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BORDEAUX (Reuters Life!) - Medoc's largest vineyard won a special certificate last week that honors more than a decade of work toward durable development in wine-making.
The 225-hectare (556-acre) Château Larose Trintaudon at Saint-Laurent-Medoc in the area close to Bordeaux, is the first French wine house to get the certificate with the not so catchy name of AFAQ 1000 NT level 3.
"Larose Trintaudon has been committed to durable development since 1999," said Brice Amouroux, Larose's secretary-general.
"That has taken us to new working methods, especially in our use of natural resources, the way we deal with waste, and improvement of the working conditions, the way we sell our products and the transparency of what we do," he added.
The award may be new, but it is part of a growing trend for environmental winemaking in France driven by a traditional respect for nature and increasing consumer awareness.
There are specialized websites such as www.vin-bio-naturalcellar.com that sell wines which have been made without artificial fertilizers or pesticides and the Agriculture Ministry can grant the "AB label, which stands for Agriculture Biologique -- sustainable agriculture.
France has some 1,500 wine-growers who operate on biological grounds, though this adds up to only 1.5 percent of France's wine-growing areas.
Some ecological wine labels include Domaine Monthchovet in Burgundy and Domaine Grillet in Beaujolais and in Bordeaux Chateau Grand Renard, Jean-Marc Maugey, Chateau Ferrand, or Domaine Sainte Juste in Corbieres.
It takes four years for a winemaker to switch to ecological wine-making, due to the time the soil and the plants need to fully purge themselves from chemicals and waste minerals.
Last April, Larose Trintaudon installed six beehives on its land as part of a project to preserve bees and other insects considered to be sentinels of environmental health.
"We harvested 100 kg (220 lb) of honey in which there was not enough Acacia, which is a tree that was widely present in this region. Therefore we decided to plant Acacia trees," Amouroux said.
Owned since 1986 by insurance group AGF, part of Germany's Allianz, Larose Trintaudon also obtained a certificate in 2006 for reasoned agriculture and signed on to a pact in 2007 that was launched by the United Nations for the protection of the rights of man and related to the respect of workers.
Making production more natural hasn't hit the quality of the wines produced by Larose Trintaudon, which regularly harvest prizes.
Larose Trintaudon is not one of the big classified growths of the famous 1855 Bordeaux classification, but in 2003 it was included in a new classification of top Haut Medoc wines, since canceled by an administrative court.
The vineyard produces around 1.2 million bottles a year, using 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 40 percent Merlot grapes. Some 60 percent of production is sold in France, while 200,000 bottles go to the United States.
Writing by Marcel Michelson, editing by Paul Casciato