Vignobles en diois / Vineyards in diois (pic: Inter Rhone)
France Wine

Rhône Valley, the 2nd biggest French AOC, is going green

Rhône Valley is headstrong on tackling climatic and environmental challenges. Read the article on how France's second largest AOC wine region is transforming its viticulture.

The Rhône Valley is the second AOC wine region in France. It enjoys a moderate continental climate in the northern zone and Mediterranean type in the southern zone, as well as extraordinary soils which allow a large number of grape varieties to be cultivated.

The unique geography of the Rhône Valley vineyards, the typology of its soils as well as unique climatic conditions, make the region a leader towards an ecofriendly culture.

The vineyards of the Rhône Valley are naturally inclined to be respectful of the environment thanks to the resistant and vigorous variety of grapes, to a land accustomed to high heat with hot summers and dry winters, which makes it possible to regulate the water supply and to the Mistral, a wind found in Mediterranean, which helps fight against vineyard diseases and limits the need for intervention. 

Rhone Valley’s sustainability drive

To ensure the sustainability of the vineyard confronting climatic and environmental challenges, winemakers and professionals of the wine industry have made an environmental commitment through a multitude of certifications with the aim of ensuring traceability from vine to glass, saving natural resources, producing healthy wines that respect the balance of nature and to protect biodiversity:

The deployment of a collective “High Environmental Value (HEV)” certification is an accreditation system put in place in 2011 to promote companies whose work is respectful of the environment. This system focuses on three components: a good mastery of environmental regulations, an obligation of means with various requirements to be respected, then an obligation of results with quantified indicators which make it possible to measure environmental performance.

High Environmental Value (HEV) certification is an accreditation system put in place to promote companies whose work is respectful of the environment. (Pic: Inter Rhone)
High Environmental Value (HEV) certification (Pic: Business France)

Other existing approaches such as the “Terra Vitis” certification and the “Organic Agriculture” (AB) labels each have their own specificity: the AB label covers products and makes it possible to verify products from organic farming, while “Terra Vitis” is a certification of the company. Terra Vitis is an approach born in 1998 at the initiative of a group of winemakers concerned with protecting the environment through common values such as promoting sustainable viticulture, favoring natural regulatory mechanisms, ensuring the production of healthy grapes and increased biological diversity in the plots and their surroundings.

In the Rhône Valley vineyards, organic wines represents 12% of the volume of the 2020 harvest and 13% of the vineyard area, which makes Rhône Valley one of the most dynamic sectors of organic farming.

In the Rhône Valley vineyards, organic wines represents 12% of the volume of the 2020 harvest and 13% of the vineyard area, which makes Rhône Valley one of the most dynamic sectors of organic farming. The French organic vineyard has experienced tremendous growth: +291% in terms of vineyard areas and the number of organic wineries grew by 165% between 2009 and 2019 (Source: Millésime bio 2021).

Several departments have large organic viticulture farms: Vaucluse is in first place nationally with 8212 hectares exploited, followed by Gard in third position and Drôme in seventh position.

Vignoble de LIRAC (pic: Inter Rhone)
Vignoble de LIRAC (pic: Business France)

Biodynamic viticulture considers that particular periods are chosen for vineyard management, winemaking, and maturation. This viticulture considers the lunar calendar and its cycles to practice the cultivation of the land. The use of natural products is essential while considering the environment of the plant that surrounds it: there are indeed links between the earth and the sky, between living beings and cosmic rhythms. The goal is to boost soils and crops thanks to the influence of the stars and following the rhythms of nature, so that it gives the best of itself. The Demeter label, created in 1928, and the Biodyvin label since 1995, certify that the products come from biodynamics.

On 1st November 2018, the Egalim law allows concrete actions on climate issues by imposing certain measures to preserve the environment.

A strategic and environmental plan for the AOC Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Villages was adopted in 2019 by Côtes du Rhône wine producers union (‘’the Syndicat Général des Vignerons Réunis des Côtes du Rhône ‘’). This is committed to the preservation of the environment and supports the preservation and enhancement of the vineyards on a daily basis.

The measures, which apply to the 4000 winemakers of AOC Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Villages and which cover 40,000 hectares of vines, focus on several points:

Vendanges, Harvest (pic: Business France)

Agri-environmental measures (AEM) have been selected, with the aim of preserving the quality of water and soil by limiting chemical weeding: it is now forbidden to chemically weed more than 50% of the surface of the planted plot. The development and enhancement of biodiversity in the Côtes du Rhône vineyards is also a major issue. The main action to achieve this is to communicate with the winegrowers on practices that preserve bees and to put in place actions to promote the repopulation of bats and the presence of birds in the vines.

The reflection and construction of a guide of practical recommendations also intervene in the development of practices with alternative techniques in the vineyards: made up of educational materials, it is intended to be a collection of guidelines that respect the environment. In the same vein, the deployment of varieties of vines resistant (without GMOs) to the most common vine diseases makes it possible to treat the land less.

The vineyards of the Rhône Valley are part of an active sustainable development approach and work together to develop new practices, while finding a balance between technology and tradition.

Through its commitment, considering the ecological and climatic peculiarities specific to each appellation, the vineyards of the Rhône Valley meet the expectations of consumers and are committed to offering wines from environmentally friendly production. The Rhône Valley sets an example to follow in terms of sustainable development: the wines of this dynamic region reflect the history and excellence of winemakers and professionals in the wine industry.

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