Sustainable winemaking

The movement of sustainable winemaking began some 20 years ago when a few bold New World wineries like New Zealand’s Millton Vineyards started the then-novel organic experiment. 20 years later, we see New World regions like New Zealand taking on bolder targets – converting 20 percent of their vineyards to organic by 2020.(Read their Press Releasehere.) The Old World shows its competitive edge as Bordeaux first growths go organic in 2011.



Pioneering in quality control and environmental friendliness, the Despagne family belongs to one of the younger Bordeaux families. Owning five wine estates in Bordeaux, these winemakers have been among the first to adopt sustainable winemaking practicesby etting certified with ISO 9001 (quality control) and ISO 14001 (environmental friendliness) certification. Thibault Despagne, winemaker and owner of Despagne wines, shares his first-hand organic experiencewith Asian Palate.



AP: Asian Palate  TD: Thibault Despagne



AP: So we heard that instead of using chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, you replace it with cow faeces. Has it proven to becost-efficient



TD: We do it by reducing the amount of spraying and use only natural copper-sulphur products which is harmless to the environment. One way of doing so is stimulate the vine by using a corrected formula of assimilating nutrition to boost the immunity of our vines against endemic diseases and parasitic attacks. And this is one of themethode cousinie.



Cow dung or quartz are used on specific days (fruit days or roots day) and in homeopathic dosage in order to extend the soil capacities to develop the elements which will contribute to help the vine defend itself.Instead of using herbicides, we go back to the traditional method of ploughing the grass, thus allowing the roots of the vines to penetrate deeper in the soil. This way, the vines are less affected by superficial rains.Growing vineyards organically requires high disponibility; the timing and speed of the intervention is a key factor to the health of the vineyards. So there is a lot of pressure from April to August where basically the whole vineyard team is on the lookout 7 days a week ready to come in at any time.



AP: You plant vines in rather intensively  in your vineyards (at 10,000 vines per hectare) Is this practice along the line of sustainable winemaking?



TD: Bordeaux is a cool, tempered climate region where wines are produced very naturaly: without irrigation, added acids or sugar. In some vintages ripening the grapes can be a challenge, therfore high density plantation and low yields per vines combined with leaf plucking is essential for producing top quality fruit. Vines carrying small amount of fruit and conduced in a “transparent way” are clearly less subject to diseases and therefore much more sustainable. Our best Girolate vineyards are planted 10 000 vines per hectares and produce between 4 to 8 clusters per vine.



AP: You have mentioned that you were educated in a New World winemaking practices? Where was that? How has that influence you way of making Despagne wines?



TD: I learned wine making in the new world (Chile, New Zealand, Australia, California, in) very fascinating areas with a lot of open minded  and dynamic people.  Very different from Bordeaux where first traces of vineyards date back to 3 century before christ!!!! Château Haut Brion was already bottling it’s wine under the estate name back in the 1750’s, so there is a lot of history in Bordeaux, but I still think it is one of the most dynamic, forward thinking and ever changing wine region of the world…which makes it fabulously interesting to follow.



I love the forward fruit in the new world wines, and what we are trying to do in our estates of Bordeaux is to make natural,  ripe, generous , terroir driven wines. I love white wines and absolutely adore the wines produced in Wachau Austria, very pure, intense unoaked fruit which you can only get from long ripening seasons, warm days and cool nights. They are a model for me. As for the red, I am fortunate to live just a few minutes away from some of the most talented wine grower in the world (Ausone, Angelus) so I look up to them and closely follow how they manage their vines.



AP: Bordeaux first-classed growths Chateaux Guiraud and Pontet Canet have certified themselves organic in January 2011 and it seemsthat more Bordeaux wineries will follow suit. How would you maintain your edge as a sustainable winemaker? 



TD: The future of winemaking is all about exploring biodiversity concepts which include creating ponds, planting hedges and hosting beehives to generate a more diversified and sustainable ecosystem in our vineyards. I expect wineries to have a more global outlook on their environmental impact. And that would include contemplations on how to reduce carbon footprint holistically. Some examples are recycling tractor oils, using less water and electricity, etc. ISO 14001 certification, of which Despagne Wines obtained in 2004, lays down a very good system of rules and guidelines in address of the above issues.Despagne Wines will be exploring more sustainable practices in the future and that includes collecting and drying vine canes from pruning for heating purposes. New buildings will also be constructed in energy-efficient way.



AP: Will Despagne wines explore other directions for breakthrough in the future?



TD: Europe will remain our number 1 market but we also set our eyes in Asia. China is obviously exciting, and as the market matures, there will be greater demands for wines delivering excellent value to the consumers (just like it has been happening in Japan for the last 20 years). The success of Bordeaux’s Grand Cru wines getting very high prices leaves exciting perspectives for our wines. Château Mont Perat and Girolate are already getting big and the rest of our wines show big potential. I will personally spend a lot more time collaborating with our distributors, doing tastings, seminars and dinners to introduce our wines. I love coming to Asia so it will be a pleasure spending more time here in the future.



© Photo from Thibault Despagne