Castel Châteaux & Grands Crus, responsible by nature.

Published 16.07.2020
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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.”

Une logique hybride 

"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.

Natural fertilisers 

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”.

Sexual confusion 

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.