Uncorked: Winery inventively pursues biodynamic practices

Robert Eden said the vineyard has to suffer to make great wine.

But the process of doing so shouldn’t be laced with decisions that cause suffering around the world. The Chateau Maris owner and winemaker is a passionate disciple of biodynamic practices in his Languedoc, France, vineyards, the country’s first to be certified as a B Corporation, which according to its website, is a business that is “(a) leader in the global movement for an inclusive, equitable and regenerative economy.”

Through a plethora of decisions in the vineyard, cellar and retail environment, Eden has transformed Chateau Maris into a forward-thinking member of the global wine community determined to make a positive lasting impact on the planet.

In a Zoom interview, he started with detailed accounts of what is done in the vineyard, where the sprawling cover crop has drawn in buzzing insects as it has grown high enough to be in need of being rolled down to provide mulch and cover for the soil. It’ll protect against erosion, and help the soil retain humidity – and all around it, buds are starting to break as another growing season has arrived.

“The first basis is the interdependence of all life and living things [creating] a healthy ecosystem,” Eden said. “We don’t want a dominant species; we want a massive amount of species in there interacting and creating a healthy ecosystem.”

They’ll need a three-week dry spell to spray leaves with a stinging nettle tea spray that will keep pests away. A preparation called 500 features a very concentrated cow manure prepared in cow horns, then buried to help stimulate the soil.

In the soil, Eden has plenty of life, bacteria, insects and worms.

“The key to a healthy soil is an active organic matter in the soil,” Eden said. “That then stimulates and relates with the mycorrhizal fungi and allows the plant to assimilate all the nutrients that are around it in the soil. Which provides better-tasting fruit which should go on to make better wine.”

Wines produced in that soil are vibrant and full of life.

The Chateau Maris Rosé 2021 ($14) is a blend of grenache and syrah. It has a floral nose, with cantaloupe and melon flavors. Eden said it was “very delicate, yet powerful at the same time.” His preferred harvest time is when the “fruit is still crunchy.”

Named after the plot from which it comes, Chateau Maris La Touge 2019 ($20) is 70% syrah and 30% grenache. It was the showiest of the wines, and offered instant pleasure. Blackberries, white pepper, fried violets and warm rock flavors emerge.

From a vineyard grown at a higher elevation, Chateau Maris Les Planels 2019 ($26) was more buttoned up, and revealed itself over the next two days. There was anise on the nose, and a meaty, wild game flavor, with feral herbal scrub and cracked pepper notes in the wine.

At 100% syrah, the Chateau Maris Les Amandiers 2016 ($69) represented the finest selection possible at harvest. The essence of the vineyard, which is surrounded by umbrella pines, thyme, lavender and rosemary, shows up as complementary flavors in the bottle, as well.

“That wasn’t the easiest vintage,” Eden said. “It had a lot of sun to it, and the wine is probably starting to be ready to drink. There are some evolved notes of spice and pepper along with the typical syrah flavors of black berry.”

Tasted last was the Chateau Maris Brama 2015 ($44), seemingly out of order as it was a white wine of grenache gris. But the wine, which was fermented in both barrel and concrete eggs, had petrol and resin aromas; there was a zippy citrus note and a Meyer lemon flavor on the finish

Producing in a cellar where the bricks are made of hemp and limestone, Chateau Maris furthers its commitment to sustainability with materials that are 100% renewable and recyclable.

In an effort to further reduce carbon-dioxide emissions, Chateau Maris wines are shipped via sailboat to New York. Because they’ve supported the shipping company, another sailboat that is 11 times larger is in production.

When the boat leaves New York with medical supplies, it drops them off in Haiti. Once in Haiti, it picks up coffee and chocolate to bring back to France.

By 2030, Eden said all their wines sent to the U.S. will be done so via sailboat.

“That really respects biodiversity,” Eden said. “You can’t switch it off and hand it off to someone else – because it’s our responsibility.”

That responsibility led to Observation Days. It’s a process where they can document the work they are doing. Eden doesn’t want the process of being biodynamic to become stale. They’ve got to keep pushing the envelope, further the cause and develop new ideas on how they can increase their sustainability, lessen their carbon footprints and be better stewards of the land.

“We need to progress, we can’t just put ourselves in a box and say we are biodynamic,” Eden said.

• James Nokes has been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Email him at jamesnokes25@yahoo.com.