Château Cheval Blanc in nearby Saint-Émilion produces wines that are recognised as amongst the very best in the world.
Mathieu had heard that they had started a project which sounded similar in many ways to his plans for the future of the Grand Mayne estate.
So last Friday, he headed to Saint-Émilion to meet the manager of their agro-ecology project, and Pierre-Olivier Clouet, the technical director.
Organic or not organic?
The original philosophy of Cheval Blanc was that they would convert to organic agriculture, but following intensive studies they decided that organics may not be the best answer from an ecological perspective for their vineyard.
Organic certification is focused on chemical products. It’s a really good start, but it misses other issues such as the carbon footprint, biodiversity, the health of the soil and other aspects of the agri-ecological management of the vineyard.
And whilst stopping the use of synthetic chemical products helps to decrease pollution, the use of some organic alternatives (eg copper) is far from ideal and not always the best response to green ambitions.organic?
What’s the answer?
Sometimes organic is good, sometimes biodynamic, and sometimes just focussing on vineyard health and sustainability is best. The key is to think about what we do and the consequences, and not simply follow a prescribed course of action for certification purposes.
Like us at Grand Mayne, Pierre-Olivier Clouet with his team are bringing this “farmer’s common sense” into all their decision making, helping ensure the biodiversity and the balance of the agro-system.
And in practice…
|They start by sowing ground cover plants (mustard, clover) between the rows of vines to trap carbon and other nutrients, improving soil health for the benefit of the vines.
They also replace in some rows a few vines with trees, bringing shade and protection for the grapes. The trees also provide habitat for birds, whilst the network of roots form a symbiotic benefit for the vine roots. A range of tree species helps the drive for biodiversity: fruit trees such as pear, apple and cherry trees and other species such as basswood and beechwood.
Small ponds and hedgerows add to the variety of wildlife present at the vineyard. And a few sheep, chickens and beehives complete the scene.
They accept that they will lose a little area of vineyard when they grub and replant. But the benefit of enhancing nature’s balance with increased presence of small animals, birds, insects (especially bees) makes it worthwhile.
Traditional intensive vineyards are arguably a form of monoculture. But Chateau Cheval is leading the way, amongst the sea of vines at Saint-Émilion, in how a well-balanced vineyard can be managed, bringing nature back amongst the vines.