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
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Suite dreams: the JW Marriott in Venice
travelChic new hotels in 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
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: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect