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There are many reasons why Château Fourcas Hosten was nominated for, and subsequently won, the Best of Wine Tourism Gold award for Sustainable Wine Tourism practises. The underlying reason is the ambition of the owners to put sustainability at the very heart of the property, not just in the vines but also in the buildings and the people - and it is this human factor that the team is keen to share with visitors to this 18th century estate.
Renaud and Laurent Momméja purchased the property during the harvest in 2006, introducing sustainable agricultural methods in 2007. Following a close examination of the soils across the vineyard, they started implementing a long-term vision of restructuring the property in 2011 with a planned completion date of 2024.
The 47 ha of the vineyard are divided into two parts, each with a distinctive terroir. The first is made up of plots of Pyrenean gravel, on the Fourcas plateau, known as the rooftop of Medoc at 45m above sea level. It is this area that gave its name to the property. It is here the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are planted with a little Petit Verdot added into the blend since 2016. The second terroir of clay and limestone is found around the chateau and is dominated by Merlot. The red vineyard is now in conversion to organic agriculture, with 70% already worked under organic principles, using herbal infusions to treat vine diseases. 12ha are currently uprooted and planted with oats and barley that will be ploughed back in as green fertiliser. Planting hedges has encouraged bio diversity and next spring will see the installation of nesting boxes.
Researching the history of the property, the Momméja brothers read about the excellence of the white wines from the property in the past. Although the Listrac appellation can only be used for red wines, soil analysis showed that a plot of clay and limestone close to the Chateau would be particularly suited to white. So, in 2011 they took a leap of faith, planted white vines and started producing dry white Bordeaux from 2014. Wine-maker Caroline Artaud made white wine during her time in the Graves at Château Raoul and Château Lagarde so is the perfect person to move this white project forward. Replanting with white vines was the perfect opportunity to farm the new plots organically from the very beginning.
Fourcas Hosten vinification plant (Credit J.P. Lamarque)
Sustainability is not limited to the vineyard. There is a beautiful rose garden, watered from a rainwater reservoir, and three hectares of classified park and woodland surrounding the 18th century chateau, dominated by an impressive 250-year-old Lebanese Cyprus that gives its name to the second label of the property: Les Cèdres d'Hosten. This classification meant that they were not allowed to build any new buildings close to the château, so when they renovated the existing cellars in 2010, also dating from the 18th century, new buildings were built in a long line along the road.
This preservation of the traditional architecture and the park and gardens had already won them The Best of Architecture and Landscape Award in 2014, so they are no strangers to awards for wine tourism. The new cellars use natural materials such as poplar wood ceilings to increase insulation and LED lights to reduce electricity use. The choice of cement and oak tanks over stainless steel for fermentation is also energy saving during temperature control as well as imparting elegance to the wine.
Ageing cellar - Credit: Vinexia
It's not just the wines that are elegant; the new cellars are at once functional and beautiful which shows that sustainability, technology and design can go hand in hand. A separate vat is used to ferment each of the 36 plots across the vineyard, all identified thanks to the soil analysis. After fermentation these vats are blended to create the wines before ageing for 12 months in French oak for the first wine and mainly cement tanks for Les Cèdres. They love technology here. Alongside traditional methods, optical selection of grapes was introduced in 2015 and co-inoculation is used for red fermentation, a technique that not only protects the wine but also again reduces the electricity bill.
They are having fun with the white wine production experimenting with different barrel size for fermentation and ageing. Red or white, each vintage is an experiment, an opportunity to improve on the previous year.
This comprehensive push towards sustainability has been the motivation behind their membership of SME, a collaborative initiative organised by the Bordeaux Wine Council. This allows producers to work together towards their sustainability goals and certification sharing the costs of improvements, consultants and even grouping together to get better deals on supplies. They joined in 2011 with the stated objective of reducing the environmental impact of all their operations and were certified in 2013.
So what is the sustainability message that they share with the visitors? Their philosophy is at the heart of the visits, the 800-1000 visitors that cross the threshold every year learn not just about history and wine making but how this SME (Système de Management Environnemental or Environmental Management System) works as well as the other sustainable initiatives. It's animal, vegetable and mineral: vegetable makes sense, it's agriculture after all - mineral is all about the soil, and animal? Well it's human - every employee is trained in sustainability, not just in the field and cellar but also in the offices - right down to recycling habits. Passion and personal engagement is a philosophy they are happy to share with visitors over a glass of wine.
A post by Wendy Narby, Insider Tasting, Bordeaux