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 independent.co.uk/wineclub 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, vintageroots.co.uk

Suggested Topics
Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?