Bertie Eden's aims to produce the world's most environmentally friendly wine but will it taste better for it?

High on a hillside in southern France, the ground has been cleared for a strange and remarkable building. It will resemble an ancient earthwork, as if the landscape of the Languedoc has somehow acquired a new but very old bump. The construction Bertie Eden is planning on his land could not, however, be more modern. It will be, he says, the world's first zero-carbon, self-sufficient, energy-producing, gravity-driven winery.

"There are people making wine in California who put solar panels on their roofs," he says. "Some in Australia have built wineries from straw, and others with an interesting water-collection system or way of treating sewage – but we are putting everything that has been done in one place, which is unique. It will be thermodynamic, which means the building will produce as much energy as it consumes. And we are building it from hemp."

Hemp, as in marijuana? "Hemp as in Cannabis sativa, used in construction since ancient times due to its rapid growth and no need for irrigation, fertiliser or pesticides. Its fibres are mixed in with the limestone in the floor and used as bricks in a wooden frame for the walls. Its carbon footprint will be zero, or better – something not yet achieved elsewhere."

This pioneering project will be the pride and joy of Château Maris, the vineyard where the 45-year-old Englishman makes award-winning wines using biodynamic principles. It will not be open to the general public, but members of the new wine club that the Independent on Sunday has started with Château Maris will be able to visit, taste the wines that have been made from grapes grown in the fields all around it, and enjoy Eden's energising company.

"If you order wine via the Independent on Sunday club," he says, "you can have a full explanatory tour, a tasting, a visit to the vineyards, you can see the horse we use to plough the fields in action, you get to see the biodynamic sprays we use on the vines and eat a typical lunch here at the winery."

The 200,000 bottles of wine Château Maris produces each year are among the finest of their kind, rich and full-bodied. Even for those who are not wine experts, there is something sensual and affecting about tasting them in the landscape of hills and terraces in which the grapes are grown.

When the winery opens next year, those grapes – harvested by hand, at first light – will be brought by ramp to the top of the building, where they will be poured, using gravity, not electrical pumps, into tanks and on into enormous egg-shaped vats for fermentation. On their way they will pass bamboo beds reclaiming used water, and solar panels powering the offices.

Eden is a believer in biodynamics, which sees everything involved in the process of making a bottle as part of the same living system, from the bacteria that lives in the manure that is spread on the vineyard soil to the way the juice is treated. The winery will extend those principles into the parts of the process that have previously been mechanised, industrial and power-hungry.

The biggest challenge in building a winery, where grapes are fermented and the resulting juice turned to wine, is to keep the temperature and climate constant. Usually this means large air-conditioning systems. Not here. "The ceiling will be a metre thick, so it feels as if it's three metres underground. The temperature will be constant. And there will be gentle lights."

Other wineries have had trouble with the materials used to construct their buildings. "For us, there is no pollution from any component that can affect the wine," says Château Maris' general manager, Benjamin Darnault. "In Bordeaux there was a huge problem in the 1990s, as they had been treating their wood with an insecticide. The wine takes everything in."

The construction process has also been designed to be as carbon-light as possible. Plus, says Eden: "The building itself is vegetable. It's neutral. If we change our minds in five years' time, we tear it down and give it all back," says Eden. "The wood can be used for firewood, the hemp bricks mixed and put back on to the fields as compost. The roof will be insulated with hemp and specially cultivated, local, non-water-needing little low herbs and flowers."

As a biodynamic wine producer, Château Maris operates in harmony with the cycles of the planets and the moon. Eden is earthy enough to admit he doesn't know if the pull of the moon, for example, has any effect on the wine in his vats – "it's juice in a tank, not an ocean" – but he says biodynamics gives an intimacy with the land that was not there before.

That is why he asked dowsers to bring their sticks and inspect the proposed site for the winery before the plans were laid. They became excited at the entrance to an old stone building on the hillside that he calls "La Chapelle Visigoth". "Their sticks were moving, so we were on some sort of energy flow, and as we got into the centre of the building, the sticks flew back and hit them. That means we've got a big open connection. The building is right within the flow of the land."

Whether or not you believe all this, the question is whether his methods make any difference to the wine. Eden smiles. "If you live in an environment which is oppressive and aggressive, which has a lot of noise, the wrong form of light, you're a different sort of person than if you live somewhere else." And therefore? "If we produce our wine in an environment that is peaceful, airy, calm, in touch with the environment and creates its own energy, will the wine be better? The process certainly will be, in terms of our responsibility to the earth." He's a visionary. But he is also a wine-maker, who wins medals for his alchemic art. So will it taste any better? "We'll see. But I believe so, yes."

The Independent on Sunday/Château Maris Wine club

How to order

Bertie Eden says: "The Grenache is a dark-cherry colour with a soft plum bouquet. On the palate, fresh violets open into ripe cherry with a silky, satisfying robustness. A very complete wine matching a wide variety of foods."

Terry Durack, Independent on Sunday food writer, says: "There is something very likeable about this wine; it's relaxed and versatile with loads of character, a touch of pepper and a fresh hit of plums and ripe berries. I find it less tannic than the average Minervois, with a softness and naturalness. You could throw this at everything from platters of cured hams, terrines and pâtés, and hard and semi- soft cheeses, right through to grilled lamb cutlets and warm roast-chicken salad."

Château Maris, 2007, Old Vine Grenache

The offer is 12 bottles minimum order at £9.99 a bottle plus £6.95 delivery (total £126.83). UK mainland and over-18s only.

Order by visiting or by telephoning 0800 980 4992. Wine will be dispatched by Vintage Roots Ltd – Specialist Independent Merchant of the Year, Decanter Wine Retailer Awards 2008.

Vintage Roots Ltd, Holdshott Farm, Reading Road, Heckfield, Hook, Hants RG27 0JZ,

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    Day In a Page

    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy