Castel Châteaux & Grands Crus, responsible by nature.
Cédric Pla, Technical Director, details the environmental commitments undertaken at our Family Estates.
From Bordeaux to the Loire Valley, from Languedoc to Provence, the Castel family are winemakers as well as négociants. The family owns and runs 20 properties*, representing a total of 1100 hectares of vineyard in France. Working across four major winegrowing regions requires significant capacity for adaptation, taking into account local specificities. Whatever the terroir, each with its own unique character, climate and ecosystem, the Castel Family Estates share the same eco-responsible commitments and the same passion for quality.
Subject to constant improvement through testing and innovation, this long-held commitment is a matter of dedication for the Castel family, as much as a means of getting the best out of the terroir, protecting the people who work in the vines, respecting the needs of the consumer. From the 2019 vintage, as tangible proof of this dedication, each and every Family Property holds an environmental certification. Clos des Orfeuilles is certified organic, Château de Haut Coulon has begun the organic conversion process, and the remaining properties are certified Terra Vitis. Exclusive to the wine sector, the Terra Vitis certification is built on the principles of sustainable agriculture, taking into account both people and the environment.
As Technical Director for the Castel Family Estates, Cédric Pla, in collaboration with the dedicated team of property managers, makes sure that the innovative environmental practices put in place run as smoothly as possible. In the vines and the winery, his job is to coordinate the different teams and provide technical supervision, running task-forces where necessary to ensure that expertise is shared cohesively. “The Castel Family Estates are fortunate to have a team of experienced, passionate winegrowers, all of whom are totally invested in the future of the properties they manage,” explains Cédric Pla. This “eco-pragmatic” approach, written into the very DNA of the Castel Family Estates goes hand in hand with Castel Châteaux & Grands Crus’ activity as négociants, “with a number of our partner Grands Crus also committed to sustainable winegrowing.”
A hybrid logic
"Our strategy is not simply to meet the specifications of our various environmental certifications. Instead, our role is to seek out the best possible techniques to produce grapes of the highest possible quality, in sufficient quantities, all while limiting our environmental impact as much as possible,” explains Cédric Pla. In accordance with this hybrid logic, located somewhere between sustainable and organic winegrowing, always with a long term approach to vineyard management, treatment programmes for each property are decided at the beginning of each year. Built on the principle of continual improvement in terms both of reducing input and optimising vine treatment, tests are carried out on a continual basis. Requiring considerable levels of investment, in terms of both time and expertise, this eco-responsible approach would not be possible if the teams involved were not fully invested in the project.
Ecological soil management
Going hand in hand with this philosophy, the Family Estates have initiated a major evolution on the subject of soil tillage, enabling major reductions in inputs. By its very nature, this technical evolution has required heavy investment in machinery. The material acquired over the last few years has enabled the Family Estates to adapt to variations in soil-types and occasionally unpredictable meteorological conditions.
"We have been testing different machinery for three years now. We are making progress every day, developing our expertise, learning how best to use the tools at our disposal, especially the way they respond to different soil types. We are getting more and more precise as time goes on,” claims Cédric Pla. “This has allowed us to gradually increase the surface area of soil we can till manually. In order to minimise greenhouse gases emissions when the vines are treated and when we till the soil, we are currently testing a self-driving straddle tractor, which we will probably purchase, in order to take care of pre-mapped plots.” The tractor will begin at Château Montlabert and Château du Lort.
In addition to the expansion of mechanical soil tilling, the Castel Family Estates have also put a stop to chemical fertilisers, in favour of purely organic products. At Château Cavalier, AOC Côtes de Provence, natural compost is used, made from sheep and horse manure mixed with straw given to us by a nearby stable. Once fermented, the compost enables to property to fertilise the soil with safe, stable, reliable and reliable organic matter.
Taking advantage of nature’s rich potential, organic fertilisers will be tested this year at Château Montlabert, Château Haut Coulon and Château de Goëlane. “Green manure crops will serve a number of purposes depending on the type of crops, including capturing atmospheric nitrogen and returning it to the soil, improving the soil structure, etc.” The overall aim: “much more vigorous soil life in plots with grass and crop cover”.
At virtually all of the Family Estates, insecticides have been abandoned in favour of sexual confusion, by which pheromones similar to those given off by female butterflies are released in selected plots of vines. Disorientated, the males are thus unable to locate the females. Pairing and reproduction do not take place, combatting the grape worms that can cause the onset of botryitis (grey rot).
Capturing copper residue
Taking environmental innovation one step further, the Castel Family Estates team is constantly searching for ways to reduce the impact of copper-based treatments, which are known to stay in the soil without decomposing, and which represent a major obstacle to the development of organic winemaking in Bordeaux. “Starting this summer, we will be using mapping technology, measuring residues in order to establish a full picture of the copper pollution present in our soils. We will then be able to reduce copper levels by planting a specific cover crop, designed to absorb existing residues, and keep them stable as we move forward. Eventually will pull up these plants, purifying the soil.”
Focus on biodiversity
Convinced that a living vineyard is only possible in the context of the wider ecosystem, the Castel family has presided over the planting of 3.5km of hedgerows. “These hedgerows offer a number of advantages: providing homes for flora and fauna, acting as a barrier for neighbours during treatments, but also, from a purely aesthetic point of view, beautifying the landscape,” lists Cédric Pla. The first hedges were planted in Bordeaux at Château Ferrande, Château du Lort, Château Malbec, Château Latour Camblanes and Château du Bousquet. Further hedgerow planting is planned for the near future. “This is only the beginning, the plan is to carry on planting on a large scale,” assures Cédric Pla.
In addition to hedgerows, and with the same objective of allowing flora and fauna to thrive in the vineyard, 4 hectares at Château Tour Prignac have been converted to wildflower meadows. A major tree planting project is also well under way, adding 5 new hectares to the woodland already in place on the lands that border the commune of Lesparre. With the same goal of creating a coherent ecosystem, Château Cavalier has installed a number of “insect hotels”, while Domaine de la Clapière in Languedoc possesses 30 hectares of forests and olive groves, enabling plant and animal life to flourish. Meanwhile, Château Montlabert in Saint Emilion remains one of the few properties in the appellation to have conserved the oak-lined path that leads through the vines to the château. The English-style gardens, replanted with specially selected trees, are a veritable haven for biodiversity.
In order to ensure the effectiveness of the measures put in place, the team at Château du Lort has carried out a somewhat surprising test, which is set to be repeated at other estates. Pairs of cotton briefs, buried in the soil for a period of time, are subsequently dug up, with a high level of decomposition indicating healthy soil life. “It worked perfectly,” exclaims Cédric Pla, “the decomposition we observed was excellent!”
Economic water management
Winegrowing being by its very nature a thirsty business, water management is a fundamental consideration when taking a more responsible approach. As far as the Family Estates are concerned, the question of irrigation is relevant only at Château Cavalier and Domaine de la Clapière, where it is used only sparingly. In Provence, “to avoid tapping into the local drinking water supply, we use a system of dams, providing us with our own rainwater reservoirs”, claims Cédric Pla. In addition to their primary function, these reservoirs, in combination with wildlife refuges installed for insects and predators, provide ideal conditions for biodiversity, attracting migrating birds. “We have also installed tensiometric probes at different locations in the vineyard in order to calculate the soils’ aridity levels, allowing us to begin irrigation only in cases of strict necessity,” adds Cédric Pla.
Regarding the treatment of waste water (effluents), “the châteaux do not all have their own on-site facilities, but they all send their waste water to local plants to deal with effluents from the winery.” For example, in Bordeaux, Château d’Arcins and Château du Lort both have their own facilities with Lort also dealing with effluents from nearby Château Malbec, Château de Haut-Coulon and Château Ferrande.
Putting environmental impact at the heart of architectural and technological decisions
The brand new ecologically state of the art winery, recently constructed at Château Montlabert, is the latest environmental innovation worth following closely. The new facilities, designed by architect Olivier Chadebost, allow for outstanding energy and ecological performance.
The electricity consumed per hectolitre of wine produced is 60% less than that of a conventional winery, making Montlabert the first winery with an energy impact measured by PUE (power usage effectiveness) that is close to 1, thanks to its data center technology. In addition, the winemaking facility is designed as a pressure cascade system. This technique, inspired by the aeraulic systems used in operating rooms, naturally protects the winery’s most sensitive areas, most notably the barrel cellar. Bioclimatic inputs have enabled a further reduction in energy consumption by burying the barrel cellar in clay soil, turning them into perfect thermic conductors. From a depth of one metre, the soil maintains a natural temperature of 15°C.
This latest innovation represents not only an major step forward, but also embodies the overall environmental approach taken by the Family Estates, founded on the principles of analysis, evaluation, and constant improvement.