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The LEAF Marque is now on Bordeaux wines

Bordeaux négociant Yvon Mau has introduced the first LEAF Marque wines into the UK. Felicity Murray reports

In the UK, the LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) Marque is an identity given to farmed produce to reassure consumers that the food and drink they are buying has been produced in an environmentally and socially responsible way.

It is a certified method of farming based on the principles of Integrated Farm Management, which takes an intelligent and practical approach to balancing environmental ideals, embracing the whole farm or estate, with the hard economic facts of the commercial world.

For example, unlike with organic farming, the LEAF regulations allow the use of chemicals but only as a last resort and, should they be necessary after all natural preventative methods have failed, there are complex environmental, health and safety regulations to be followed.
It takes time to convert to this method of sustainable wine growing (mainly for nature to adapt and recover its balance) plus considerable initial investment. Every action and every treatment also needs to be meticulously measured and documented.

A number of vineyards in France are committed to following the French version of IFM, called Agriculture Raisonné, so it was not such a great leap for three AC Bordeaux châteaux in the Entre-Deux-Mers – Château Lavison, Château Haut Grand Champ and Château Chillac – to comply with the UK’s slightly more stringent LEAF programme.

But what benefits are these three certified châteaux now seeing from following these strict farming methods?

As contracted producers for Yvon Mau, part of the Spanish group Freixenet, they work under the guidance of Yvon Mau’s soil and vine expert and the outcome, so far show is showing positive benefits for the producer, the workers, the wine and the environment.

Chateau Lavison’s records reveal it did not need to use any anti-botrytis treatments in 2007 against two in 1999, and copper treatments have been reduced by 30-50 per cent (2.1 and 1.5 kg/ha in 2006 and 2005 respectively, compared to 3.0 kg/ha in 1999).  There has also been a 40 per cent reduction in the amount of weedkiller used.

The château also reports that 98 per cent of all farming waste and empty packaging is now recovered and recycled, and oils and diesel no longer leak into the soil.

Consequently there is a more diverse and balanced ecosystem in the vineyard as witnessed by the reappearance of ladybirds and other insects that prey on parasites of the vine.

Chateau Chillac has concluded that through the use of natural compost, less toxic and more varied treatments, and the accurate matching of the fertilisation programme to the needs of each parcel, it’s objective to ensure the health of the vines and to guarantee their physiological balance without excessive vigour has paid off. The result has been a 35 per cent reduction in the number of treatments in the vineyard.

It has also found that by keeping accurate records that follow each parcel through all treatments in the vineyard, cellar operations and bottling, the contents of any bottle of wine is totally traceable within 24 hours.
In addition, to reduce emissions, 6ha of sunflowers and colza have been planted on the property, which a local co-operative is processing into pure vegetable oil. The resulting biofuel is expected to reduce tractor emissions by 80 per cent.

One of the requirements of the LEAF scheme is to have a secure storeroom for chemicals plus a dedicated space for preparing treatments and washing spraying equipment to reduce risks to the environment and employees.
Having created these, Chateau Haut-Grand-Champ is now able to claim that all water used for washing equipment is recovered and treated resulting in clean, safe spraying equipment and no water effluent leaves the property without being treated first. This also means that no untreated waste water or chemicals is infiltrated into the soil.

The LEAF objective to maximise the health of the grapes whilst reducing treatments to a minimum and to only use products with the least environmental impact have for Chateau Haut-Grand-Champ resulted in a 30 per cent reduction in the number of tractor passages through the vineyard, a 40 per cent reduction in the volume of the treatments used and 65 per cent less energy used to chill the must (through harvesting at night when the grapes are cold in order to reduce the energy used to chill the must).
The investment in time and equipment in order to comply with the rules of the LEAF project by these vineyards, according to Yvon Mau, has indeed paid off in terms of the improved health of the vineyards, improved safety for employees and a healthier environment.

Written by Felicity Murray and first published in Drinks International, September 2008.

1 September 2008 - Felicity Murray