Château Giscours, a wine estate using agroecology
on 14/03/2022
Château Giscours, a wine estate using agroecology

Agroecology is a connected approach to agriculture and the environment, where vines and winegrowing are treated as an ecosystem in their own right. In recent years, Giscours has been working increasingly hard to protect its biotope and rejuvenate biodiversity across all of its land.

Biological study of the vineyard ecosystem

For a long time, wine estates tended to grow their vines in an isolated, mechanical fashion. Only chemical and physical fertility were taken into account. Fortunately, these practices have since changed, and vines are now examined within the context of their environment as a whole. We are interested in soils’ biological fertility and in the biodiversity of vineyard ecosystems.

Château Giscours is particularly interested in this care and attention paid to ecosystem biology.
We have not used any herbicides, insecticides or products harmful to our winegrowers’ health on our land for ten years. We have replaced them with mating disruption, a biological method designed to impair the reproduction process for harmful species in order to reduce their numbers in the vineyard.

We have not used any herbicide products at Giscours for many years. We perform machine weeding, which we are seeking to reduce. We nurture the soil: in other words, we seek to have a positive impact on all aspects of its fertility. We want to improve the soil’s biodiversity and humus levels’, as Jérôme Poisson, General Manager at Château Giscours, explains.

Plant cover: a sustainable, tailored solution to preserve the terroir.

Giscours is taking things even further with plant cover. The first tests were begun a few years ago, and the technical teams were quickly convinced of its benefits. The estate has now decided to launch an ambitious three-year plan.

Rather than constantly fighting the weeds springing up in vineyard plots that have not been treated with herbicides, the solution is instead to colonise these areas with carefully selected seeds. We are therefore sowing grains such as oats and barley between the rows of vines. Some land is also being left fallow with seeds such as rye, vetch and clover. This affects 80 of the total 160 hectares. The estate is currently conducting tests in three different terroirs, covering an area of approximately six hectares. The aim is to try different seeds and identify which are best suited to the Giscours soils. This is tailored work that takes time and careful monitoring.

We have selected tailored seed mixes to ensure the best fit for our terroir. We are testing them on various different terroir plots to identify which work the best. We are adapting and learning as time passes, whilst constantly remaining attentive to the vines’, Jérôme Poisson explains.

These grains and other plants offer significant benefits for the vines. They make up a significant portion of the healthy plant matter and thin roots that will supply the soil with organic materials. Some grains such as rye and oats have an allelopathic effect: their roots produce substances that inhibit weed development in the same area. Filling these spaces between rows with plants also prevents rain splash as they cushion and absorb water droplets during bad weather, thus also slowing the development of fungal diseases such as downy mildew among the vines.

Agroecology is also about incorporating plants hosting biodiversity that competes with pests into vineyards, thus preventing harmful insects from colonising and destroying the vines. Furthermore, this plant cover improves the ground’s load bearing capacity and reduces erosion. Areas between rows are no longer damaged by tractors, and it is easier to move about amid the vines in bad weather.

Biodiversity is a core concern at Giscours

As well as its vines, Giscours also has a vast ecosystem home to various rare species: forests, grassland, alluvial plains, marshland, hedges, rivers and lakes. The teams have been focusing on protecting and encouraging the development of this biodiversity for many years.

Since 2020, nearly 800 metres of hedgerows have been planted alongside some plots of vines. These hedges offer excellent shelter for numerous species. Hundreds of nesting boxes have also been installed in and next to plots to house bats and titmice, two major insect eaters. This is a natural way of getting rid of pests.

At Giscours, we are committed to enhancing this rich ecosystem that has been entrusted to our care. In addition, part of our huge forest is a certified Natura 2000 site. Giscours park and the wetlands on the estate are home to species of community interest and threatened species’, Giscours’s Director Alexander van Beek explains.

Furthermore, working in partnership with the Conservatoire des Races d’Aquitaine, Giscours has hosted Bordelais cattle in its meadows since 2012 and Landes ewes since 2019, two species that were endangered in the 1960s. The two breeds are now no longer under threat but still help to maintain and stimulate the land, an approach known as ecopastoralism.

Château Giscours is seeking to protect the various natural habitats on its estate to provide a welcoming environment conducive to a high level of biodiversity.

Giscours Animals

Nature has pride of place at Giscours

These agroecological practices are combined with further activities that affect all the winemaking activities. The technical teams working among the vines are of course heavily invested in this approach, but so are the company’s other departments.
Wine tourism is a useful tool for raising awareness on the estate: it is an excellent way of presenting this ecosystem to visitors and wine enthusiasts.

We are increasingly seeking to incorporate Giscours park into tours, following a tasting. Visitors to Giscours, whether connoisseurs or simple wine fans, are now very interested in environmental issues. They come here to learn more about the wine and enjoy an experience in the midst of nature. We are very proud of this incredible ecosystem’, explains Marc Verpaalen, head of the wine tourism service.

Short transport routes are hugely important at Giscours – almost everything that is consumed here comes from the estate. Head chef Benjamin Laurent works with produce from the Giscours vegetable garden. Similarly, the beef and lamb enjoyed at La Table de Giscours comes from the chateau’s meadows. The aim of this is to promote local, responsible consumption whilst also reducing waste.

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