Feature

A French Vineyard Made of Hemp

By Carolina Jenison

A French Vineyard Made of Hemp

Someone from the Family Feud just knocked on your door and wants you to participate in a survey. Here is the question: a four-letter word associated with cannabis that starts with “W.” We all know what the popular answer would be, but thanks to Château Maris in southern France, “wine” is now a legitimate answer as well.

Robert Eden, the Brit behind the French vineyard, has built what the company calls the world’s first hemp cellar. The winemaker wanted to build a facility that would lead the industry in sustainability, and after eight years of planning and research, Château Maris put a new twist on the term green-friendly. Eden looked into natural building materials like stone and earth, but he ultimately built the 9,000-square-foot complex primarily using organic hemp straw made into bricks.

Puff, puff, pass, meet swirl, smell, sip.

 

What are the benefits of using hemp-straw bricks? For starters, they capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from their surroundings—an estimated 97 pounds of CO2 per square meter—and the carbon-capture process for these particular bricks could last until 2040. Furthermore, the rapid growth of hemp roots helps reduce soil erosion, and they do not require pesticides or fertilizers. Hemp is a good insulator that helps the facility naturally maintain consistent temperature and humidity levels without the use of fossil fuel-powered air conditioners or heaters. Last July, The New York Times published a feature on a similar stateside product called hempcrete that the paper described as flexible, airtight yet breathable, impervious to mold and pests, fireproof and free from toxins. Moreover, hemp is grown, not mined or manufactured, which itself is a huge plus for environmental sustainability. 

In places like Europe, people use hemp fibers to produce rope and clothing, seeds to make hemp oil or add to foods, and the leaves for manufacturing paper. While the fiber comes from the outer stalk, the material for hemp straw comes from the durable interior of sativa plants, essentially making it a byproduct from traditional uses. To make the bricks, lime and water are added to the straw causing it to grow progressively harder. The straw is then molded into sturdy yet light bricks that are easier to transport. So as not to waste, the parts of the plant not used for the bricks are marketed for oils.

Eden took over Château Maris in 1997 with Kevin Parker of Sustainable Insight Capital Management, an New York-based firm that invests in green energy enterprises. Among its other green initiatives, Maris collects rainwater, recycles its gray water, planted local vegetation on its soil-topped roof and has an on-site wind farm that ensures the cellar leaves no carbon footprint. Likewise, nearly all of the wine is bottled in ECOVA Ultra-Light 100 percent recycled glass.

Château Maris produces varietals and blends from Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Grenache Gris grapes and utilizes natural yeasts found in the vineyard. All of the wine is aged at least one year in oak barrels and bottled unfiltered, and several of the vintages scored 90 points or higher in leading publications like Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate.

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