While climate change has thus far had a positive impact on Bordeaux, JANE ANSON asks what producers are doing – if anything – to address the underlying issue of their environmental footprint

The best vintages of Bordeaux may be already behind us.’ This suggestion, from

Richard Smart, Australian viticulture specialist, at the 2008 Climate Change and Wine conference in Barcelona, dramatically highlighted the threat to Bordeaux from the potential temperature rises due over the coming decades. Smart claimed: ‘It is not a question of if temperatures are going to rise, it’s a question of when, and we have to adapt our viticulture practices in readiness.’ He suggested, among other things, planting new grape varieties, adapting vineyard techniques, or moving tocooler, higher areas – something that would not be viable in Bordeaux, where the idea of geographic-specific terroir in eachappellation is firmly welded to the identity of the region. Not everyone is so concerned, however. Consultant Michel Rolland demonstrated as much at the same conference, claiming Bordeaux had benefited enormously from warmer summers in terms of better ripening ofgrapes, giving rounder, softer tannins and more fruit-focused wines.But whatever climate change may mean for the end product, as a traditionally conservative area, it is fair to wonder whether Bordeaux can change as fast as the environment threatens to. And at the other end of the process, in terms of the impact of wine production on the environment, not everyone shares Rolland’s optimism.Bordeaux’s trade marketing body, the CIVB, announced this year that it is undertaking an extensive audit of its carbon footprint. The study, the Bilan Carbon initiative, expects to show the

first results by September, and is being led by climatologist consultant Jean Marc Jancovici. The aim is to examine the carbon impact of winemaking during the growing season, vinification, bottling, packaging and delivery, as well as general electricity consumption in merchants’ offices, cellars and at all points along the production and delivery chain. Laurent Charlier of the CIVB

technical service explains: ‘We intend to find out the carbon emissions for making different styles of wine in different appellations, and at what stages we need to concentrate our efforts tomitigate the emissions.’‘We know we produce 756 million bottles of wine per year, and that 40% of that is exported, but we haven’t brokendown the energy consumption at different production stages. This studyshould give a clear idea of what different methods of production or shipmentmean in terms of environmental cost.’The wine industry may be a smalloffender globally in terms of carbon emissions, but it is also one of the first to show, publicly, its commitment to being accountable. There is always a benefit to being at the forefront, and Bordeaux can perhaps claim the political and moral high ground for its forward-thinking programme (Champagne carried out its ownaudit a few years ago, but Bordeaux is the first of the still-wine ACs in France to step up). But does this project mean anything at a producer level? ‘The problem for many,’ says Jean- Bernard Delmas at Château Montrose,which is leading the way among highprofileproperties in flexing its green

credentials, ‘is that it costs a lot to introducethese things, and many winemakers can’t afford it. Whether installing solar panels, or refitting your cellar with environmentally friendly instruments, there is a huge initial outlay.’ Montrose, which is now owned by Martin and Olivier Bouygues (CEO and deputy CEO, respectively, of the eponymous French manufacturing group), doesn’t suffer from this liquidity problem – the family has an estimated personal fortune of $3.2 billion, according to Forbes. In fact, since its purchase in 2006, it has been quietly pursuing a policy of transforming its cellars and buildings to recycle energy through sun, water and wind power, both to improve insulation and electricity usage, and to increase theefficiency and quality of its winemaking. ‘Martin Bouygues always wanted to be exemplary in terms of the environment, reflecting similar green policies that he has brought in to his construction companies, such as trying to be selfsufficient in energy use,’ adds Delmas, who has worked at Montrose since his retirement from Haut Brion in 2005. ‘At Montrose, we are lucky to have a water source below the château that remains constant at around 14˚C – meaning that it can be used in the cellar to cool things down in the summer, and warm things up in winter.’ It also avoids the overuse of thermo-regulation, and can convert energy, for use when needed.

Daring to be rational

The buildings surrounding Montrose are all being rebuilt for an expected completion date of 2010, and all, according to architect Philippe Mazières, will be self-sufficient, energy-wise. ‘There will eventually be 3,000m2 of solar panels,’ he explained. ‘I worked on a project for Château Clerc Milon last year where we installed solar panels to reduce dependency on electricity, but this is the most ambitious project I have seen in Bordeaux, and will eliminate the need for any outside power for electricity.’ Indeed Delmas expects to be able to sell excess electricity back to the national power company. Montrose may well be the most

advanced in terms of green practices, but it is definitely not alone. As Thibault Despagne of Despagne Family Vineyards wrote on his blog in February: ‘It has

become the number one topic of all newsrooms: the world is discovering how the climate is changing. Temperatures, precipitations, wind, sun; every record testifies [that] the climate is like never before… As a winegrower I don’t have an opinion, but I would point out that we haven’t waited for Al Gore’s movie to try to protect our “green assets”.’ He goes on to detail how, for the past 10

years, the Despagne company, in all of its Entre-deux-Mers châteaux, has initiated many environmental programmes in recycling, waste water management,

energy conservation and biofuel. He also records that there is increased interest in the subject from direct customers, importers and industry. The family sells almost 20% of its production to airlines, which increasingly ask for recycled or recyclable glass, lighter weights and more environmentally friendly initiatives in all the wines they stock onboard. Château Larose Trintaudon, just outside of Pauillac in the Haut-Médoc appellation, has also long pursued a policy of sustainable development, with official ISO certification to prove it. Owner Brice Amouroux says: ‘We were amongthe first, back in 1997, to start thinking

about sustainable development, and we are now considering full carbon

neutrality. For us, it’s not just a fashionable word, but real. There are plenty of

neighbours who say they are doing things, but really aren’t.’ The property has just welcomed 300,000 bees into its vineyards, both to make honey and also negate excessive use of pesticides by keeping out more

harmful pests. For visitors, the environmental focus is part of the tour, as

12 information panels explain the role that sustainable development plays in thevineyards, summed up in the slogan, ‘Dare to be rational’.

Commercial appeal

For everyone who has so far undertaken these changes, one of the key questions is whether they transform into sales. At the lower-to-mid range, Bordeaux has notoriously been undergoing an image crisis in recent years, and there may be a hope that green practices can go some way to countering the idea of the region as old-fashioned, cold and overly corporate. But there seems little evidence of it so far; the best that most report is that ‘going green’ can help build loyaltywith suppliers and consumers, andperhaps give a reason for importers to choose one château over another, but not to increase volumes sold dramatically. That has certainly been the experience for Rémi Lacombe of Vignoble Lacombe in Civrac Médoc. Owner of four vineyards (Châteaux Bessan Ségur, Tour Saint-Vincent, La Gravette Lacombe and La Grange de Bessan), Lacombe was the first vineyard in Bordeaux – in fact in France – to put its claim of carbon neutrality on its label. ‘But I can only dothis with a tiny proportion of my wine,’ he says ‘as the carbon off-setting adds to the price per bottle, and most importers are not prepared to pay the extra. If I tried to go 100% carbon neutral, I would never sell any bottles.’ Lacombe launchedthe project in 2007 amid much press noise, and chose the option of working with ClimatePartner, because, as he explains: ‘I wanted to choose a partner that had international resonance.’

Business decision

His initial audit showed he used 639 tonnes of CO2 a year, equivalent to 1.7kg

for each of his 380,000 bottles of wine. Particular hotspots included consumption

of electricity, fuel, yeasts in vinification and vehicles for work in the vineyard

and transporting wines. ‘Besides the offsetting, I have tried to diminish my

consumption, but have been surprised how much it costs,’ says Lacombe. ‘For example, I had to outlay €30,000(£23,600) just to change to low consumption bulbs, and was disappointedby this outlay for the small results. But I’ve had great results for other thingssuch as managing temperatures in thecellars during vinification, and by anticipating demand. If I have to lower temperatures during fermentation, then I start much earlier to let it lower naturally.’

For every bottle purchased, ClimatePartner offsets the emissions by funding projects around the world, in the same way as one can offset air miles. ‘So far, the carbon neutral label hasn’t brought any strict benefits in terms of commercial sales. I’m not a classified growth, so I had hoped this would give a

different angle for sales. I’ve given it as an option to my distributors. If they want it, I will talk about it; if not, I don’t. It does add quite a bit of money to the cost per bottle, but I see it as another way of talking to consumers – a wine for a cause.’ Back at Montrose, Delmas would no doubt agree with him, up to a point. ‘Everyone is interested in pursuing a green message now – even the five first growths are talking about it. We can no longer live in this world

without trying to look after it. But let’s not get carried away; for Bordeaux, the most important thing always has to be quality. And we mustn’t forget that many

of these issues are highly contradictory for the luxury industry. Packaging, for example, is difficult to make environmentally friendly and with high quality. Naturally, we choose heavier glass for our bottles, and package the wine in wooden boxes. I can’t see that changing. For a start, people still like that feeling

of weight and reassurance that these give. They also genuinely help prolong

the life of the wine, and that still has to be paramount.’ There is also the small matter that Bordeaux wines are exported all over the world, often by air freight, and themajority of the 8,000 producers in the region are more interested in increasing their exports than they are in saving theplanet. But, given that it is one of the world’s most high-profile wine regions, the actions of even a few could bring the importance of green winemaking practices into focus. As Lacombe says: ‘There may not be immediate profits, but it answers a need to change people’s mindsets for the long term.’

Written by Jane Anson