In November 2022, Languedoc’s Château Maris received the Robert Parker Green Emblem, one of only 40 wineries worldwide to earn the distinction for “efforts far beyond the requirements for organic and biodynamic certification.”
It’s no accident but a capstone to the winery’s “exceptional” sustainability efforts. In 2002, Château Maris co-owner and winemaker Robert Eden converted the estate to biodynamics, and in 2016, earned Europe’s first B Corp winery and vineyard certification.
Equal parts visionary, maverick, and bawdy prankster, this British-born, snowy-bearded force of nature strives to reduce Château Maris’ carbon footprint in many ways.
“As Jane Goodall says, ‘Every single person can make a difference every single day,’ — that’s what we try to do. And that’s what we try to communicate,” says Eden.
Here are five ways Château Maris is reducing its carbon footprint:
1) Beginning with Biodynamics
Established in 1997, Château Maris sprawls over 45 hectares (~111 acres) in the Languedoc region of southwestern France. Gently sloping, south-facing plots bookmark between a vast, gnarly national park to the north and the Pyrenees Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. Here, astounding biodiversity abounds.
Unfortunately, Eden inherited dead soils on the site. This lack of soil vitality negatively impacted the wines. Determined to improve soil health, Eden embraced biodynamics. Based upon the teachings of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, biodynamic farming follows celestial cycles. It uses natural applications like cow manure, silica and herbal teas to create healthy soils and plants.
“The biodynamic practice is based on a live method of culture,” says Eden. “This live method of culture, if you follow it correctly, increases organic matter in your soil. Suppose you increase organic matter in your soil. In that case, you store more carbon, you have a better system for your plants to grow in, and your plants become more resilient and therefore capable of living much better with these climate difficulties that we’re having.”
Château Maris earned Ecocert® certification in 2002, Biodyvin in 2004, and Demeter in 2008. Maris also plants cover crops between vines, hedges, fruit, and other trees around the vineyard and practices low or no-till farming.
Ongoing soil analysis identifies different types of bacteria in the vineyard and their ability to break down various mineral components in the soil. They also verify the capacity of mycorrhizal fungi on the root systems to assimilate those minerals. “We are seeing, in some cases, double what is going on around us with regards to the active organic matter in our soil,” says Eden. “That means we’re storing double the amount of carbon.”
2) Biodegradable Hemp Building
Encouraged by the vineyard’s rejuvenation, Eden turned next to the winery, a concrete and metal structure renovated in the village of La Livinière. “We got a spanking new facility up and running,” recalls Eden, “And it didn’t match with the biodynamic practices that we were practicing in the vineyards. I didn’t really feel good bringing the grapes into such a winery.”
Eden eventually discovered a French design devised of hemp lime brick with wooden structural supports. “It seemed logical that we should be looking for some way to construct a building which would have its origin in plants,” he said.
It took Eden five years to build the grass-roofed, double-walled structure from molded hemp bricks sourced from the Toulouse area, an active lime mix, and molasses-based fixer. The double walls maintain a constant inside temperature, thus precluding the use of air conditioners, thereby reducing energy consumption and CO2 emissions.
“It’s a huge carbon sink because the hemp plant itself has consumed carbon during its lifetime,” says Eden. “The wood comes from certified forests, which have also consumed carbon during their lifetime. It’s a completely 100% plant-based building. The whole building could be recycled. There’s no conductive energy going about, [so] it’s a completely neutral space as well.”
3) Accumulated Awareness
Eden credits what he calls “accumulated awareness” for further carbon footprint reductions. For example, the winery recycles all estate water for biodynamic treatments, including ‘clean’ rainwater. Dirty water from washing machinery like tractors and sprayers filters naturally through a reed bed for future re-use.
A cellar solar panel pergola doubles as both front porch protection and an energy source. “The whole cellar itself produces actually more energy than it consumes,” says Eden. “Look, you’re bringing in all sorts of different applications – [like] changing from a tractor to a quad bike to do the spraying, and seeing the harmony of production in that vineyard, as opposed to what it was when we were using a tractor.”
4) Grain de Sail
To reduce transport CO2 emissions, Maris partners with Grain de Sail, a sailing cargo vessel based in Brittany. The custom-designed, insulated 100-foot schooner carries up to 10,000 bottles of wine from France to New York harbor twice a year, with plans for bigger ships in 2023.
“We send a lot of wine to the east coast of the US,” explains Eden. “This particular sailboat is wonderful – it picks up pharmaceuticals in New York from a foundation, then sails down to Haiti, drops off those, picks up coffee and chocolate [from the Dominican Republic], and sails back to France.”
Eden estimates using the sailing vessel has reduced the winery’s transport emissions by “at least 11 times” during the four voyages they’ve undertaken since 2021. Each shipment contains 1,200 bottles of Maris ‘Naive’ sulfur-free, biodynamic Grenache, which retails for $35. Ultimately, Eden hopes to use the sailing ship for all Maris wines transported to the US east coast by 2030.
5) B Corp Certification
Eden credits a personal desire for establishing Château Maris as Europe’s first B Corp winery in 2016. “I was looking for a certification process that helped me reconnect with the human part of our activity,” admits Eden. “And reconnecting with the human part of our activity also helped me reconnect with the community side.”
B Corp Certification ensures that a business meets verified performance, transparency, and accountability standards in its environmental, business and social practices.
Environmental and business practices pivot around mindful stewardship. Social practices ensure employees a livable wage, greater quality of life, and a supportive community.
“It’s an amazing, amazing certification process,” Eden says. “One of the beauties is that it encourages you permanently to get better, to progress. And that’s quite rare.”
To that end, Maris adjusted its mindset. They introduced more community-centric activities, like baking birthday cakes for one another and cleaning up old tires along the road together. They also involved the surrounding village. Since 2020, Maris operates a bistro in La Livinière, helmed by renowned London chef Tristram Bowden. Since its inception, Grand Café Occitan serves Maris wines and locally-sourced fare to locals and workers alike.
“You just connect with people in a much more profound, much more personal way, and that helps you have a much better, much more rewarding experience working with each other,” confesses Eden. “If you don’t have community or social interaction, there’s always something tripping you up. Therefore, your work is too heavy. It’s got to be a joyous flow!”