB wine trade association.

All these items are not necessarily new- they’ve been building, evolving and sparking new ideas for several years.

Charivari Wines Nea Burgland Mark Gowdy

Nea Berglund, winemaker at Charivari Wines and Chateau Carsin chats with Mark about what she is doing in her organic Merlot vineyard. Nea now runs the family estate. This year she’s adding fruit trees and expanding the garden, turning the estate into an organic destination farm. For more information about Nea, find links to articles at the bottom of this post.

Take oenotourism for example. In the past, access to many chateaux was a privileged, private affair. Developing the infrastructure to accommodate tourist visits and allowing them to experience the chateaux was not necessary. That’s just the way it was. Now, the next generation of Bordeaux wineries and those buying vineyards in the region see tourism and total winery sustainability, not just environmental, key for the success of Bordeaux and its 7,000 or so properties.

In a series of CIVB webinars, and conversations with winery owners and consultants last year, I gained a better understanding of what’s going on in this region. Below I will touch on some of these items.

Sustainability

This is one word that covers a lot of topics! It tends to focus on agriculture with non-chemical items to combat predators and creating an ecosystem of biodiversity on a given piece of land key. But it’s much bigger including corporate responsibility: how a given winery’s actions effect not just the environment but society as well. For example, use of local and/or eco materials, use of solar and other forms of energy, and reuse of water. And the economic impacts of actions on employees and the surrounding community: things like paying fair wages, education opportunities and supporting local businesses through various activities.

Agricultural items include planting hedges and trees in and around vineyards, and grasses and cover crops which attract bugs and insects and serve as a sort of reservoir for them increasing area biodiversity. Creating a habitat for bats is gaining momentum as they eat unwanted moths and insects who can spread disease in the vineyards. And of course, minimizing, or eliminating the use of chemicals.

“A joint project by the French Bird Protection League (LPO), the CIVB, INRA Bordeaux and Elyomis, is assessing just how efficient these bats are and how to encourage these natural assistants.

They developed an online bat observatory, an app and a geo-location system and the CIVB is releasing a technical notebook for wineries with practical tips for improving the animals’ habitat.” Wendy Narby, Insider Tasting

Wendy has a fascinating article on this topic.

Climate Change

We know wine regions around the world are warming up. While some grape varieties will actually benefit, it’s been known Merlot and Ugni Blanc (aka Vermentino / Rolle) are already beginning to suffer in Bordeaux.

And as suggested by Professor Greg Jones, one of the world’s leading viticultural climate scientists, wine regions around the world may need to consider changing varieties they grow to those better adapted to future climate conditions.

Much research along those lines is taking place at the Institut des Science de la Vigne et du Vin (ISVV), which is a partnership between the University of Bordeaux, Bordeaux Science Agro, and the French National Institute for Agriculture, Food, and the Environmental Research (INRAE), along with many other agencies and contributing entities. It is a multidisciplinary higher education, research and development center specializing in enological and viticultural issues. You can find it at the larger Grande Ferrande campus of INRAE in Villenave d’Ornon just south of Bordeaux.

bordeaux sunrise

Sunrise over the Vitadapt experimental vineyard on a chilly January morning. You can’t see the vineyard but I could not resist taking a photo of this spectacular morning!

One of many research projects at ISVV is the Vitadapt experimental vineyard. It’s a roughly one-acre vineyard planted in 2009 with 52 varieties laid out in a way that allows for a proper comparison of how various vine traits respond to the changing climate conditions experienced each year. Two important traits studied are how the different varieties regulate their water use in response to drought stress and how vine phenology (i.e. the timing of budburst, flowering, véraison, ripening) are affected by changing temperatures. Preliminary results from the studies provided data for the recent decision by the INAO to allow planting new varieties in the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superiore AOCs. This allows growers and winemakers the opportunity to experiment as they adapt to a changing climate: Red varieties include Arinarnoa, Castets, Marselan, and Touriga Nacional, and white varieties Alvarinho, Liliorila, and Petit Manseng. These grapes do well in warmer areas.

The Vitadapt vineyard is the brain child of Kees van Leeuwen, and the extensive sampling program each year since 2012 has been run by Agnes Destrac-Irvine, both at ISVV.  My husband Mark is also doing his PhD in this vineyard studying the drought stress response of the now 50 varieties.

Mark collecting data in the Vitadapt vineyard before harvest last year.

Oenotourism

Each year we live in Bordeaux something new pops up. For instance, the Garden of Scents and Eifel designed greenhouse tour at Chateau de Reignac in Entre-Deux-Mers; you learn about many uncommon herb and flower aromas found in wine on a gorgeous, down-to-earth property. Or the impressive restaurant and hotel at Chateau Lafaurie-Payrageuy in Sauternes with their display of Lalique crystal pieces, both traditional and modern. Chateau Beychevelle completed a renovation that includes a charming hotel and a variety of dining experiences in a luxury setting at La Table de Beycheville in Saint-Julien (Medoc). It’s truly a destination unto itself.

Being a cyclist, the electric bike tour at Chateau Marquis de Terme in Margaux, which includes a tasting of wine and local food products, is perfect on a sunny day. If you prefer less exercise, flying over the vineyards with Chateau Venus is an alternative in Graves.

If all you want is the wine tasting component, Margaux properties now work together ensuring a winery is open seven days a week to accept visitors. And in Cru Bourgeois, a variety of properties are open every day of the year- these are chateau in eight appellations on the ‘left bank’ Medoc region.

Truthfully, there’s something for everyone and every price point.

Bordeaux certainly has, and continues to make positive changes and new discoveries in sustainability, oenotourism and viticultural research. 

~ The French Winophiles talk what’s new in Bordeaux ~

Look for us chatting on Twitter January 17th at 11am ET, 18:00 CET with hashtag #winophiles. Can’t make it? No worries, we have you covered! Dive into these information packed articles at your leisure.

Sources and Information:

20 thoughts on “Sustainability, Adaptation and Oenotourism Evolve in Bordeaux #Winophiles

  1. Camilla M. Mann

    What a great piece, Lynn. Thanks for sharing. I am definitely fascinated by the sustainability in vineyards. I just didn’t have a lot of luck finding a wine to fit the topic. Looking forward to learning more from the group this weekend.

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      I enjoyed your article too Camilla, thought your wine was just fine! Part of the challenge is finding the info. Many wineries, especially smaller ones don’t have the online line presence.

      Reply
  2. Allison Wallace

    I remember you two telling us about the Vitadapt project when we met…what a fascinating study and clearly impactful given its data has influenced the decision to allow other varieties to be planted. Glad to see they’re open to evolving and adapting to the challenges facing the industry, especially in a country known to be so strict with their traditions!

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      I could write another whole article on what Mark is doing, there is so much more to it. Evolving and adapting are key to the region now. Thanks for stopping by Allison!

      Reply
  3. susannah gold

    Lynn –
    What an engaging and informational piece. It’s fascinating what vintners and growers do to combat climate change and all the experimentation that takes place. It’s also so important that the concept of sustainability be extended to the realm of the community and people, water management, air quality and the like. I envy all those places you and Mark get to visit on a daily basis and would be interested in an article on his fascinating research. Kudos to you both. Susannah

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Thanks Susannah! I hear about new things happening here all the time and am grateful Mark is in the middle of fascinating research with several experts in the field. A follow up article about his research is forthcoming.

      Reply
  4. Linda Whipple, CSW

    The bat project and your husband’s environmental research are so encouraging. I was unaware how much Bordeaux is changing. Lucky that you’re able to see for yourself from the seat of your bike!

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      I didn’t realize just how huge the bat project was until I began researching for this article. I’m thankful to be here and in such a bike-friendly community!

      Reply
  5. Jeff Burrows

    Wow, you found everything that’s new in Bordeaux! I’m curious about how drought stress can even happen in Bordeaux’s maritime climate. Is it because the vines are accustomed to regular rain?

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Summers tend to be relatively dry here in spite of the maritime climate. And particularly in gravely soils with low water holding capacity, the vines can easily deplete stored soil water mid-way through the growing season. It’s not uncommon for vines to experience significant water stress in Bordeaux by the mid-to-end of August into September… remembering that there is no supplemental irrigation.

      Reply
  6. Lauren

    Such an informative and engaging post! I became fascinated with the changes happening in Bordeaux during the webinars hosted by the Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux last year. You’ve taken all that a step further, adding your personal experience to the mix. I love the idea of a Garden of Scents. The world needs more things like that.

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Thanks Lauren, I appreciate that. The garden of scents- Reignac is just 20 minutes from Bordeaux and the most open, down-to-earth place with gorgeous wines. I’d love to take you when you get here!

      Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      It’s very cool Nicole, the science is so interesting. I would have never guessed I’d be learning about grape vine leave transpiration.

      Reply
  7. Lisa Denning

    It’s so great to see how the wine producers of Bordeaux are starting to take sustainability so seriously. It’s scary to think what would be in the future without these new innovations. Thanks for the great, informative article!

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      It certainly is on both accounts Lisa. I’m thankful for science in general now. Wouldn’t it be great if saving our planet was kicked into high gear like finding a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2?!?

      Reply
  8. Tammy

    These are such exciting things! I visited Bordeaux in 2016 and only one of the wineries I visited, Sociando-Mallet, was organic. The winery tour was fantastic. I would love to hear more about all of this from you. When we can safely move again, we want to come back to Bordeaux.

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      You certainly visited a nice winery Tammy. I do hope to write more and will let you know. And please let me know when you make it back to Bordeaux. Mark and I would love to meet you and take you for a glass of wine!

      Reply

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