20 November 2017
Wine-Searcher’s enthusiastic article promoting our organic and innovative technics
One Bordeaux estate is making a feature of its efforts to reduce its environmental footprint.
Prestigious wineries claim their uniqueness comes from their terroir – the location, composition, density, and orientation of the soil in which wise men decided to plant vines centuries ago.
In Bordeaux, the châteaux are all usually – rightfully – claiming that their terroir is unique; that it might have saved the day when the late April frost checked in on this 2017 vintage. But where is the uniqueness when you are trotting out the same lines as your table neighbor at a Union des Grands Crus tasting?
Of course, there are other ways to stand out of the crowd. Many Bordeaux great growths already surf the organic wave and use vine growing and winemaking techniques from pre-machinery ages. You now usually see horses around in en primeur season. The closer to nature the better, and biodynamic books are a great source of inspiration for pleasantly obscure vineyard practices (…).
That is precisely what Château Smith Haut Lafitte, the Pessac-Léognan cru classé, specializes in – using techniques that are beneficial for the vines, the environment and the wine, and differentiating the estate from other grand crus. Just name a technique, they have tested it at least once. How many wineries simultaneously use home-made compost, horse plowing, generate their own electricity and collect rain water, employ satellite and drone imagery, build their own barrels, produce rootstocks (on an island), grow a vine nursery and do massal selection?
One notable innovation on that list is recycling the CO2 released during fermentation into sodium bicarbonate. In short, all the carbon dioxide released during the fermentation of the winery’s second wines is captured above each tank and turned into baking soda (…).
Why would Smith Haut Lafitte produce this compound? It is a proof of concept to show that a winery can lower its impact on the environment through innovation. You won’t find any climate change deniers or skeptics among winemakers, as wineries are utterly dependent on climate vicissitudes, and climate imbalance is changing the geography of the entire wine world. Yet would this innovation significantly benefit the environment?
According to SHL “if Bordeaux recycled the 55,000 tons of CO2 released in the atmosphere during the fermentation of the annual 5.5 million hectoliters of wine the region produces, it would save the equivalent of 150 people travelling back and forth Paris New York every day during one year”. That is quite a number of airplanes.
After four years of improvements, Fabien Teitgen, Smith Haut Lafitte’s technical and managing director, says that “2017 is a good year for bicarbonate. Thanks to our last modifications of the recycling system, we are able to produce and more refined and dry bicarbonate.” The technique works well and has a real impact on the environment. SHL was invited by the United Nations Secretariat on Climate Change to share experience during the Paris COP 21 conference in late 2015.
However, this innovation is not meant to improve the quality of wines. Other techniques do: “We are always aiming at perfection in the making of our barrels. We currently work on sorting staves according to their individual tannic potential. Our cooper then adapts the heat and toast to each barrel based on the staves’ tannic structure. We therefore optimize the quality of our oaks and reach more precision and finesse,” says Teitgen.
Major innovations are implemented at the cellar and cooperage, however, Teitgen’s favorite playground remains the vineyard. “Our last line of viticulture development is phytotherapy. We reduce the usage of copper and sulfur, and strengthen the immune defences of the plant against disruptive elements by implementing plant infusions in vine treatments: horsetail against cryptogamic diseases, valerian against frost, fern as natural insecticide, or healing comfrey to protect pruning wounds.”
Whether it comes from genuine concern for the planet, the will to improve vineyard ecosystem life and wine quality or to differentiate from other grands crus in terms of image, innovations that bring a real although arguably little something to preserving the environment are to be applauded.